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Ageing kiaps worry about their legacy

Bob Cleland
Many ex-kiaps maintain a close relationship with PNG. Here Bob Cleland looks out over the Asaro Valley from the Daulo Pass. Bob was instrumental in building this challenging stretch of the Highlands Highway in the early 1950s


TUMBY BAY - It began about 10 years ago when a group of ex-kiaps sought to have their services in pre-independent Papua New Guinea formally recognised.

The end result was a reluctant awarding of a Police Overseas Service Medal by the Australian government for those interested in applying for it. It was a fancy piece of tin to keep the old chaps quiet.

The award failed to recognise the kiaps’ primary function as change and development agents and concentrated solely on their police role, which in many cases was minimal.

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Time of tension: Revisiting Kerry Dillon’s ‘Chronicle’

Kerry Dillon
Kerry Dillon today - his perceptive chronicle of a time in PNG as independence loomed is well worth reading


The Chronicle of a Young Lawyer by Kerry Dillon, Hybrid Publishers, August 2020, 384pp. ISBN: 9781925736410, $35. Available from Booktopia & all good bookstores, www.hybridpublishers.com.au and as an ebook from Amazon, Kobo, Google Books and Apple iBookstore

NOOSA – In case you missed it, or on the off chance you want to know more, in this piece I’m revisiting Kerry Dillon’s memoir, ‘The Chronicle of a Young Lawyer’.

After publishing a brief review of the book in PNG Attitude in August, I exchanged a number of emails with Kerry, mainly on the subject of Rabaul in 1969-70 when his and my paths crossed during the tense days of the Mataungan Association’s challenge to the colonial Administration.

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From tragic first contact to now

Daniel & Paul
Author Daniel Kumbon and the subject of his latest book, Paul Kiap Kurai with the vista of Enga below them


This is the Introduction from a new book by Daniel Kumbon which will come off the presses in a few weeks’ time. It tells of three generations of a prominent Enga family over a period of 90 years, from first contact with waitman gold prospectors in 1930 to the present day. The book features the prominent Enga businessman Paul Kiap Kurai who carries with him the knowledge that tradition is not something of the past but part of the spirit that carries his people forward into the future - KJ

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Papua New Guinea patrol reports

Sir Peter Scratchley in Papua
In the early 1880s, Sir Peter Scratchley was sent to Papua to manage the affairs of this latest addition to British imperial interests. And so began the important practice of compiling patrol reports

| National Archives of Australia

CANBERRA - Papua New Guinea's patrol reports had their beginnings in 1885 and are credited to Sir Peter Henry Scratchley who, as well as establishing Port Moresby as the seat of government and administration of British New Guinea, also developed a plan for administration and land policy.

The administration plan involved establishing government stations along the coast. These were staffed by a government officer, whose tasks included establishing contact and developing friendly relations with the inhabitants of the area.

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Patrolling the Maramuni with Graham Hardy

Aerial view of the new Maramuni road
Aerial view of the new Maramuni road


WABAG - Graham Hardy was posted to Wabag as a cadet patrol officer in 1954 and has recalled that period in an enthralling book, ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, and in other writing, including a September 2015 article in Una Voce, the newsletter of the PNG Association of Australia.

It is clear that he, like former kiap and magistrate Chips Mackellar, developed a special affection for the people of Enga and related areas of the Papua New Guinea highlands.

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The first outsiders into Enga

Akmana gold prospecting field party  1930
Members of the Akmana gold prospecting field party and local villagers. The party were the first outsiders into Enga in 1929


WABAG – The field party of the Akmana Gold Prospecting Company were the first Europeans to set foot in what is now Enga Province.

The Akmana prospectors, trekking south from the Sepik, had penetrated the Maramuni area and into the Wabag district four years before the ill-fated Leahy brothers’ expedition of 1934.

Michael Leahy’s diary stated that 15 tribespeople were killed and an equal number injured in a bloody encounter at Tole village and five more were killed as the Leahy party retreated back to Mt Hagen.

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The papers being sorted; the drawers emptied

Kiaps 1960
Newly recruited kiaps having completed their training in Port Moresby observe a march past by police in the early 1960s


TUMBY BAY - In an article a few days ago about Francis Nii and the effort to memorialise his contribution to Papua New Guinean literature, Keith Jackson reiterated an earlier comment that “this is likely to be PNG Attitude’s last big project. It was always going to happen that Phil Fitzpatrick and I would age and gradually run out of steam. Well, that point is arriving”.

I can wholly endorse that observation, no matter how hard I try to build up a head of steam about lots of things these days it seems to inevitably dissipate in ineffectual little puffs from all the leaks in the rusty old boiler.

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There’s no escape from our changing world


NORTHUMBRIA, UK - It does no good to pretend that late 19th and early 20th century Papua New Guinea with its stone based technology and scattered and perpetually warring tribes could have lain forever undisturbed by the relentless impetus of the world.

Any discussion of Australia’s presence in PNG should not begin with whether it had any right to be there, but with what might have happened if a potentially harsher Japanese or Indonesian administration had taken over the country before it became independent.

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Guise & Kerr – the Whitlam connection

Ind Day
Prince Charles speaks at PNG's independence day. Sir John Guise (left) and Sir John Kerr (centre) themselves had an interesting private talk the night before


TUMBY BAY - There’s an interesting conversation currently taking place in the Australian media following the release of letters exchanged between Queen Elizabeth II and Sir John Kerr, the former Australian governor general who dismissed the Whitlam government in 1975.

The release of the 211 ‘palace letters’ from the Australian Archives follows a protracted effort by historian Jenny Hocking who wanted to know what role the queen might have played in the dismissal of an Australian prime minister.

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How PNG escaped colonialism’s worst

The Australian colonial Administration's basic position was that PNG people should be brought under the rule of law as humanely and non-violently as possible


ADELAIDE - Phil Fitzpatrick is right to equate racism with economic oppression, as they clearly go hand in hand.

You do not need to be a Marxist to understand that neo-liberal capitalism relies upon the ability to exploit labour in order to flourish.

The basic theory underpinning capitalism as outlined by Adam Smith is that if each person is free to pursue his or her own economic best interests so the total economy must inevitably grow.

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The finding of Ok Tedi

"Young came to have more profound impact on the Wopkaimin than any previous colonial administrative or army patrol. He made ethnographic observations but more importantly recorded that the streams seemed to contain copper deposits"


EX KIAP WEBSITE - I have often meant to write of my 24 day patrol to the Star Mountains (Wopkaimin) in August and September of 1966 and the finding of copper sulphate presence in that remote north western corner of the then Western District.

There has been some confusion as to who first discovered evidence of copper leading to the Ok Tedi venture, hence this article.

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The end of the world – Part 2


ADELAIDE - As regular readers will know, our esteemed guide and editor has until very recently been in a world of pain, having undergone unpleasant surgery in a hopefully successful attempt to treat a debilitating back condition.

Anyone who has undergone major surgery can tell you that the easy bit is the time spent unconscious on the operating room table. What follows is almost invariably unpleasant. It is merely a question of degree really.

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The end of the world

Yucatan crater
The Yucatan meteor strike left a crater 150km wide and caused climate disruption that made extinct 75% of Earth's plant and animal species including any dinosaur that could not fly


ADELAIDE - In the very midst of the Dark Ages of Europe, the coming of the year 1000 was viewed with fear, trepidation and alarm.

This was the year many theologians of that era believed would see the end of all things and the second coming of Jesus as foretold in the Bible.

There was a palpable sense of expectation throughout Christendom which grew steadily as the year 999 CE progressed, reaching a crescendo on New Year’s Eve.

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Our horrible history


ADELAIDE - The study of history is not likely to inspire belief in the inherent virtues of humanity.

There are so many conspicuous examples of our species’ propensity for violence, venality and depravity that it sometimes takes a certain resolve to stare the facts directly in the face and recognise them for what they tell us about the human condition at a given point in time.

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Turning point: Dorney’s history revisited

Sean Dorney on the job. His early independence history reveals a significant turning point in PNG's story as a nation


Papua New Guinea: People, politics and history since 1975 by Sean Dorney, 335 pp. ABC Books, 2000. ISBN-10: 0733309453. Available from Amazon here for $US31.70

PORT MORESBY – In this book, first published in 1990, the noted journalist Sean Dorney gave us a glance of Papua New Guinea, its people, politics and history over its first 15 years after independence.

Dorney lived and worked in PNG for 17 years as the correspondent of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation having previously been assigned there in the early 1970s to work with the embryonic National Broadcasting Commission.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 28 – In defence of the people’s land

Pic 1 - District Officer Ross Henderson
District Officer Ross Henderson in 1968


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - Tuesday 7 May 1968. District Officer Ross Henderson and I were dumbstruck at the tone of the on-site meeting at Panguna that morning.

Conzinc Rio Tinto Area Manager Colin Bishop was unusually forceful with his demands.

He wanted more assistance in the coming months when the CRA teams - geologists, engineers, planners and surveyors – would start tramping through the villages and gardens of central Bougainville.

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Telling a kiap apart from the crowd

Papuan kiap Geoff Smith
Papuan kiap, Geoff Smith


TUMBY BAY - I served as a kiap in both New Guinea and Papua. In New Guinea the kiap rig generally consisted of a khaki shirt and shorts, shiny RM Williams boots and a slouch hat.

In Papua, especially on the remoter stations, kiaps tended to get around in whatever took their fancy or whatever they deemed suitable for the climate and circumstances.

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The soldiers that never were

Newspaper advertisement for kiaps  circa 1966
Newspaper advertisement for kiaps, 1966


TUMBY BAY - How often have you heard the admonition to always read the fine print before signing anything?

And how often have you had some sneaky little paragraph in the fine print pointed out that you never read excusing a manufacturer or insurer from honouring what you thought should have been an obligation on their part?

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The tragic history of Goaribari Island

Kerewa longhouse, Goaribari Island, 1923  (Frank Hurley)
Kerewa longhouses,  Goaribari Island,  1923 (Frank Hurley)


ADELAIDE - Daniel Kumbon’s recent article on the work of early missionaries in Papua New Guinea triggered some memories for me, especially in relation to Goaribari Island.

By a strange quirk of fate I met a man who witnessed the events of 8 April 1901 when the Reverends James Chalmers and Oliver Tomkins, together with 12 colleagues, were murdered and then eaten by the people living on Goaribari Island.

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That their names may live on

Rev James Chalmers - Tamate
Rev James Chalmers (Tamate) - his name & the names of many other heroes of PNG will be remembered forever


WABAG - Today, 8 April, is the anniversary of the untimely death of Rev James Chalmers – ‘Tamate’ – who was killed and cannibalised along with Rev Oliver Tomkins and local missionaries on Goaribari Island in Western Province 119 years ago.

When I think about their horrible deaths, the names of four friends come to mind who were all posted to serve in the Western Province at some stage of their careers in the 20th century.

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The turbulent story of Enga

Cr Paul  Kiap Kurai with his father's last wife Kipaukwan and some of his children at Kaiap village_
Cr Paul Kiap Kurai with his father's last wife, Kipaukwan, and some of his children at Kaiap village


WABAG - One of the greatest feats Kurai Tapus accomplished occurred in World War II when he accompanied Daniel Leahy and a group of men to rescue eight missionaries including five Catholic nuns hiding from the Japanese in the jungles of Wewak.

What is intriguing about this story is whether Kurai recognised Leahy as the other white man who had come to Tole on that dark day of the mass killing some nine years previously.

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The story of how ‘gavman’ came to Wabag

Jim Taylor and Michael Leahy
Early highlands explorers Jim Taylor and Michael Leahy


PORT MORESBY - The colonial Administration utterly failed to understand why native people in the vicinity of Wabag patrol post vehemently opposed the government establishing contact with them.

Colonial kiaps described the native people as the “most difficult to be found anywhere” for continuing to oppose them after a base was established in Wabag during the Hagen-Sepik patrol of 1938.

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The old priest & the young councillor

Alois Alapyala Yolape (right) speaking with Paul Kurai at opening of new Leptenges churchDANIEL KUMBON

WABAG - Alois Alapyala Yolape often thanks Fr George Schubbe publicly, even though the priest is dead, for playing an important role in getting him elected for the Monokam council ward in the Ambum Valley 57 years ago.

Recently, he again acknowledged Fr Schubbe at a new church opening at Leptenges near Sirunki, where his late mother was born.

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The mysterious Goilala ‘totem pole’



NORTHUMBRIA - This photograph is the most puzzling in my Papua New Guinean collection.

I tramped through the bush for almost six years and it is the only example I bumped into that had any resemblance to the totem pole so often presented as typical of Native American culture in the nineteenth century or the mumbo-jumbo, voodoo style, pagan doll depictions so readily associated with early British exploration of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Did kiaps and anthropologists who broke PNG bush much earlier than the late 1960s come across anything that was similar?

It was housed in a traditional sentry box-like structure standing at the end of a line of village houses in the Pilitu section of the Goilala Sub-District that I came upon in January 1974.

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Whose history do you believe?

American-declaration-independenceCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE- When I was a small child I was a precocious reader. By the age of 12 I had ploughed through Edward Gibbon’s ‘History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. This made me unusual amongst my peers.

Mind you, I also devoured, just as avidly, ‘Treasure Island’, ‘The Coral Island’, the entire series of Biggles books and pretty well anything written by Gerald Durrell.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 27 – The UN Visiting Mission

Bill Brown MBE and Kaad OBE
Bill Brown MBE with Fred Kaad OBE. A recent photo of two of colonial Papua New Guinea's distinguished district commissioners


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - It was not a massive upheaval, but the last quarter of 1967 and the first quarter of 1968 saw two of the kiaps enmeshed in Conzinc Rio Tinto’s (CRA) operation leave Bougainville and four newcomers arrive.

District Commissioner John Wakeford moved to another hotspot, the recently created West Sepik District. His headquarters were situated at Vanimo, just 45 kilometres from the border with West Irian. (1)

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Kiaps – PNG didn’t push us out

Mark Lynch (standing left rear) with the first PNG Cabinet  1975
Mark Lynch (standing left rear) with the first PNG Cabinet, 1975


SYDNEY - I had a sandwich and a glass or two of red with Fred Kaad and two of his daughters on 14 January.

Actually, it was a rosé, not a red. And Fred, at 99, the oldest surviving former kiap, was a tad non-verbal.

The meet-up went for five hours and inspired me to revisit some of the more recent booboos in the stories about kiaps.

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When the white men came

Auditorium and mess at Mougulu High School (Sally Lloyd)
Auditorium and mess at Mougulu High School (Sally Lloyd)


With a rare and wonderful book. Download here: 'Taim Bipo - People of the Nomad District. When the White Men Came'

MELBOURNE - In late January 2020, Bedamuni (Biami) people hosted an inaugural Strickland, Sisa, Bosavi cultural festival.

There were guests and performers from all neighbouring language groups.

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Fr Jerry Bus & the Enga

Sir Albert Kipalan (with spade) on the spot where Fr Jerry Bus settled at Kopen
Sir Albert Kipalan (with spade) on the spot where Fr Jerry Bus settled at Kopen


PORT MORESBY – In 1948, there was a sudden rush by Christian denominations to establish mission stations after the colonial Administration lifted restrictions of movement to unpacified areas of what is now Enga Province.

Prior to that there had already been rivalry between Lutheran and Catholic missionaries to win new converts around Mt Hagen.

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The story of Joseph, once Kurai

Lutheran Church pastor Ango Panao with his son and grandson
Lutheran Church pastor Ango Panao with his son and grandson


WABAG – “Call me Joseph. I am not Kurai anymore,” Joseph Kurai Tapus said to his friends, associates - and anybody he met - soon after Fr Peter Granegger SVD baptised him at Sari Catholic Mission on 8 April, 1977.

Not many Christian converts are known to have done that, but Kurai made public announcements of his conversion and subsequent name change.

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Where did the kiaps go

John Gordon-Kirkby's old patrol box
John Gordon-Kirkby's old patrol box


PORT MORESBY - Many kiaps [patrol officers] and other expatriates left Papua New Guinea in the years immediately before and after independence in September 1975.

Imagine the memories they took with them and may still have in their minds today?

One of the last kiaps to leave the highlands Enga District [now a province] was John Gordon-Kirkby who liked to eat sweet potatoes roasted in an open fire.

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Warlords enter 2020 striving for peace

A faction arrives for the peace ceremony
A faction of warlords and fighter arrives for the peace ceremony


PORT MORESBY – People using the Okuk highway that ploughs through the New Guinea highlands know only too well the frequent tribal skirmishes that have caused fear to the travelling public this past 20 years.

The fighting has erupted violently and unpredictably at Ganigle in the Kerowagi district of the Simbu Province.

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The iconic patrol box

Patrol boxes (Graham Forster)
"Their endurance was awesome. Since the moment they could walk they had been trained to overcome every discomfort" (Graham Forster)


NORTHUMBRIA, UK - Patrol boxes are embedded within the memory of every kiap and, indeed, anyone who went “on patrol” in pre-independence Papua New Guinea.

In difficult country they could be awkward, even brutish, burdens but nevertheless were toted, uphill and down dale for mile after endless mile by village carriers without whose help patrolling, a keystone kiap activity, could not have taken place.

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The 20 year old secrets PNG cannot know

The irregulars of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army were so effective, Julius Chan's government tried to bring in overseas mercenary soldiers. Uproar ensued throughout PNG, including in the defence force


SYDNEY – Fairfax Media has reported that important information about Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea will remain a secret, even though it is 20 years old and due to be released.

The National Archives of Australia usually releases secret cabinet documents two decades after they were created in Australia.

The Archives director David Fricker says this is an "essential function we perform for transparency and integrity of Australian government in this democracy of ours".

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Pingeta’s daughter & bigman Kurai Tapus

Kumbon - Wigged villager  Wabag patrol post  when Kurai Tapus was a bosboi (Fryer Library UQ)
Wigged villager at Wabag patrol post when Kurai Tapus was a bosboi (Fryer Library, University of Queensland)


WABAG - Her voice was like the sound of angels singing joyous melodies in the starlit Bethlehem night in celebration of the birth of Jesus in a manger on that first Christmas Day.

In January 1946, in a very different place, a similar earthly celebration took place in a lonely pulim anda (birth house) among the casuarina trees at Kaiap village, where a young mother sang a victory song when her son was born.

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A Kiap’s Chronicle: 26 – The plot against Bougainville

Brown Pic 1
The mining agreement between the copper company and the colonial Administration passed into law without the field officers in Bougainville being forewarned, let alone fully briefed


THE CHRONICLE CONTINUES - As far as my kiap colleague John Dagge and I were concerned, everything was going well around Barapina and Panguna.

We were not gaining acceptance, but the people were at least listening to our explanations about CRA’s prospecting activity.

Then, on 29 August 1967, the House of Assembly – Papua New Guinea’s parliament - passed into law a mining agreement bill between the company and the Administration.

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Bougainville: Powder keg awaiting a match?

"A truth commission might provide an easing valve for past hurts, short of that Bougainville remains a powder keg, awaiting to be lit"

| Eurasia Review

ALBANY, USA - It would be an understatement to claim that Bougainville, that blighted piece of autonomous territory in Papua New Guinea, had been through a lot. 

Companies have preyed upon its environment with extractive hunger.  Wars and civil strife have beset its infrastructure and economy.

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Fascinating, sweet, incurable PNG

Phil very relaxed on patrol north of Nomad  1960s
Phil Fitzpatrick, relaxing in the haus kiap on a patrol north of Nomad in the 1960s - "I found that three months leave was about all I could stand of civilisation"


TUMBY BAY - Kiaps were required to work for 21 months in Papua New Guinea before they were granted three months leave.

When their leave was due they were provided with a return airline ticket to Australia.

After 21 months in the field most kiaps looked forward to their leave. It was a chance to catch up with their families in Australia, see what had been going on in the outside world and enjoy a few luxuries not available in PNG.

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The last kiap on the ridge

Wabag - Kompiam divide - the central ridge along which many patrols passed
Wabag-Kompiam divide - the central ridge along which many patrols passed


WABAG - John Gordon-Kirkby was probably the last colonial kiap (patrol officer) to regularly visit the central ridge in Wabag made famous by the explorer Jim Taylor who described the landscape as a ‘garden land’ while on the Hagen Sepik patrol of 1938-39.

The route along the ridge starts on the banks of the Lai River at Wakumare near the present day Sir Tei Abal Secondary School.

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The making of a kiap

Cadet patrol officers  Sogeri 1950
Cadet patrol officers watch police on parade, Sogeri, 1950


TUMBY BAY - The comment has occasionally been made that kiaps were just public servants, no more and no less. That’s technically true but there was a whole lot more to it.

In essence they were multi-skilled administrators doing a whole range of things quite divorced from the usual public service image of pen pushers and desk jockeys.

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The fears of Luluai Tsike

Tsike – the Tsengelap clan leader burdened by the problems of looming Independence
Tsike – the Tsengelap clan leader burdened by the problems of looming Independence


NORTHUMBRIA, UK – I look at the two images accompanying this essay and ponder upon how rare it is that photographs in a random collection show the same man in such contrasting postures.

Luluai Tsike of the Tsengelap clan, which has its seat at Talu near Banz on the north side of the Wahgi Valley, is deeply troubled in the image at right and smiling and joyful in the one below.

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The kiaps: After dedication, melancholy

Paul Oates at Pindiu in 1970 with Papua New Guinea Administration colleaguesa


Small Steps along the Way, by Paul Oates. Download it free here

WARWICK QLD - With Small Steps along the Way Paul Oates enters the pantheon of kiaps who have recorded their experiences in Papua New Guinea during the years of its prelude to independence in 1975.

Collectively they fill the void eschewed by mainstream historians, and for good reason.

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