Amea’s story: Building a village school out of nothing
The necessary undoing of the colonial kiap mythology

The kiaps did not just ‘disappear’ at PNG independence

Bill Brown and policemen
Fuyuge interpreter Koga,  kiap Bill Brown and Corporal Gogoga of the RPNGC on patrol near Woitape, January 1952

ROSS WILKINSON

MELBOURNE - I had stayed on in Papua New Guinea after independence but at the end of 1981 decided to leave despite an offer to sign on for a further three years.

The view that the kiap system ceased at independence is not correct. It continued during those six years, but with subtle changes.

Around the time of independence there were two points of view about our service: that of the radical minority at the University of PNG, who saw little or no good in it; and that of the rural majority who were not listened to.

But, as I said, the change was gradual and the rural people soon gained the idea that it was business as usual.

Before my time in PNG, the department that included the kiaps had changed its name from ‘Native Affairs’ to ‘District Administration’.

I was originally employed with the time-honoured title of Cadet Patrol Officer but shortly after this was changed to Assistant Patrol Officer, which aligned with the designation of national officers who were being trained as junior kiaps.

Then the Department of District Administration disappeared and was absorbed into the Department of the Administrator. But little changed for us in the bush.

In the final run to independence, the powers-that-be separated the kiaps into two groups: one more or less us corresponding to our historic field duties and, with the creation of the Office of Local Government, the other being designated as Council Advisors, who were separated and removed from direct control by senior field staff.

Also at about the same time, a decision was made to remove kiaps’ police powers in places where a regular Royal PNG Constabulary officer was based. Now these powers could be exercised only outside regular police districts.

With the decision to move towards independence, all government departments recognised that more national officers needed to be promoted into senior positions and Localisation Sections were established to accelerate this process.

Oh, and there was another name change for the department, which became responsible to the Chief Minister.

But the kiap system continued. Independence came and went, many colleagues departed for ‘south’ but it was business as usual except for some minor operating procedures – and name changes.

Districts became Provinces, Sub-districts became Districts, District Commissioners became Provincial Commissioners, and Assistant District Commissioners became District Officers-in-Charge.

The provinces then became “self-governing” under a Provincial Assembly that initially comprised the members of the former Provincial Regional Councils’ Assembly.  A constitution was adopted and elections held.  A Provincial Secretary became responsible for the employment of all public servants in the province.

But the kiaps continued in the same role that they always had.

My last field posting in 1979 was as District Officer-in-Charge of the Saidor District in the Madang Province.  My last position was as District Officer at the provincial headquarters in Madang working as the Executive Officer to the Administrative Secretary.

On 31 December 1981 when my contract expired and I left PNG, the kiap system was still alive and well. My guess is that it slowly dwindled and disappeared.

My relationships with the people of PNG were always straightforward and overwhelmingly benign, although I can recall being annoyed on one occasion when a village did not appear for its rostered turn to work on the construction of Derim airstrip.

I sought out the Councillor and told him in no uncertain terms that I expected his people to attend, which they duly did.

I don’t believe that I went red in the face and I certainly didn’t shit my pants.

Comments

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Lindsay F Bond

Tellingly, infrastructure such as buildings and landing grounds now largely lapse abandoned and dormant, as if it were, the fauna wriggled out of its erstwhile skin, and having slipped into a new mode of mobility.

Analogy has its limits. The string of empty castoffs might seem as if a skin of a reptile, yet the analogy holds for the chrysalis discards of each a brightly elegant butterfly.

The growing of the earlier skin and chrysalis was the stunningly effective achievement of the group celebrated in the title 'kiap', before and following from PNG Independence Day.

What of the emergent creature?

Moni Pes has put it that "everything in PNG is dead n country is dead". Rather, not. The life that appeared of one guise, lives on. The fact is the creature that emerged has form vastly unrecognisable. Pitiably, increasingly it is seen to feed on what it needs to protect, else it devour all of its species.

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