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07 January 2013


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One of the interesting things about Sil's book is that he describes a smooth segue from the mythological to the near-present.

I've come across this elsewhere. I'm currently doing some social mapping in the Star Mountains and have been researching the Afek creation myth. Afek was the female ancestor of the Min people.

There is a lot of historical truth tied up in these myths, along with ideology and common wisdom, much like the song lines of the Aborigines.

This is one reason why these old stories and legends are important to record.

You occasionally come across the old census books and other files in the district offices in the provinces but I don't believe there was ever any concerted effort to archive them.

The district collections are usually poorly housed and pretty mouldy.

The National Archives is a bit hit and miss. Sometimes there are staff there who can point you in the right direction but often there are not.

The patrol reports held there are the headquarters copies. For some reason things like the pink census data sheets and area studies etc. are usually missing - presumably they were extracted along the way, maybe at the district level.

The only additional material with these reports are the various headquarters letters generated by the reports.

The other annoying thing is that the reports are invariably the third or fourth carbon copy and are generally getting fuzzier as time goes by. This is particularly noticeable in the microfiche copies.

For this reason it is important that all the old kiaps hang on to their patrol reports. And even better idea is to send them on to Peter Cahill at the Fryer Library at the University of Queensland.

I had an email from Col Young this morning. He's still got the copy of his patrol report where he reported finding traces of copper sulphate near what is now the Ok Tedi mine. Reports like that really need preserving.

In recent years I have become involved in researching my family history and, because of the recording of a variety of events such as births, deaths, baptisms, marriages, elctoral registrations and so on, I have gone back to the early 1500s.

However, I recall my experiences as a kiap on the annual census patrols examining the ancestory of the present village people. Everyone could remember their parents, (obviously), and most, their grandparents, but that is generally where the story was lost.

Despite their professed christianity, most would revert to their traditional magico-religious practices and relate that their great grand-parent was a mythical being such as a great bird, snake or puk-puk.

This can be overcome by research using the census books from the years since census began and making the links that obviously exist in these records.

The question then arises, where are the records that we created and maintained and is it possible to do this research?

Good article Phil. It fits with something an educated PNGian told me a few years ago after he had completed his education and was awarded his degree.

During the whole of his 'modern' education in PNG, nothing was ever mentioned about what happened in his country prior to Independence in 1975.

We sometimes talk about Australians having a cultural cringe but is PNG in danger of doing much the same by omission or commission?

Seems time for regular contributor, Jackson PR associate and lecturer in PNG Studies at DWU, Bernard Yegiora, to enter the discussion - KJ

There are, of course, a few Papua New Guinean writers recording their local histories.

From the Crocodile Prize and this blog the names of Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin and Leonard Roka spring to mind.

For a perfect blueprint of how to record your clan history you should look no further than Sil's book "The Flight of Galkope".

And agree with him or not, no one can dispute the immense service that Leonard is doing for Bougainville history.

Before these guys you have to go back to the work of John Waiko before you encounter any local PNG history.

I enjoyed that read, Phil. Thanks.

And yes, archiving is terribly in need of much improvement.

Good article Phil, which hits the nail dead centre highlighting the main issue, which is the lack of national pride, which alas seems to be another casualty of postmodern PNG history.

I recall during my earlier years when I spent a short time in the Chimbu patrolling hearing recounts of earlier oral history from those villagers whom I met during my travels.

Unlike their nambis brothers the highlanders loved a good yarn although some of the recounts had been somewhat embellished on retelling.

One of the more beneficial accomplishments of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations was the Government of the times providing funding for the digitalising of most of Australia’s earlier newspapers which are now readily available through the NL’s Trove site.

With a bit of careful filtering to remove extraneous matters not required a different picture emerges of what was really going on in earlier times.

Some fascinating information on earlier times of PNG history can also be found if the search engine is finely tuned.

It seems that unlike today Australians in earlier times were intrigued by events occurring in their nearest northern neighbour's backyard.

When doing some recent research into a family history matter I even found on this site some very interesting articles into what my great grandfather was up to in Goulburn some 170 years previously.

It seems not much went unreported in those days as the issues uncovered were more of a gossipy nature and tracking forward to today realise that not much changes when whilst waiting in the Woolies aisle line waiting to be served and looking down at the news-stand I am confronted with a multitude of gossip magazines available which embrace all things that the publishers believe might attract the prurient interests of potential readers.

Engendering national pride based upon earlier historical events is no easy task especially in PNG where the citizens main pre-occupation is merely surviving from day to day however I feel that the issue of recording PNG’s more recent history could be easily accomplished if the will to do so was to be so ignited.

Perhaps some funding from outside agencies including Oz Aid towards digitising copies of the Country’s newspapers would be the obvious answer to the first step needed.

Good post Phil. Personally have always enjoyed finding out the local history from any place where I was temporarily living.

Now alas even here in the UK history appears to be poorly treated - possibly because it wouldn't be fair to the millions of immigrants. Apparently kids think Magna Carta is a new computer game.

I believe one way to get at the missing dormant local history is that in the long holiday at the end of every academic year high school children should be set the holiday task of sitting down with their grandparents to ask about their village roots and turn his oral history into a written report to be submitted when they restart school in February.

These could be part of the year's teaching materials and must be safely filed. Hopefully digitally where possible.

In 1999 I was pleasantly surprised in our local environmental NGO on Lavongai when members were asked to compile a list of as many cultural sites within their ward, hamlet or village.

One did a really excellent report with details not only of the various sites but also of the background even traditional legend story behind each site. Some amazing snippets of taim bipo. Like the footprint in the stone up the Teimot River, which I once saw.

Incidentally we tried to do this project in order to have a detailed cultural study mapped for the remaining pristine forests of central and eastern Lavongai with which Land Owners could have strength in bargaining with the miners or loggers when they eventually came to 'develop' the island.

As you are aware in Oz aboriginal sacred sites are allegedly well protected against depredations by industrial barons.

Had already seen the total disregard for cultural sites in west Lavongai including the destruction of one of the oldest type of living fir tree up beyond Buteilung; the destruction of so called 'upside down tree' near the beach by RH's Dominance Timber Company indirectly supported by ex Premier Anis who had told the company's ships to ignore the cultural 'gorgor' warning LOs had placed on ships hoping to access Noipuos harbour where bulldozers erased the site.

We have all read of the sad demise of Goroka's radio stations files; the damp in the National Library archives; now you pinpoint the risk to the Post Courier's records.

Hope some folks take note of your report Phil.

(Signed) Arthur Williams of the ancient Silures Tribe of Cardiff

A good wake-up call to all the PNGians who have been well-educated and have now reached retirement age. Here is something you can do in retirement.

Start researching and writing up the history of your family, your clan, your tribal group etc.

Someone should suggest to the government that it donate money to the Post Courier so it can get all its old papers scanned and put online for research purposes.

Maybe Somare will be retiring from parliament soon. This is something he should get behind!

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