NORTHUMBRIA, UK - During the period immediately before national independence in 1975, there was a popular view of kiaps among Papua New Guinea's extraordinarily vocal academic community.
To them, the kiaps (mainly expatriate bush administrators appointed by the Australian government) were red faced bullies who routinely shouted so hard they looked like they were about to mess their pants.
I think you’ll agree that this photograph, taken on a routine census patrol in the Pilitu section of the Goilala district in late 1974, contradicts such a jaundiced opinion.
The kiap is working with villagers to update their census records beginning with births, marriages and deaths and extending to other village information.
Conducting a census was a core administrative exercise because the information it gathered demonstrated more accurately than other data the depth of a community’s well being - including its general health, social stability and economic growth.
The picture also exemplifies the acute interest village people took in the exercise - especially those who were becoming literate.
They were keen to test their ability to decipher the information being added to perhaps decades of records that were already there in the Village Book.
The kiap, who looks as if he is struggling to categorise something he has just been told, is not bothered by the crowd of onlookers surrounding the table which serves as his desk.
He does not look like a bully - indeed he appears to have encouraged them to stand or sit as close to the centre of operations as it would have been possible to get.
This is how the relationship really worked, not as some vaudeville act of a sergeant-major types cussing and hounding an unenthusiastic and resentful people.
Robert Forster is author of 'The Northumbrian Kiap'. If you want to know more about the book click on this link https://rforster.com/shop/northumbrian-kiap/