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06 November 2018


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Tobias Schwoerer

I am rather pleased that my research has caught the attention of someone from PNG Attitude and that they decided to showcase it on their website.

I welcome this interest, and hope that some of the readers will consider buying the book I am currently working on once it is published.

I am also grateful to the posts by Chris Overland and Philip Fitzpatrick for making me aware of potential misunderstandings that can emerge from my use of terms. I understand repression to mean the repression (or suppression) of warfare, not the repression (or oppression) of people.

In my thesis, and also noted by Chris, I show that Australian kiaps and New Guinea policemen used a wide variety of enforcing tactics to stop armed conflict.

These were for the most part benign uses of police force, in the form of arrests and imprisonment, in a few cases the destruction of property (burning houses) or corporal punishment (caning), and only rarely (and then mostly in cases of self-defense) the use of potentially lethal force by firing guns.

Let me also state that I have the utmost regard for the work of the Australian kiaps, as they operated in sometimes very difficult and hostile circumstances, and most went out of their way to prevent situations in which they would have to use firearms.

The number of victims of pacification in the area I studied is small (I have collected testimonies for a total of 32 deaths), and pales in contrast to those that would have died had indigenous warfare continued.

There are a few isolated incidents in the late 1940s and early 1950s that warrant the term “excessive violence”, however.

These incidents were mostly perpetrated by unsupervised New Guinean policemen, which is why there is hardly any documentary evidence, and why so little is known about them (even by ex-kiaps).

The case study of Obura which I too briefly mention in my summary is one such incident: a coastal policeman stationed at a police post in Omaura (such police posts only occasionally visited by kiaps existed in the Eastern Highlands until late 1952) together with some local villagers mounted a punishment expedition against Obura, and at dawn and without warning opened fire on a men’s house. This resulted in the death of 13 men, the largest death toll in any of such encounters.

I would like to emphasise, however, that this is an exception, and that for the most part, positive material incentives, the promise of wealth, the introduction of courts, and the support by local leaders led to a quick end of warfare accepted by all.

If someone would like to know more about these positive processes, I suggest a read of my article entitled “The Red Flag of Peace: Colonial Pacification, Cargo Cults, and the End of War among the South Fore”, available here:

Andy McNabb

Chris, stop this “mea culpa”. At least yu no how to spel proper like.

I was taught “proper” English, and I still remember the ruler across my fingers when Miss Broadbent noticed I had got an “irregular verb” confused with a “past participle”.

If it occurred again, it was the “naughty corner” for 10 minutes, and all the other kids would laugh at the naughty one.

You writings are always insightful, accessible, and instructive.

Keep them coming!

Chris Overland

Andy, you are right. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima!

Andy [The Pedant] McNabb

Chris - The adjective "repression" is more typically associated.... I think you will find "repression" is a noun.

Philip Fitzpatrick

While I haven't read Tobias' thesis either, Chris, this summary seems to be reminiscent of academia's old kiap bashing days post 1975.

"Excessive and unsystematic state violence" - perhaps someone should send him a copy of 'Departmental Standing Instructions - General Field Administration'.

Chris Overland

I have no argument with Tobias Schworer's basic conclusion in his thesis. I think that he has correctly described the process by which PNG was brought under the control of the Australian colonial administration.

That said, I think that the use of expressions like "repression that punishes groups still engaged in warfare" is, whether intended or not, an emotionally loaded way of describing the pacification process.

The adjective "repression" is more typically associated with injustice and inequity, not the lawful imposition of an orderly, fair and effective system of justice upon what were essentially anarchical and sometimes exceptionally brutal social systems.

In short, it is a pejorative term and, I think, capable of misleading a reader as to the nature of what happened.

He could more accurately have said that the administration followed a strategy of imposing law and order by a variety of means including coercive and, sometimes, lethal force in some cases.

Having not read the thesis I hope that within it he has developed his thinking on how Papua New Guineans themselves, having understood what the objectives of the colonial intruders actually were, soon realised that their collectively interests would be best served by accepting the new situation without violent resistance.

They did this even though I have no doubt that the behaviour of the intruders was sometimes irksome and high handed.

A lot of effort went into creating a justice system that was fair and reasonably accessible to all.

As well, the authorities knew that it had to take into account traditional beliefs and values, at least to the extent that this was reasonably possible.

For example, I have personally stood by and allowed traditional justice to be applied in a few cases where pursuing them through the official justice system could not have produced an acceptable result for the people involved.

Also, in the very early years penalties for things like killings during tribal fighting were usually very lenient because the presiding judges realised that the offenders were operating within a traditional paradigm.

Please note that my comments are not meant to detract from what appears to be a pretty good piece of academic work that will presumably be rewarded with a PhD.

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