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How the RPNGC's rivalry impinged on astute kiap policing

The bloody early years of outside engagement with the Simbu

Gende-Jim Taylor arrives in the highlands
‘No 1 Kiap blong Australia Mr Jim Taylor i brukim bush long Highlands Papua Niugini’ (The first Australian kiap, Mr Jim Taylor, on an exploratory mission in the PNG highlands), Simon Gende, 1999


MORISSET - There remains a long-standing dispute about the number of local people slain in the first explorations into the highlands by white expeditions, but no account denies that some dozens were killed.

There are many accounts from the point of view of those early expatriate pioneers; but I have gathered from existing records some first-hand accounts by Simbu people.

“When the kiaps and policeman came they did shoot people and animals and I saw them,” said Mondo Ola of Ombondo in the Simbu Valley. “They shot one of our leaders by the name of Kapaki Degba Mondia and from my clan they shot a man named Waugla Sungwa” (interview by Paul San).

The first kiaps were so rough that the natives were very scared of them and they never came close to hear what they were saying,” recalled Mrs Nukama of Womai village. “The first kiaps did their best to tame them by showing them axes and salt.

“Some of the villagers tried to steal the things which the white men showed them so that's how the shooting starts. There were about five people killed at that time” (interview of women from eastern Simbu by Moro, 1985).

A man named Dage described an incident that may have occurred on 19 August 1933: “We brought food and got girigiri, salt and beads. Then we heard some were coming from Hagan. Some said they would kill them and take their cargo and their women tied up in tents. They were going to attack Jim Taylor.

“People of Siku, Kamanegu and Dage put on grass, black paint and took spears. Taylor shot three of Dage Duglkane – blew off their heads. We were afraid; didn't know about guns. This was down at the Kerowagi bridge where a Siku had a garden and was shot and killed” (interviewed by Paula Brown, 1987).

And at Kunabau in August 1933: “They shot a lot up because a bush knife was stolen at Kunabau. We tried to kill the kiap with our spears, but he shot his rifle at us” (interviewed by Paula Brown, 1987).

Taylor stopped at Kunabau, went to the west and returned,” said Taya, an elder of the Gamgani Naregu tribe. “Dege took a bush knife. The policemen shot many Wauga. Then they came down to Wahgi and up to Pinga.

Preparing for a census  Laiagam  1959 (Graham Pople)
Census preparations, Laiagam, 1959

“Gege of Kunabau said to kill him and take his cargo, Took a bow and arrow and shot him. Taylor took his gun and killed plenty of men at Kunabau.... Taylor said he could not be killed. We heard him and went away. They were told that he had killed some men at Kunabau with his gun. Then he went on to Kundiawa (interviewed by Paula Brown, 1958).

Stories of conflicts with kiaps and police and of shooting and killing in eastern Simbu have also been reported by Warry (1987) and Hatanaka (1972) for Simbu groups east of the Simbu river.

The official reports recognise fewer casualties than do the stories of Simbu eye-witnesses, but in an interview many years later Taylor admitted that his figures had been “modified” (Connelley and Anderson, 1987).


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I think I might be unconsciously refering to the post WW2 period Mathias. I guess this is natural because it was the period when I was a kiap.

Perhaps we need to separate the colonial period into two sections, pre WW2 and post WW2? We might even like to include a pre WW1 period.

We can then acknowledge that the first period before WW1 was particularly bloody and that the period between the wars, although better, had its unsavoury moments.

I could then claim that the post WW2 period was largely one when humanitarian ideals prevailed (at least in the Australian Administration).

On another note Sil, Aborigines in Australia were indeed classified as flora and fauna. There are several defunct state acts that bear witness to this sad fact. No doubt that attitude was transferred to PNG by some people.

Finally, can I venture the thought that the Simbu, by it's dense population and the nature of its people that sprung from that situation, such as a high regard for clan land, was an especially fertile ground for potential conflict.

Good luck with tomorrow's article Mathias. I guess you've got your helmet and flak jacket ready.

Mathias Kin

Phil and Joe Sil - When five natives can be shot for a nothing knife or another five shot in the back while fleeing, you'd really think Sil maybe objective. Oh, those early days.

Mathias' most recent article, 'The truth about the highlands frontier – I want to tell it my way', will be published in PNG Attitude tomorrow - KJ

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Phil, only a bit of sarcasm here. You don't need to be offended. I know you did not come here with this thinking.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think you are wrong there Sil.

I think one of the defining characteristics of the Australian administration was that most of their field officers saw PNGs as fellow human beings.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

At that time natives were part of the flora and fauna.

Robert Forster | Northumberland, UK

In 1972, when I was persuading the people of the Wahgi Valley's North Wall to accept the replacement of the Australian flag with the new PNG emblem, I spent many hours talking with village people, including old Luluais (and others) who were young men when the first patrol moved through their land in 1933 and who had taken arms against it.

These conversations, many of them in the evening, confirmed the patrol was regularly attacked as it moved through a succession of clan boundaries and the intention of these worried men (who on earth were these strange people?) was to scare the invading column off by inflicting casualties - which were expected to have included some deaths.

The eyewitness accounts I heard indicated that reaction to returning rifle fire was immediate and overwhelming because the manner of the deaths (I am going to venture perhaps anything between one and three on the occasion of the first - and often only - attack) was beyond understanding.

There was no anger, often laughter, as these events were described. And my conclusion continues to be that the enormous changes, most of them beneficial, that followed on from that first contact were considered by the attacking clan as a fair swap for the deaths (and woundings) it had initially suffered at Kiap hands.

These observations were made at the same time as worries about impending self-government were being paraded. The fear then was that the new inter-tribal peace that followed that first patrol, and all the economic and health benefits that flowed from it, were in jeopardy.

Again the overwhelming view was that whatever had happened at first contact was more than compensated by the subsequent explosion in clan good fortune - and I was repeatedly told they would be unhappy if self-government reversed this post-contact trend.

It may be that resistance to first contact was more persistent in other regions and more clansmen were killed than was the case in the Mid-Wahgi. It is impossible for me to venture an opinion.

However I would have to say that in the second half of 1972 the overview among the Mid-Wahgi's clans was that a handful of point-of-contact deaths in 1933 was a small price to pay for the many, many, positive benefits that flowed thereafter.

Philip Kai Morre

Thank you Fr Garry for your historical account. Fr Karl Morschheuser first settled at Mirane 2 kms south of Kundiawa town in 1933/34.

He travelled as far as Koge, Kup and Minj within a short time and was a real workaholic. The people called him Kua Kruwo (white bird).

He lived among the Endugla tribe for just few months before he was killed in December 1934. He became the victim of Fr Van Barr's travel.

I heard from one of his carriers, Johannes Miugle from Mingende, that Fr Morschheuser was trying to compensate and make peace with the pig owners but a communication breakdown occurred somewhere and the people could not communicate well with him. He was killed as a result.

In his honour, the people of Endugla have built a church on the same spot where Karl Morschheuser lived. The orange tree he planted in 1934 still stands and the water spring source he dug 85 years ago never runs dry.

Fr Morschheuser died so early but he was a peace maker. He should be declared a Saint together with Br Eugene but the formal process has yet to be done.

The Fr Karl Morschheuser memorial church will be open sometime this year and we hope to invite some of his living relatives from Germany.

Garry Roche

Philip, the two missionaries who were killed near Denglagu were Fr. Karl Morschheuser from Germany and some days later Bro. Eugene Frank who was from the USA.
The incident where Karl Morschheuser was killed arose after another priest Fr. Cornelius Van Baar had shot a pig and a cassowary in retaliation for the burning down of a hut. The locals got angry over this, Van Baar escaped but Morschheuser was killed. That was December 1934. A short time later, not knowing about the problem, Bro Eugene Frank who had been with Fr. Ross in Wilya, Hagen, came through with some Madang locals and was ambushed. He suffered arrow wounds and took shelter in a hut with an injured Madang carrier named Peter Manui. Bro. Eugene was found by a patrol and taken to Salamaua where he died from his injuries in January 1935. Peter Manui survived and though partially crippled by injuries later served as a storekeeper at Rebiamul until 1973 when he moved to Mingendi where he later died. I remember Peter Manui at Rebiamul.
The missionaries acknowledged that Van Baar had provoked the attack. Later there was formal reconciliation. Both sides were eagar to reconcile. A mission house at Rebiamul is named in honor of Bro. Eugene. I believe there is also some memorial in Simbu.

Chris Overland

Every time this topic comes up, I feel obliged to point out that what constitutes the "bloody early years" in PNG is, in an historic context, not very bloody at all.

I realise that this will come as no comfort whatsoever to those whose relatives were shot and killed or injured by the early kiaps, but it is really important to keep things in perspective.

Imperialism in whatever form it arises is invariably a story of conquest and suppression. This has been true since time immemorial. It is what we humans do to one another in the pursuit of power, wealth and glory.

So, in Africa and South America, large scale killing and enslavement was common, with entire colonial armies ranging across the African landscape whenever the imperial power concerned deemed this necessary.

Similarly, in the USA, though they might wish to forget it, the so-called Indian Wars of the 19th century saw the US Army used to crush Indian uprisings and progressively remove them from their lands onto reservations. It was genocidal warfare, where repeated bad faith on the part of the US government led to conflict.

Closer to home, no-one knows for sure how many Aboriginal people were killed as the European settlers expanded into new territories but a figure of 20,000 is plausible. The main damage was done by disease though, which ran rampant through the Aboriginal people because they lacked any immunity to the new diseases that accompanied the settlers.

A dishonourable mention needs to be made of alcohol, cigarettes and bad diet, which always accompanied European imperialism. These factors are, arguably, still the most lethal legacy of the colonial era.

In PNG, there were certainly very violent incidents between the early kiaps and the people they encountered.

I have previously written about the appalling conduct of Assistant Resident Magistrate C.A.W. Monckton, who shot his way through the Northern Province to bring it under firm colonial control. I am also aware of at least one further incident in that Province where vengeful gold miners massacred about 40 men, women and children in retaliation for the murder of 3 colleagues.

So, the issue is not whether or not there were people killed in PNG but the true extent of that killing.

The available verifiable evidence suggests that killings by patrol officers or police were comparatively rare. The official position of the administration was that shootings were a last resort measure and had to be reported.

Extrajudicial killings were regarded as a very serious matter. The long serving Minister for External Affairs, Paul Hasluck (a lawyer by profession), insisted upon receiving a personal briefing on each and every case. He took it upon himself to decide in every case whether the action had been justified by the circumstances.

That said, it seems probable to me that there were undocumented incidents that involved the conscious suppression of evidence. The trouble is, it is impossible to find out about this except through unreliable second or third hand oral reports.

This makes establishing even a rough approximation of how many people were killed during the early exploratory work almost impossible to establish.

I think that almost no-one would disagree with the proposition that hundreds of people, perhaps even as many as 1,000, were killed in the pre-world war 2 era, with many fewer killed in the post war era.

Equally, the idea that there was large scale killing is highly implausible. Basically, there were far too many European missionaries and other civilians around soon after the first world war for such activities to go unremarked and unrecorded.

We will never know for sure what the true count of extrajudicial killings really is. The best that can be said is that it will be larger than officially recorded but rather smaller that the folklore about the early days would suggest.

What we can say for sure is that it was dwarfed by the numbers killed in the inter tribal conflicts that bedevilled PNG until they were largely suppressed by the kiaps.

The numbers of unlawful killings perpetrated by Papua New Guineans today, whether in the throes of electoral disputes, or during the despicable and evil attacks on so called witches, is mute testimony to the ferocity and injustice that was part and parcel of traditional PNG societies.

Philip Kai Morre

It is time the early kiaps reconciled with the families of the slain people of Simbu and the highlands as a whole. Since all our early kiaps and their employers have died, their family members or the Australian High Commission or government has to step to make peace and be compensated.

I know that the people of Kukane tribe in the upper Simbu made peace and reconciliation with the SVD Missionaries during the 50 year anniversary of mission work in the highlands. T

They contributed money and killed pigs for the two missionaries killed by the people of Kukane tribe namely Fr Carl Moses and Br Eugene.

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