A Kiap’s Chronicle: 16 - Telefomin
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The truth about the highlands frontier – I want to tell it my way

Chimbu familyMATHIAS KIN

KUNDIAWA - I must commend Peter Krantz for his recent articleThe bloody early years of outside engagement with the Simbu’.

I believe the stories Peter related are an important part of Chimbu and New Guinea history that must be told to our younger generations in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Commenting on this article, Fr Garry Roche mentioned the Chimbu Valley shooting of Fr Karl Morschheuser SVD and Br Eugene Frank SVD but did not tell the Chimbu side of the story.

In early 1935, the press in Australia mentioned only the killing of the two white men. The fate of the Chimbu people who died was not considered to be of interest. I guess nothing much has changed.

So here’s the other side of the story from the Chimbu Valley, where an estimated 100 or so men were killed in the days following the shooting of the two missionaries.

A big number that never got a mention in the Australian press. Not even the Pope knew of those souls that perished by the guns of Christian men whose fifth Commandment said, “Thou shall not kill”.

Assistant District Officer (ADO) James Lindsay Taylor was in-charge of the government patrol that went into the Chimbu Valley on 16 January 1935 to investigate and arrest the men who shot the missionaries.

However, this task of identifying the culprits who shot the two missionaries from an estimated 10,000 natives in the valley was challenging.

On 11 February at the present day Gembogl station, 35 Mauglak and Inaugl warriors were shot dead by the Taylor patrol. At the time the two tribes were engaged in warfare on opposite sides of the Chimbu River.

A government officer reported that only five men had been shot. But this was a mass killing, by definition a massacre, and it happened in comparatively modern times.

Part of the Taylor team was a young Danny Leahy, younger brother of gold prospector Michael, who was made a special constable for the purpose of this expedition. He was included in the contingent of 12 New Guinea Police Force (NGPF) men.

A month after this, 70 Chimbu Valley men were marched 700 kilometers to Salamaua on the Morobe coast. One could only imagine the atrocious conditions these men, many of them tribal chiefs, endured.

First, they suffered in a notorious pit prison at the Chimbu-Wahgi post for 30 days and then, during 26 days walking tied to the hand of the next prisoner, they suffered through the highlands cold and the lowlands tropical heat treated less as men, some of real standing, and more as sub-humans.

While held in Salamaua for many months, many died of coastal diseases and were buried far away from their loved ones. Sometime later, many of the remaining men who returned to their homes also died of these diseases. The world did not know of these tragedies.

An earlier killing on 21 August 1933 at Waingar, two kilometers from present day Mingende Catholic Mission Station mentioned by Peter Krantz, occurred on the return trip from Mt Hagen by the Taylor-Leahy patrol and involved Taylor himself, surveyor Ken Spinks and two NGPF men.

Taylor reported that one man was killed by the patrol but in my findings, supported by anthropologist Paula Brown and others, five men of the Waugla Muguaku tribe were killed after a knife was stolen.

An early kiap at workIn September 2014, I wrote in PNG Attitude of another massacre among my Keri Golen people at Sua in late 1946 when John Amery ‘Jack’ Costelloe was Assistant District Officer at Kundiawa. Robin and Carolyn Hide later provided an addendum to my article.

Costelloe’s presence at the shooting in Sua was uncertain but, in ensuing days, my article generated a lively discussion which included denials from some writers that this could have occurred and, sadly, personal accusations of bias against me.

In my studies, and as I progress steadily through my sizeable ‘History of Chimbu’, I have come to realise that the work by kiaps to assert control of the communities might have been seen as taking too long.

So, to hasten efforts in areas where there was rampant tribal fighting, the kiaps decided upon big impact shooting so the tribes would see and learn from them and hopefully cease their warfare.

In other words, the kiaps intended to teach the kanakas a lesson. This style of shooting happened at Gembogl, at Sua and also in other parts of Chimbu.

One area of mutual practice among these early Australian colonial officers in charge of patrols, was that they did not accurately report their killings of indigenous people to their superiors. Often they would understate the deaths and sometimes they did not report them at all.

In the years between 1933 and 1948, these premeditated killings by officers did achieve their aim for quickly controlling the tribes. However these intentional acts - or for that matter any killing by a government patrol - should always have been investigated and, of warranted, the officers disciplined.

As shown clearly from the Kouno incident in Jiwaka Province in July 1947 involving a young Patrol Officer Craig AJ Symonds, the authorities at the time were corrupt - from Taylor at district level as far up as EJ Ward, the Australian federal minister responsible.

Six months later Symonds, who was charged with manslaughter, and Taylor, who was charged with attempting to pervert the cause of justice in shielding, Symons were both exonerated and returned to their posts.

Mathias Kin

Historian Dr August Kituai discusses the Kouno shooting in d etail but did not investigate further the killings in Chimbu. If he had, he would have exhumed mass graves in many parts of Chimbu, including the Chimbu Valley.

Finally, I believe authorities in Australia and in PNG must acknowledge the atrocities that occurred on those highlands frontiers between the early 1930s and the post-war period.

This is a side of New Guinea history that has been concealed and not investigated as thoroughly as it should have been in the past. I hope my 'History of Chimbu' may change that.


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Philip Kai Morre

Writing historical books requires the author deal with facts and information from written documents, notes, letters, audio recordings, photos and oral history. Researchers are careful not to add their own information or make up stories to suit their manuscript. they are subjected to criticism.

As a Simbu I am proud that Mathias Kin did extensive research and spent tremendous time and resources to compile his book.

Mathias Kin, you are an engineer by profession and writing a history book belongs to historians, ethnographers, anthropologists, and sociologists.

How you came to write a history book displays a latent knowledge and talent that lies hidden allowing you to explore much deeper, I salute you in writing a book that the Simbu generation to come will treasure.

Peter Kranz

I recollect a conversation I had with our Bubu Pius some 12 years ago just before he died. He was one of the first Simbus to meet the white men and helped build the Kundiawa airstrip. These were his words.

In Pius’s memory, those early settlers were not benevolent. Jim Taylor was like a malign despot who killed many people and treated the locals very badly.

Pius's stories about the early Australian administration were disturbing. His job was to arouse the villagers in the morning to work on the Kundiawa airstrip.

The airstrip was built by forcibly recruiting local villagers to carry big rocks from Wara Simbu to make the foundations - you can see them to this day.

If people did not get up at sunrise and get to the works on time, they were beaten and sometimes killed. They were not paid, other than a bit of food twice a day, which was inadequate.

Some starved, some were beaten to death, some died of cold and overwork.

A local anecdote to be sure, but history must see the past from both sides.

According to Bubu Pius, Jim Taylor and the early Australians were magical monsters, dealing death and glory with the same hand.

Daniel Kumbon

The folklore you refer to Robert is popular in my area of Kandep too. The character of the man was, in this case, a weakling, a scarecrow, who used to be ridiculed and made fun of by the womenfolk of the valley.

So he went hunting and killed many possums and cooked them and offered them to spirits pleading that his penis would grow long. And when it did, he had the power to pick off the woman one by one like a crane and lifted them to the mountain top where he sat and took his revenge.

The garden where the incident allegedly took place is there by the road and people talk about the incident often.

Not very far at Kikau village on the other side of the Kolak River, bombs were dropped by either the Japanese or the Allies during World War 2. Local people tried to use the scrap metal to make axes. But one unexploded bomb blew up and killed several men. I mention this in my book ‘I Can See My Country Clearly Now’.

But I did not mention anything about the rape in order not to mar the good work that had been done by men like Jim Fenton, Lloyd Warr, missionaries, teachers and others who came to help my people.

Robert Forster | Northumberland, UK

Daniel Kumbon’s account of a 1960’s rape by a Kiap of a village woman working in her garden reminds me of a folk legend passed on by the Ogana people who lived in the hills behind Nondugl near the Jikawa/Chimbu border.

They described a man with two astonishing characteristics – exceptional eyesight and an extraordinary penis.

He liked to stand high on a mountain hoping to see a woman, in a pul-pul, bending over while working in her garden.

When he did he unleashed his penis which, despite the many obstacles, sped towards her like a striking snake, pierced her, secured the enjoyment its owner craved, and then retreated before the startled woman could identify how she had been assaulted.

The Kiap who saw a Wabag woman in a similarly stooped position must have been extraordinarily suppressed to have been moved to attack her in that manner – perhaps with a driver, interpreter or other people looking on.

Perhaps Daniel found the fundamentals of his story too entertaining to resist or there are other, more informative, details that he has still to reveal?

The claims advanced by Mathias Kin are much more serious and must be forensically examined.

Some village people WERE shot, many of them at point of contact with the first Kiap patrols. I have repeated what I was told about these occasions by participating Mid-Wahgi clansmen in response to the PNG Attitude article written by Peter Kranz on 15 January.

I was impressed with the immediacy the people I spoke to accepted the punishing power of the .303 rifle. One told me that as soon as he saw a red hole punched through the back of a fellow warrior while they were attacking the first Kiap patrol to enter their territory he dropped his spear and ran back into the bush.

If the Chimbu people were similarly awed by .303 firepower I expect they would have treated rifle carriers, wherever they were and whatever their mission, with huge caution and used all their stealth and other hunting skills to minimise the occasions when they might present themselves as targets – unless they were determined to resist Kiap intention by launching full frontal, armed, assaults on rifle carriers who then used their own weapons to protect themselves.

This makes an appreciation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Chimbus shot in 1935 critical to an understanding of whether rifle use was avoidable, gratuitous, or an unsurprising result of self-defence.

For example were the 35 Chimbus said to have died in one day shot on the same occasion or was the number cumulative after taking account of several incidents over the course of that day – and exactly what was happening when the rifles were fired?

The overall total cited by Mr Kin also needs a more concrete foundation if the manner of these deaths is to be accurately appreciated, analysed and appraised.

As well as explaining in as much detail as he can the circumstances in which Kiaps patrolling in 1935 and the shot Chimbus had met Mr Kin must also demonstrate that his assertion a total of around 100 village men were shot dead is accurate.

He will find it difficult to be convincing if eyewitnesses are dead and the information passed back by people, who at the time were not adept with numbers, has been blurred by the absence of numerical precision or, as is often the case with oral history, embellished on an on-going basis with each decade that passes.

British historians appraising distant skirmishes in our own past have learned to distrust written summaries of oral accounts because most of these records appeared long after the event itself and may have reflected the entertainment, or grievance, value the stories had acquired over a succession of long fireside nights.

They also acknowledged that peasants (the contemporary term for village people in the UK) were easily awed by scale and could describe two or three bodies as “many” which later became whatever number a story teller felt best suited to the presentation of his narrative.

Peter Kranz

Researchers like Mathias may find these links useful. Good work angra Kin!




Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Mathias Kin, write what you gathered in your research for Chimbus as well as the colonial masters.

Readers can decide for themselves what to accept as authentic and sieve others.

There is no blueprint that says only colonisers can write about the colonised.

Geraldine Kaupa

Good work MK!

Mathias Kin

Chris Overland and others, thank you for your comments on the question of extrajudicial killings in Simbu and in New Guinea.

Chris, I will not indulge in any further argument like in 2014. You people keep on talking as you please. The only point I will make is that Chris, as a historian, seemingly has not read enough Simbu history.

I advise you read Paula Brown, Fr John Nilles, Alphonse Schaefer, Rev Bergmann, Taylor's reports and Connelly.

I have put much work into my writing and will go the distance. Redi long tok tru bai kam. Noken pairap!

Daniel Kumbon

I heard from people in the 1960s that a kiap had raped a man's wife near Yapum in the Lai constituency of Kandep.

Normally, women worked alone in the gardens. And when they made sweet potato mounds, they usually bent down with their legs apart to dig the soil or to plant the kaukau vines.

It was said the kiap who lived alone must have been tempted when he saw the scantily clothed woman in her grass skirt working alone in her garden. It was said the kiap parked his administration car on the dirt road and assaulted the woman from behind.

At the time local people were terrified of the kiaps, policemen and carriers. The poor lady complained and screamed for help after the kiap had driven off.

In another part of Kandep, this time in the Lower Wage area, I heard a policeman from Madang was killed by locals when they were forced to work on the Kandep - Magarima road without rest.

It was said the locals were never given a break, not even to rest or smoke, but forced to toil all day for five days a week for no reward.

I don't know if these incidents were reported but, if they were, the information will definitely be found in Patrol Reports which I think are available online.

Having read Mathias Kin's first report with names of people that were killed, his claims may hold water. This needs to be researched further to establish the truth.

Rashmii Bell

Excellent work, Mathias.

I'm looking forward to reading 'History of Simbu'.

Chris Overland

I am on record in PNG Attitude in disputing the veracity of Mathias Kin's claims about the true nature and extent of extrajudicial killings in the Simbu and elsewhere.

So far as I can tell, he is relying upon hearsay collected from second or even third hand oral evidence. There is a large body of scholarly work about how difficult it is to interpret such evidence.

Basically, this is because human memories are fickle and subject to revision over the years, meaning that the objective truth about a given incident can be very hard to discern.

In this article he repeats previous accusations directed against people like Jim Taylor and John (Jack) Costelloe, that they engaged in large scale killing of indigenous people and either did not report this or covered up the true scale of their activities.

These accusations, being based upon hearsay evidence, would not stand up to examination in any properly convened court. Those accused are also, conveniently, dead. Consequently, they are unable to defend themselves against what are very defamatory allegations.

Mathias also asserts:

"One area of mutual practice among these early Australian colonial officers in charge of patrols, was that they did not accurately report their killings of indigenous people to their superiors. Often they would understate the deaths and sometimes they did not report them at all."

The key words here are "mutual practice", which implies a wide spread conspiracy amongst kiaps to deceive the authorities about the true nature and extent of their activities. There is not one shred of evidence advanced to support this grave charge, which is further compounded when Mathias writes:

"...the authorities at the time were corrupt - from Taylor at district level as far up as EJ Ward, the Australian federal minister responsible."

Again, there is no credible evidence to support this statement, which implies a governmental level conspiracy to hide from the Australian public the supposed use of extrajudicial killings as a matter of policy.

I could go on attacking this article but it would essentially be pointless. Mathias is convinced that what he says is true and nothing is going to dissuade him from publishing his views.

But as an historian I regard his work, commendable as it is in concept, as being deeply flawed because of his persistence in making accusations that simply will not stand up to close examination.

In doing this, he is effectively missing the chance to make what I regard as a valid point, which was that the evidence he has collected, at the very least, strongly suggests that there were incidents where excessive force was used.

The scale of such killings would not have been negligible but almost certainly fell well short of the massacres that folklore amongst the Simbu says occurred.

The Simbu folklore is almost certainly "sexing up" the history of early contact with kiaps to make it seem more dramatic and awful than it really was.

This is not to say that being on the wrong end of a colonial regime was fun, merely that the truth is often too mundane to make a good yarn around the fire, so a bit of exaggeration is used to improve it.

The forcible removal of people to the coast for internment was, as Mathias rightly asserts, going to be a death sentence for some owing to their exposure to a very different and much more unhealthy climate.

This policy may have made logistical sense at the time but was, to my mind, poorly conceived and showed a fairly callous or unthinking indifference to those removed from proximity to their people and lands.

What the available evidence clearly shows is that the imposition of the rule of law in PNG was not bloodless and there were many casualties from the confrontations between the colonial regime and the indigenous population. The numbers killed or wounded may be in dispute, but not the fact that violence was used by both sides.

However, as I have repeatedly asserted, what happened in PNG has to be seen in the context of how European imperialists had previously imposed their rule across the world.

So, for example, the Spanish subjugation of South America is thought to have led, directly or indirectly, to the deaths of some eight million people. That is the equivalent to more than the current population of PNG.

The British invasion of the Australian continent is thought to have caused the deaths of, at the very least, many tens of thousands of Aboriginal people, with at least 20,000 of those deaths being attributable to acts of violence, most of which were extrajudicial in nature and frequently neither reported nor punished.

This appalling history has only really been belatedly acknowledged in the comparatively recent past.

In the USA, the infamous Phips Proclamation of 1755, issued in the name of King George the Second, urged:

"...subjects (the settlers in Massachusetts) to embrace all opportunities for pursuing, captivating (sic), killing and destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians."

Bounties were paid for each Indian killed, on a sliding scale which paid for dead children at half the going rate for adults.

This proclamation was merely the first in a long and dreadful line of nominally legal acts during which the Indian tribes of the USA were variously killed or forcibly relocated so that the "home of the brave, land of the free" could be made safe for European occupancy.

I mention this to underline how when the Simbu and other PNG peoples first confronted the Australian colonial power, the officials took a very restrained and cautious approach to imposing control.

They tried to operate within a legal framework and, mostly, used the absolute minimum level of force required to achieve their objectives.

I cannot begin to imagine what the imposition of colonial rule must have felt like for peoples whose traditional lives had persisted largely unchanged for thousands of years.

Nor can I imagine the shock, horror and amazement generated by the impact of modern weapons upon warriors used to fighting with spears, clubs and bows and arrows.

It must have had a profound and immediate effect and goes a long way to explaining why resistance to colonial rule in PNG rapidly collapsed.

Attacks upon colonial officers rarely had a good outcome for the attackers and, in any event, it soon became apparent that the relative peace and tranquillity which they imposed was not without considerable benefits.

The history of the use of coercion and force in PNG by the Australian administration is not without blemish and it seems certain that excessive force was used at times and, very probably, that some incidents were covered up.

That said, the available evidence suggests that such abuses were rare, not systematic and certainly not sanctioned by the authorities in PNG or Australia.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think you could probably say there is a code of honour among the old kiaps that sometimes makes it difficult for them to accept these kinds of accounts, Mathias, but that is no reason why you shouldn't progress with your book.

At some point they will have to accept that there are some things in their history that were unacceptable, both by the standards of the day and by modern standards.

When I wrote my account of my time as a kiap I tried to portray the PNG people as fellow human beings rather than as anything different. This necessarily entailed pointing out some of the sillier and less savoury aspects of our time as colonialists.

As you have, I copped a lot of flak. I was accused of lying and making things up and people took umbrage at simple things like describing sharing a whiskey and yarning with my police sergeant on the veranda of my house in the evening.

For some people this was unacceptable behaviour and clearly not true.

So be prepared for heaps of criticism. But remember, it is often the guilty who protest the most.

Michael Dom

You are doing brilliant work, Mathias. Keep going.

Garry Roche

Mathias, you are right - although I stated that the Simbu had been provoked, I did not tell the Simbu side of the story - because honestly until now I had not heard about the additional killings.

Danny Leahy stated that the government officials prevented him and Mick Leahy from entering the area in search of Bro Eugene, he did not mention any killing.

It is good that you are researching and writing. I must admit that I had not read your earlier 2014 posting, which i have just now read with many of the comments. It is good that you have listed the names of many of the deceased, this adds credibility to your research.

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