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Ted Wolfers: Race Relations and Colonial Rule in Papua New Guinea
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PORT MORESBY - Ted Wolfers’ groundbreaking book, Race Relations and Colonial Rule in Papua New Guinea, was republished in 2016, 40 years after the first edition appeared in 1975.
Ted Wolfers wrote the substance of much of this book whilst he was in PNG between 1961 and 1971.
He was sent as a young researcher for the USA foundation, the Institute for Current World Affairs and the book is an edited collection of articles written for the ICWA as newsletters.
The research, lived experiences and conversations inform this 181 page book.
Many aspects of the work are important, but for me his defence of the people’s way of life, intelligence and organised traditions stand out.
He understands what others did not at the time: that Papua and New Guinea societies were very efficient in their traditional ways.
For instance, PNG tribes had differing but quite developed arithmetic systems, and their societies were complex and well organised.
He also critiques the colonial administration and the racism that prevailed at the time.
Wolfers was awarded the first PhD in political and administrative studies at the University of Papua New Guinea which included material encompassed in his book.
The book has been widely used for scholarly research and tertiary-level courses on race, culture and colonialism, and in studies on racism and colonialism in the history, politics and governance of PNG.
PNG and Australian relations have moved past some elements that were clearly racist, but maintain other aspects that are paternalistic.
It is surprising how similar some of the experiences documented in this book are today.
But it also provides descriptions of matters you would not recognise today, as both countries have moved on.
Ted Wolfers became permanent consultant to PNG’s pre-independence Constitutional Planning Committee and he is now an Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Wollongong.
Race Relations and Colonial Rule is was a book that captured an important moment in time and is still well worth reading.
Michael Kabuni is a lecturer in the politics department at the University of Papua New Guinea