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15 August 2018


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One thing that strikes me about “The Northumbrian Kiap” is that, in my opinion, Robert Forster comes across as being very honest and straightforward in his writing and recollection.

I might disagree with him on some issues, but I would still conclude “Well, that is how he saw it at the time.”

In 1971-72 I was stationed in Karap (Catholic Mission) in the Jimi valley around the same time when he was stationed in Minj in the neighbouring Wahgi valley, and I can relate to much of what he writes about.

I do not think that I ever met Robert, though I would have visited Fr. John Labor in Minj in that time and would have passed through it to sell some coffee bags up at Sigimil. I remember Bernie Mulcahy being there in Minj – perhaps that was in 1973.

Apart from some references to Tom Ellis, Nigel van Ruth, and some other notable expats, Robert does not say too much about his fellow Kiaps or other expatriates.

However this in some ways adds to the focus on the local people themselves and local events. It was a significant time in the history of PNG and this book is a worthwhile record of how it was perceived.

An edited version of my review will be published in Air Niugini's in-flight magazine Paradise in the very next issue.

The Northumbrian Kiap is a very book which should be on the shelves of all school libraries in the country. Our children need to know this history.

Very well done, Daniel - it was a finely written review and all who read it will get a real kick from it - KJ

Thank you, Daniel, for your review. It was kind of you to recommend “The Northumbrian Kiap” to anyone who cares about the history of pre-Independence Papua New Guinea.

You may be interested in this response from a fellow reviewer for in the United States.

As you will see Kwahu agrees the book should be read by historians and documentarians and also suggests much of its content will not be known to many Papua New Guineans and therefore serves as a reference to their hidden history.

However I am also interested in your response to the observation that “Papua New Guineans should have been allowed to choose whether they wanted a change or not”.

By this I think Kwahu means the Europeans who were the country’s first visitors should have sought village opinion before they imposed their own cultural imperatives on people who had lived undisturbed by global turbulence since pre-historical times.

As you know my own view is that it is impossible for Papua New Guineans, or anyone else, to hold back the tide of globalisation and that colonialisation was not a singular phenomenon but merely a forerunner of the ongoing, and unstoppable, cultural and economic global tide that threatens to engulf us all – wherever we live and whatever our ancestry may be.

Is this summary too simple?

Kwahu’s slightly abbreviated review is contained within the quotation marks.

“I see this book as a valuable documentation of the political and cultural conflict between the Europeans and Papua New Guineans in the early and mid-20th century. I suppose much of what is written may not be known to most Papua New Guineans and can serve as a great reference to their hidden history.

"Politics, culture and murder are the themes mostly discussed. Each of the themes has its own share of description in detail to make the readers feel as though they were right there in each village. As the saying goes "a picture is worth a thousand words," and there is also much to learn through the pictures the author includes in the book.

"What I liked most is the in-depth exploration of the PNG's cultural practices from the stone age, the iron age and even when the global economic pressure and technological innovation were being accommodated.

"Even though change is good, I felt that the Papua New Guineans should have been allowed to choose whether they wanted a change or not. I felt like so many things were being imposed on them against their will, resulting in the resistance to change. However, the book is a beautiful reflection of where the world has come from.

"I recommend this book to historians and documentarians as it contains information that may be of benefit to their research. I didn't come across any grammar or spelling errors, however, there were missing words and misplaced commas didn't escape my eye. Nevertheless these weren't an obstacle and I won't hesitate to give the book 4 out of 4 stars.”

Excellent work Daniel. A good review. I would be happy to get a copy. Where can find one?

That's apt Daniel, when the kiaps left "the bush grew back".

A good review of what I think is an important book.

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