ADELAIDE - The kiaps I worked with were a very eclectic bunch indeed. They came from diverse backgrounds and, to the best of my recollection, none of them engaged in shouting or bullying behaviour.
That said, it seems vanishingly improbable that there were not instances of red-faced shouting and bullying. From time to time we all fail to have our finest hour.
I have previously written about the mythology of the kiap, which gave them a certain glamour, both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the broader population.
This mythology conferred a power and prestige upon kiaps that allowed a few hundred widely dispersed men with perilously few resources to exert effective control over millions of people.
As independence approached, Papua New Guinea’s educated elite wanted and needed an alternative narrative to that which had grown up around kiaps.
For nascent national leaders, it was important to disempower kiaps, to reduce them to mere human dimensions, as a first step towards creating a new narrative that allowed Papua New Guineans to assume power and authority in place of the kiaps.
I think that this was and is a pretty consistent theme in the transition from colonial rule to self-government worldwide: the colonial regime must be delegitimised in some way to create space for a new regime to arise in its place.
So new mythologies are created that, for example, show the ‘founding fathers' as having virtues they may not have actually possessed.
The USA is an exemplar of this in the way it gives almost biblical status to the Declaration of Independence, while the French revolutionaries’ Declaration of the Rights of Man remains central to France's conception of itself as a nation.
I think that this is the context within which stories were created that depicted kiaps as blustering bullies. The aim was not to depict objective reality but to create a new story that better suited the needs and ambitions of an emergent nation.
We humans live within an imaginary world of ideas as much as the real, natural world. We constantly tell ourselves stories about religion, economics, national identity, fashion, music, relationships between races and between men and women and so forth.
In so doing, we use the law, marketing, politics, traditions and social conventions to help create the virtual reality in which we prefer to live our lives.
So, it is totally unsurprising that some Papua New Guineans embarked upon the task of destroying the kiap legend and equally unsurprising that we old kiaps are bent upon keeping that legend alive.
After all, it was our reality for a time and most of us treasure it still.