The inevitable growth of global Sinophobia
I won’t resign; bring on challenge: Marape

Should Hanuabada be capital of Peengee?

From HMS Basilisk (left), the three-masted paddle steamer from which Captain John Moresby named many topographical features of southern PNG during an important voyage of discovery in 1874


TUMBY BAY - When you look at a map of Australia the precedence of its European colonial history is very apparent. If you run an eye around the coast, all the names of state capital cities echo that history.

Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart all owe their names to significant British places or personages.

It is only with the federal capital that any acknowledgement of the previous inhabitants occurs.

The name Canberra is possibly derived from the word kambera or kanberri, meaning ‘meeting place’ in Ngunnawal, one of the indigenous languages spoken in the district.

It is really only when you get out into the regions that place names related to the original inhabitants spring up and proliferate.

In contrast, a perusal of a map of Papua New Guinea will show up place names with mostly local, indigenous origins.

There are a few exceptions. The most notable is the name of the capital, Port Moresby. To the north Finschhafen crops up and inland there is Mount Hagen.

Port Moresby was named by the British sea captain, John Moresby, to commemorate his father. Captain Moresby was in charge of the HMS Basilisk that surveyed the Papuan coast in 1871.

Mount Hagen gets its name from the nearby mountain peak that was named after the German colonial officer Curt von Hagen.

Finschhafen was named after German scientist and explorer Otto Finsch, who originally surveyed the town (hafen is German for harbour).

There is something incongruous about these old colonial names and the way they have hung on in Papua New Guinea.

In many newly independent countries getting rid of place names imposed by colonisers was a high priority.

Renaming such places was seen as a symbolic breaking of the colonial bond and a statement of independence and freedom.

Why this didn’t happen in Papua New Guinea is curious but is probably related to the largely benign Australian stewardship of the country.

There is, however, an increasingly nationalistic tone emerging in PNG and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that sometime in the future these old colonial names might be re-examined and possibly changed for indigenous ones.

This has happened to a certain extent where new provinces like Enga and Hela adopted local names and the old Northern changed to Oro. Jiwaka is a composite name combining the first two letters each of Jimi, Waghi and Kambia, the three regions that make up the province. And of course there is Simbu, which was part of Eastern Highlands before it gained its own governance.

Madang might sound like a local name but it was brought to the area by labourers who had accompanied the German administrators and is the name of their home island (Medang) in Indonesia.

And here’s a more controversial question.

Would it ever be that the name of the entire nation is reconsidered given that it was imposed by foreign sources and echoes the colonial past?

Papua is supposedly derived from the Malay word papua or pua-pua, meaning ‘frizzly-haired’ while Guinea is derived from the Portuguese word guiné which was used as a collective term for the people who came from regions south of the Senegal River in West Africa.

New Guinea was thought to physically resemble the African Guinea and was thus named as a new version of it.

The name Papua New Guinea is thus a combination of Asian and African descriptors, which is hardly apt and a reminder of its colonial past in the same sense as Port Moresby, Mount Hagen and Finschhafen.

Finding an agreeable and distinguishable new name for the whole nation state that is Papua New Guinea would be difficult because of the multiplicity of indigenous languages.

The name Australia derives from the Latin word australis meaning southern, and dates back to second century legends of an ‘unknown southern land’ called terra australis incognita.

The explorer Matthew Flinders named the land Terra Australis, which was later abbreviated to the current Australia.

Perhaps there is a clue there for a budding Papua New Guinean political nationalist. Ditch the Asian-African connection for a name more reflective of the location and nature of the country.

In common currency, the country just to Australia’s north is called Peengee, but that has an inauthentic ring to it.

A much easier task would be renaming places like Port Moresby, Mount Hagen and Finschhafen.

How does Hanuabada sound as the capital city? The word means ‘big village’ – hanua = village and bada = big - which is both descriptive and indigenous.

I’m not sure what the original place name of Mount Hagen is but I’m sure someone will know. The same applies to Finschhafen.

Names are important, particularly for the symbolism they carry.

Perhaps James Marape, who promotes Papua New Guinea ‘first’, should get a couple of consultants onto the case.


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Methangie Ulea

Thank you PNG Attitude. Information in your blogs is very rare, old and new to many.

Reading it makes me feel like I'm traveling back in time witnessing PNG history with my own eyes or in a museum gazing at rare artifacts. Thank you sir.

Chips Mackellar

I agree, Phil, Tanoemai sounds better. Not only that but it is inclusive whereas 'my land' is not.

And one reason for changing the name to a single word is that Papua New Guinea is such a mouthful. Not to mention its people who are Papua New Guineans.

On the other hand, if the country were named Tanoemai, the its people would be Tanoemains, as in Tongans, Samoans or Vanuatuans.

A lot easier to say, and I am sure they would rather be Tanoemains .

Chris Overland

I like Chips' suggestion too. James Marape and friends could do worse than consider his suggestion very carefully.

That said, Papua New Guinea is now a well established "brand" and maybe should not be readily abandoned in an attack of post-colonial political correctness or revisionism.

There is a respectable argument that what is undoubtedly not an indigenous name may suit rather well.

It is a useful descriptor for a place that is, in many respects, not a 'natural' nation and which has 800 plus languages, many different ethnicities and cultures and formidable geographic divisions.

So far as I know there never was a single common name for what we call PNG and expressions like "my land" invariably related to a very specific area.

So an invented name may suit what is, in many respects, an invented nation.

Australia is somewhat similar: a Latin name for a country whose original peoples spoke at least 250 different languages, were widely dispersed across a vast country and who had deftly avoided any contact with ancient Romans.

Other made up names of countries that seem incongruous these days could be said to include 'Great Britain'" which is no longer great in any real sense, and the 'United States of America', which is manifestly far from united, at the moment at least.

Even the name 'China' is not necessarily reflective about how some of that country's minorities think of themselves, e.g., Uighurs and Tibetans.

As Shakespeare famously said: "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

For me at least, PNG will remain a wonderous place whatever name it is given.

Philip Fitzpatrick

According to Bill Gammage in his book 'The Sky Travellers' when kiap Murray Edwards went looking for a site for the Mt Hagen post he chose "Gormis" on 15 February 1938 "midway between Ogelbeng and Kuta, the Leahy's camp. Today it is Hagen city". That seems reasonably authentic and not a name that developed because Europeans were camped there Garry.

I think I prefer Tanoemai Chips - it has a nice ring to it. Tanoemai Attitude: Keith Jackson & Friends.

Quite a few towns in Australia have officially and unofficially adopted indigenous names and use them alongside their European name. New Zealand is now frequently referred to by its Maori name, Aotearoa (long white cloud).

Maybe dual names could be something PNG could consider.

Chips Mackellar

In relation to a new name for PNG, remember the Condominium of New Hebrides? After Independence its name was changed to Vanuatu, a word derived from the Proto-Austronesian 'vanua' meaning 'land'. So Vanuatu means 'our land'. The Motu equivalent would be Tanoemai (our land) or Tanoegu (my land). And as the original Hanuabada has been largely subsumed by the Port Moresby urban sprawl, Hanuabada would be a fitting name for the capitol of Tanoegu.

Garrett Roche

Phil, this is a very interesting discussion.

Regarding the original place names for Hagen, I am aware of many local names for specific areas in and around the town like Kimininga, Koibuga, Lgebinya, Debra, Kum, Rebiamul, Palimp etc, but cannot remember or am not aware of a specific name for the whole area.

The name Gormis is also used to refer to Hagen town, but some say this name only came with the establishment of a government station there.

The Catholic mission at Hagen was originally referred to as Mogei, but this was in reference to the surrounding Mogei tribe.

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