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Notes additional to the story of the Golen Keri massacre

Chimbu 1961 (David Craig)ROBIN HIDE & CAROLYN HIDE

WE have further information about the events of 1947 at Warasua in the Deri area of Simbu that we think clarify some of the issues arising from Mathias Kin’s recent report (The sad story of the colonial massacre of Golen Keri, Simbu) and the ensuing PNG Attitude discussion (in Comments, added 1-8 September).

During 1971-73 we were living with the Nimai Waula at Koge village in Sinasina some 12 kms north of the Wahgi River and the Sua area in Keri. We were carrying out anthropological research focussed on agricultural change.

Besides reading and collecting as much documentary evidence on recent history as then available (including patrol reports by Jones, Costelloe and Wakeford for the Keri-Dirima area between 1946 and 1948), we tape-recorded many accounts of local events for a preliminary oral history, amongst which are two descriptions of the events at Sua that we think are dated to about 1946-47 (i.e. 25 years before they were recounted to us).

This is lengthy material so we present only parts of it here. (The original recordings were in the Sinasina language and translated into Tok Pisin by Anna Kiage and Aina Kora.)

The oral accounts

The major account was given by Mui Kimin (of Nimai Waula Gunakane), born about 1930 (now deceased), who had been a Tultul in the 1950-60s before the introduction of local government councils.

As a young teenager during World War II, he accompanied men taking pigs from Chimbu to Goroka for wartime food supplies. After a Japanese bombing raid on Goroka that killed three Sinasina men, he returned to Nimai. He experienced further bombing when he accompanied two soldiers from Sinasina to Mingende about 1943.

After the end of the war, police were stationed at Koge in Nimai territory, and Mui, by then aged about 16, accompanied one policeman named Kibis and his interpreter, Wiri, on a police patrol to the south of Sinasina and across the Wahgi to Yani, Kapi, and Kapage where:

.…we heard that down at Sua everyone was fighting.  The news was that the Golun had killed a man from Keri, they’d dragged him along the track and left him at Sua.

The policeman Kibis said, "We'll go there."  So we retraced our steps and came to Sua.  We looked about us and saw that there’d been killings.  All the arrows that had been shot were lying around on the ground and we saw spears too.  Everyone had that look of having gone hungry - their skin was loose and slack. 

“The man who’d been killed had been thrown in the river Nemakilinin and everyone used to take their drinking water from this river.  People had been killed and thrown into the large river we call the Sua too, we saw their bodies.  When we arrived with the policemen the Golun had already killed these people and were massed to one side but we could see what had happened.

.…I stayed with the policemen and we came back to sleep at Deri.  The policemen had seen the bodies of the men who’d been killed and their eyes became clouded.  They said, "If we sleep tonight they’ll come and kill us."  They all thought that this would happen so we didn't sleep at Deri, we ran away to Koa and then we went and slept at Diri. 

The rest house at Diri is in a different place now, right at Diri but before it was at Gaba and that was where we slept. In the morning we came back to Koge.  The bodies of the men who’d been killed were carried away to Dawa and they were buried.

The fight between the Keri and the Golun kept on and the strong experienced warriors were all killed but the fighting went on and on and on.  Stories of what was happening reached Kundiawa, the white man Costelloe (referred to as “Kortole” in accounts in 1971-73) knew.  The officials at Kundiawa said, "We'll kill them."  All the policemen came to Koge and many local people came with them.

I accompanied the policeman called Bure who was from Koropa.  He came and stayed here at Koge for a while and then he went back to Kundiawa.  On their way that time, when they’d decided to kill people, they came here first.  Bure saw me and said, "Will you come with me?  Shall we go together?"  "Yes, I'll go", I said and went with him.  He filled his waistband with cartridges and told me to carry it. 

We went to Gunangi and from there we could see that the fighting continued.  They said, "If you’re wearing light coloured clothes they’ll see you and run away.  There are many of us gathered here."  Even shiny axes were forbidden.  They said, "If you keep anything that will let them spot us they'll run away, so leave it behind."  The police took off their hats and their clothes.  Everyone held their things and we set off.

When we reached the river we all dressed and walked up the other side.  They said to me, "You stay by the river", so I waited and the policemen fought their way up the side of the mountain.  A man was waiting, hidden, and he shot a man.  The man who threw the spear was called Nul, he became a Luluai.  He’d made the spear from bamboo.  The man who was speared was carrying a rifle when the spear caught him in the behind. 

We crept up the mountain and went into a house.  Bure said to me, "You stay in the house. I'm going to kill the Golun and the Keri."  They all went out and as they walked around they shot people and at night they came back to the house and we all slept. 

In the morning they went out killing again.  Some went to Omkolai, some to Gumine and to Mul, and some went to Mirima and Dawa.  They all left and I stayed in the house.  By mid-afternoon men had been shot at Sua.  At the head of the river Sua there are two large rocks on either side and one in the middle.  When people ran away they went there. 

Golun and Keri were still fighting and the police went to the middle of the fight.  They turned their backs to some of the people and faced in one direction.  Then moving together, they turned and faced in another direction. 

When they wanted to kill Keri people they faced the Keri, when they wanted to kill the Golun their backs were towards us and their faces were towards Golun.  The policemen were there in the middle and when they fired at the Golun they moved towards the river, and when they fired at the Keri they moved towards the river.  Some men were killed. 

Men from Golun and Keri were killed, they were not afraid.  Some men who wanted to run away were killed as they ran and lay on the ground and the bodies of other fleeing men piled on top of them as they too were shot.  The dead were lying one on top of another.  One man had been shot in the head and his face was destroyed.  He no longer looked like a man, but like nothing.  His brains had been blown out, his skull and his brains had been broken into tiny pieces.  I went and looked at him. I saw this man.

When the shooting finished there were not a few dead, many people had died by the river.  Towards mid-afternoon the policemen said, "Bury the dead".  When they said to do this I was still watching what was happening. 

A man called Kora had a piece of pork that he was cutting up as he walked along.  The pork had been cooked in an earth oven and it wasn't completely done but he wanted to eat it and was about to eat it when the police said "All the men are to come and stand in a line and then they have to bury the dead." 

The men gathered together and then went off to do that.  I was still watching. An old man had died and he’d fallen by the river.  He’d made himself a cassowary feather headdress and was wearing it.  He’d torn banana leaves into small strips, folded them and let them dry, and he wore these. I saw him. He had fallen into a ditch and died.

We didn't cut any casuarina branches and we didn't bring a spade with us, and we didn't bury the dead.  We put them in a garden ditch.  We lay the bodies in the garden ditch one on top of another in rows.  We didn't cover them with earth.  We gathered sweet potato leaves and banana leaves and marita pandanus leaves and piled them over the bodies.

If the government officials had seen the bodies they would have been angry so we hid the bodies.  Some of the people who’d been killed were thrown into the river, some of the dead we covered with soft earth.  We’d been told to bury the bodies and we finished burying the bodies.

My father's namesake, Kwiwa, had taken his dog and run away to Bomai.  The policemen were walking around shooting and in the afternoon when Kwiwa wanted to come home, he was shot by the police as he walked along the path with his dog.  My father saw his body and he carried him back and buried him.  The police killed people and then they left.  They shot those groups of people and killed many men and made a lot of trouble.” (Tape RH71.3:2).

The second account was given by Mui’s wife, a Keri woman (Pege, born c 1936). She recalled that when she was about 10 years old, a Golun man had been killed by another Golun, though his relatives believed the offence had been committed by the Keri. She was living with her elder sister, and her sister’s husband, Mugaleyure, when Golun people:

.…surrounded the house.  They seized Mugaleyure and took him off to Golun.  There they all gathered with axes, spears and sticks and they shot him as if he were a pig.  When he was hit and in pain he called out his daughter's name, "Muge Abakure".  … He died on the track and was carried home and buried.

The Keri people buried him.  His wife's relatives came and they said, "Golun pulled him from his house and killed him like a pig.  We’ll fight them.  They’ve asked for a fight so let’s fight." 

So they fought and the fight continued until Golun killed a Keri man.  They buried him and the next day they fought again and another Keri man was killed and he too was buried.  Again they fought and again Golun proved too strong and they killed a fourth Keri man and he too was buried.

Some of the Keri said, "We’re not a large group.  There are only a few of us.  Golun will kill us all.  We can't fight with them anymore.  If you want to keep fighting, go ahead, Golun Daula and Golun Wanga-Kageme are still there, but we intend to stand aside and just watch.  If you Keri Kobilku, Keri Wiwiku and Keri Omen want to continue fighting, it's up to you, but we, the Keri Aiwa, are dropping out."  They said this and they fought no more.

Now the Europeans had come and appointed officials at this time.  They said, "You people don't listen to what we say and you break the law.  You’re headstrong and you fight the whole time."  The policemen had decided to use their guns against us.  They set out, accompanied by people from Nimai, Tabari Kinba and Tabari Kapma who wanted to kill our pigs and steal our possessions.

The policemen went to Sua, near the government rest house and camped.  We the Keri, were on the road and we wanted to flee, but the policemen said, "We haven't come to kill you.  We're here to help you.  We heard that you lost many men and we came to support you.  Don't run away, go and fight the Golun."   The Keri believed them and went to fight with Golun.

At Sua, the police formed two lines between Keri and Golun; those intending to shoot the Keri faced Keri with their backs to Golun, those intending to shoot the Golun faced them and turned their backs on Keri.  They began to shoot.  The Golun tried to flee but they died on the road, and the same happened to the Keri. 

Those who were left alive lay underneath those who’d died and they pretended to be dead.  The police thought they were all dead.  Old men and women who tried to flee were shot.  During the night people fled in all directions, some down to the river and some up into the mountains.  Some hid here and there and they survived.” (Cassette CH3, A.4, 4 Jan 1972).

Neither of these accounts indicate the presence of a patrol officer at the location of the shooting they describe. They both show police as the significant actors in the shootings, though there is possible ambiguity in Mui’s account as to whether he believed officials in Kundiawa encouraged the action.

(As a 16 or 17 year old youth attached unofficially to the police he would of course have had no direct access to communications between kiaps and police). 

Amongst the several details in agreement between Mathias Kin’s account and that of Mui, are the names of one policeman (Buri/Bure), and one man shot (Kuiwa/Kwiwa).

Documentary materials

The documentary evidence we were able to locate for that area and period is fragmentary, but it all appears to point to that area being a frontier zone not under colonial administrative “control” up to 1947 at least (and more likely up to 1950).

The Leahy brothers seem to have crossed the Wahgi briefly into the territory of the Yui group, to the east of Keri, between 21 and 23 October 1934, during which they repulsed one attack with gun fire. The next rapid visit was by L G Vial (OIC at Kundiawa, or Chimbu Post as it was known) and the geologist Noakes in May-June 1939, who visited the salt springs below Deri in Keri territory.

In 1943 Capt J A Costelloe and J C McInerney visited the Dom axe quarry near the Wahgi and north of the Keri region. Another brief visit was made in February 1945 by the ANGAU officer Lt K W Jones.

The next reported visit is a March 1947 patrol by ADO J A Costelloe who noted that, following fighting in December 1946, he had posted six policemen in the territory of the Sinasina Dom to ensure the peace. His patrol crossed the Waghi from Sinasina on 11 March, and, after a night at Kaukau near Omkolai among the Kia, where 53 pigs had been killed and three leaders:

….cornered me off and begged me to open a post there, saying they would make available the necessary land. They said they were tired of the fighting times and wanted to settle down to a peaceful existence.

On 12 March, the patrol moved on to Deri.  There had, according to Costelloe, been:

....heavy fighting some few months ago.  I had placed a "garrison" of ten constables here to ensure that peace was kept and the change in the meantime is incredible.  I could see a tremendous gathering of people whilst we were still some distance off, but I was utterly unprepared for the welcome we received. 

Whilst still some two or three hundred yards from the Rest House the main boss boy (N or M)ikiyama met me and presented me with two young girls each of whom was highly decorated with red pandanus juice and bedecked with shell and plumes. 

As we got to the Rest House itself hundreds of girls were lined up on either side of the path and when I had progressed a little way they closed in on me from all directions and seized me by the arms, legs, and clothing.  One got a firm grip on a portion of my anatomy usually considered private and others had handfuls of the hair on my chest.  I was absolutely powerless; sheer weight of numbers made it impossible for me to do anything about it. 

I was half carried, half dragged to the Rest House and dumped unceremoniously on the floor when the ladies then sat on my legs, arms and chest making it difficult for me to breathe.  I finally managed to get outside and there a howling, cheering crowd of men and women, at least five thousand strong, all sought to shake hands with me at once!

Eventually things quietened down and I walked around the Post.  The people had made a wonderful effort and new houses with aesthetically placed coloured shrubs made a pattern pleasing to the eye.  Large police quarters and a huge dancing hall had been built.  Mountains of food were heaped ready for me and dozens of pigs were held ready for slaughter.

I addressed the people - telling them in simple terms of the aims of the Administration and beseeching them to lead orderly, peaceful lives.  Their leaders spoke in return and said they had destroyed all their weapons and planted the "tankit" shrub - the sign of peace.

I then bought forty-two pigs and a feast in which the leaders of the people and the police joined was held.  I reduced the strength of the 'garrison' to one constable.  I do not anticipate any further trouble here." (Costelloe 1947, Chimbu Patrol Report No. 7, pp. 1-2).

There was further fighting as reported by Wakeford’s patrols in 1948 and 1949: continued fighting among the Yui, and an attack on the patrol at Aiba (Chimbu Patrol Reports 2, 1948-49, p.4, and 6, 1948/49, Diary p.2).

Costelloe’s March 1947 statement that “ ...heavy fighting some few months ago.  I had placed a "garrison" of ten constables here” is of particular interest in the current context. We think it is likely that this garrison was placed following a previous patrol sometime in late 1946 or early 1947, though we have not seen any document referring to such a patrol.

In the light of Mui and Pege’s accounts of the police shootings, we interpreted Costelloe’s report of his (extraordinary) March 1947 reception to mean that the shootings had been carried out by police members of the various garrisons (temporary rural postings) stationed in Keri and also north in Koge prior to March 1947.

There are two other documentary mentions (besides the Kituai one described in another comment) to note. The first is Fr Schaefer’s book (1991) Cassowary of the Mountains, which Mathias Kin (1 Sept 2014, footnote 1, and 8 September comment) refers to as mentioning the Sua killings. Schaefer’s (1991: 11) words were:

….The area around Dirima was considered, until 1947, to be wild bush and the people unreliable and dangerous. Some months before Father van Stijn and I visited the area, Mr. Costelloe had been on patrol there and had been attacked by the locals. With his rifles he was able to convince the attackers that he had the stronger hand in the bargain.

Schaefer’s dating of his visit is not precise, but it was presumably post September 1947, since this is when van Stejn arrived at Mingende (1991:109). His “Some months before” for Costelloe’s patrol could refer to either a previous 1946 or early 1947 patrol, or to a police action independent of a patrol, or even perhaps to the March 1947 patrol, though Costelloe reports no force used during this one.

In 1976, Standish (1992: 69-70) recorded two former policemen, who had been members of a contact patrol in the Gumine area, saying that the police had killed many people. He footnoted that the relevant patrol report could not be found in the Archives, although:

.…subsequent reports indicate that there had been widespread killing in the first post-War patrol in the area. A mission source has indicated that people of a nearby area named over 100 deaths from this patrol. Another former policeman, who was also present, cheerfully discussed how he shot many people in Southern Simbu.


This additional material, we think, adds to the account presented by Mathias Kin, partly supporting his version, and, in part, providing a different or alternative view of what happened.  

The events as described by Mui Kimin and Pege certainly fit the definition of a “massacre”. In their understanding, the police armed with rifles determined to teach the Golun and Keri, located on the fringes of colonial control in the immediate post-World War II period, a lesson and proceeded to do so, albeit in the context of extended local fighting (and just after three years’ experience of brutal modern warfare, even if, for most Chimbu, theirs was only a marginal experience).

In contradiction to Kin’s version, neither locates J A Costelloe, or any other kiap, at the actual site of the shootings. Indeed, Mui’s fuller account details actions taken by the police and their helpers to cover up evidence of the shooting with the recognition that “if the government officials had seen the bodies they would have been angry so we hid the bodies”.

The current documentary trail is lacking enough evidence to pin down a complete sequence of patrols and events through the Golun-Keri area during 1945-48. Our sense of Costelloe’s March 1947 wording ("...heavy fighting some few months ago.  I had placed a "garrison" of ten constables here…”) is that he may have patrolled the area the previous year.

If the likelihood of sequential visits over several months (Costelloe had been in Chimbu since at least 1943) is correct, this may help explain the difference between recent accounts recorded by Mathias Kin which place Costelloe at the shooting, and ours from 40 years ago which do not.

While the limitations of a partial account need to be recognised, we believe that the careful use of oral historical material is crucial to a fuller understanding of the colonial encounter, especially events such as these which appear to have missed significant administrative documentation and thus have left only a faint trace in the current record.

Mathias Kin’s achievement in compiling the names of people involved in events some 65 years ago is valuable, and we hope he persists in his oral historical endeavours.

Publications and Reports mentioned

Costelloe, J.A. 1946/47 Chimbu Patrol Report No. 7.

Jones, K.W. 1944/45 Chimbu Patrol Report No. 9.

Kin, Mathias 2014 The sad story of the colonial massacre of Golen Keri, Simbu. (

Kituai, A. I. K. (1998). My Gun, My Brother: The World of the Papua New Guinea Colonial Police, 1920-1960. Honolulu, University of Hawai'i Press in association with the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai'i.

McInerney, J. C. (1943-1947). New Guinea Journal Transcript. Pacific Manuscript Bureau Microfilm No. 1204, Canberra.

Schaefer, A. (1991). Cassowary of the Mountains: The Memoirs of a Pioneer Missionary in Papua New Guinea 1930-1958. Rome, Apud Collegium Verbi Divini.

Standish, B. (1991). Simbu paths to power : political change and cultural continuity in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. PhD thesis. Australian National University, Canberra. (

Wakeford, J.E. 1948/49. Chimbu Patrol Report No. 2.

Wakeford, J.E. 1949/50. Chimbu Patrol Report No. 2.


Robin_l._hideThe original research on which this note is based was supported by the Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, and the National Science Foundation. We thank our friends and neighbours among the Nimai Waula for their unfailing hospitality and assistance.

Dr Robin L Hide is a visiting fellow in the Department of Anthropology and Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program at the Australian National University, Canberra


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Robin Hide

One correction to this account.

In the Conclusion, we wrote “(Costelloe had been in Chimbu since at least 1943)”.
This is an error. We know that Costelloe had been in Chimbu in 1943 (from McInerney’s diary, and from (accessed 28 June 2015). However, between 1943 and early 1946 he was away on ANGAU duties in other parts of the country, including Bougainville, Rabaul and Lae. He returned to Chimbu, presumably after discharge from ANGAU, as Assistant District Officer, sometime in 1946 (later than April when he was still in Rabaul with ANGAU). In a memoir note in 2008, Harry West wrote that:
“I was discharged from the army in Lae in March 1946 and was soon back in the highlands where Medical Assistant Gray Hartley and myself under Assistant District Officer Jack Costelloe looked after the whole of what is now the Chimbu Province. Most of it was classified uncontrolled and tribal fighting was rampant.” (“Musings of a District Commissioner”. THE MAIL THE ASOPA - PNG NEWSLETTER Number 125 – July 2008, (accessed 27 June 2015)).

Robin Hide

Chris Overland

This is a vivid and illuminating contribution to the debate on this topic. It demonstrates that the information Mathias Kin has gathered is, at the very least, broadly consistent with the material independently gathered by Dr Hide et al.

The combined impact of the reported widespread tribal fighting and the subsequent police action must have resulted in a very large death toll, as reported by Mathias Kin.

It remains unclear if ADO Costelloe was actually there at the time when the police intervened in the fighting. Even if he wasn't, it seems hard to believe that he would not have found out about events subsequently.

It may be that we will never know for sure simply because of the ambiguous nature of the evidence.

On the face of it, this exceptionally ugly incident ranks with some of the more extreme behaviour of Charles Monckton in the early 1900's. The reported police action was, by any reasonable assessment, disproportionate and unjustified.

Mathias Kin

Thank you Dr R L Hide for this very rather sad (very much to me) account of your work among the Numai, Dinga and Dom people.

The people of Numai, Dom, Gunage and Dinga are closely related to my people in Sua (Keri tribe), even to this day.

They intermarry and trade but most importantly the Salt baked by my people at Pleme (Waghi) was the major factor which pulled other tribes of Simbu closer to my people.

This killing had stayed with me since my childhood in the late 1960s. For a fair argument, my father Mikal Nime Nul (son of Nul mentioned in Hides document here who was later made Luluai by Costelloe) is still alive today and claims "Holteru" was there on that fateful day. He saw him.

Costello hid this killing well. His "rest house" and the site he planted the "tankit" is Deri, my village.

Fr A Schaefer SVD was referring to another incident among the Kipaku (Golen) people at Dirima opposite the Catholic Church, some 15 kilometres up valley from Sua.

This Dirima incident took place some months before the Sua incident.

Thank you for sharing this information.

Cheers olgeta wantok.

Karl Kora Aina

Hi Robin and Carol - Nice to hear from you again after a long time.

Your work in recording the history and culture of the Niami tribe and other tribes in the SinaSina and Gumine areas will continue to be of value for future generations.

If you can remember, I am Karl Kora Aina the son of Aina Kora (Interpreter). You can contact me by email on

I am a regular reader of PNG Attitude and I wish to thank Keith Jackson and all the contributors for your wonderful and interesting stories to read every day.

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