DAGUA – In recent times there have been a number of articles and commentaries about kiaps and the Papua New Guinea kiap system in PNG Attitude.
So I decided to ask my liklik papa Mathew about his opinion and observations of kiaps as he worked as a policeman in the early years after PNG gained independence from Australia.
In 1976, Mathew Wasel Sigimet of Urip village, East Sepik, joined the Royal PNG Constabulary (No 6717) and served as a constable until early 1984 when he left the service.
He was deployed to Konedobu, Port Moresby, as a new recruit from Bomana Police College in early January 1976 not long after PNG’s independence.
He then spent six years part of the Sector Patrol Unit, a policing concept trialled in Port Moresby as an independence gift from Australia.
In 1982, Mathew was transferred to the Southern Highlands and served as a constable in Tari until early 1984 when he left the constabulary.
He said the kiap system was still in place from 1975 to the mid-1980s. When he was transferred to Tari in 1983, the English kiap there was a Mr Ben Probert.
Probert was most likely in his sixties with a white crop of hair. He was very active and smart in his role as the namba wan kiap in Tari. His namba tu kiap was Vincent Atusa from Bogia in Madang Province.
Mathew said the namba wan kiap and namba tu kiap in Tari cooperated well together.
Since PNG was already independent, the namba wan kiap tended to delegate most of his duties and responsibilities to the namba tu kiap. It was like in-house training, preparing the namba tu kiap to take on the role of the namba wan kiap.
Mathew said the kiap system was very effective in government administration. He observed that the kiap was like a jack-of-all-trades: policeman, magistrate, treasurer and mediator. He said the kiap system was fail-proof unless there was bad weather.
Whenever there was a complaint, the policemen and namba tu kiap travelled together to attend to the problem or settle village disputes.
The incidence of crime at that time was very low, usually only two or three cases in a month – most involving toktok bilong stilim pik, toktok bilong meri and toktok bilong graun (pig theft, women and land).
The kiap would be the magistrate and organise a sitting at the Tari courthouse to hear the cases. Depending on the number of arrests, proceedings were heard quickly and this minimised any back-log of pending cases.
When a family quarrel or land dispute arose, the kiap would attend to these disputes and act as the mediator. Either the police or kiap’s vehicle, whichever was available, was used to attend to cases.
The kiap was also responsible for public servants’ pay for policemen, health workers, teachers and others serviced by the government station. The government pay-run came on a Talair government charter and payments were made at the namba wan kiap’s office.
In their work, the kiaps were ably assisted by local police, tanim tok (translators) and was kanu (boatmen or canoe-men). They made the work of the kiaps easy in enforcing the law, communicating with locals and moving by river or sea.
In 1983, Sub-inspector Dick Mune of Chimbu became the first policeman to be posted to Mendi in the Southern Highlands.
The kiaps were eventually moved from their role as policemen. The constables who once worked under the kiaps now found themselves in a new structure under the command of a police sub-inspector. After this change Tari police cases were brought to Mendi for court hearings.
By 1985, local sub-inspectors were posted to different districts, taking over the law and order functions once performed by the namba wan kiap and the namba tu kiap. This change also saw local magistrates hearing court cases instead of kiap magistrates.
After 1986, there were no Australian kiaps in Papua New Guinea and the local kiaps were absorbed into the provincial government system, some becoming district administrators or assistant administrators.
namba wan kiap – officer-in-charge
namba tu kiap – second-in-charge
Talair – Territory Airlines, an airline company that operated in PNG in the 1960s and 1970s
toktok bilong stilim pik – settling a dispute involving pig theft
toktok bilong meri – settling a dispute involving love affairs or relationships
toktok bilong graun – settling a dispute involving land
Note: The rank of Sub-inspector had since been decommissioned from the Royal PNG Constabulary