Patrol Reports from the Trobriand Islands
By Andrew James Connelly
PART I: 1907-1934
The Trobriand Islands were governed by Australia from 1904 to 1975, as a part of the Australian Territory of Papua, in what is now Papua New Guinea. Throughout this period, government patrols were the main tool for local administration.
This study is an exercise in historical anthropology, providing an analytical review of the surviving patrol reports, station journals and other government documents relating to the administration of the Trobriands from 1907 through 1934. The methodology used was archival research, mainly focused on the corpus of government documents and digital texts housed in the Digital Ethnography Project (DEPTH), Anthropology Department, CSU, Sacramento.
After a brief introduction to the Trobriand Islands, people and history, with a primer on relevant colonial theory, the study charts the trajectory of the colonial experience on the islands, with sections devoted to general history, health, economic development and anthropology. This investigation also informs, and is informed by, a wider view of colonialism around the world.
Thanks to Jay Crain for patiently nudging me in the direction of the fascinating patrol reports at the heart of this work, and to Allan Darrah for pointing out the station journals that also proved to be indispensable. Thanks to both Allan and Jay for placing your time and scholarship at my disposal, and for your formidable database, DEPTH.
Thanks to Liam Murphy for your critical advice and encouragement, and to everyone who took time to render help and/or advice, including: Valerie Wheeler, Christi Hunter, Autumn Cahoon, David Zeanah, Raghuman Trichur and Michael Young.
Of great value to this study have been the comments and viewpoints provided by retired patrol officers, foremost among these being Malcolm “Chips” MacKellar. Mr. MacKellar was in the Australian colonial service from 1953 to 1980, serving in the Trobriands as a Patrol Officer from 1964 to 1969, the last three years of which he was Assistant District Commissioner, the senior government officer on the islands. In touch by e-mail from his home in Australia, Mr. MacKellar has been kind enough to review this work and continues to supply invaluable commentary. Thanks, Chips!
Chapter 1: Introduction
It is late afternoon in the village. The slanting rays of the sun warm cleanly swept ground and cause steam to rise from the thatched roofs of huts arranged in a semicircle, still wet from the rains earlier in the day. Coconut palms at the fringes of the village waft lazily in a light breeze blowing in from the lagoon. Children play in the mottled shade behind the huts, and a few pigs root indolently under the small yam houses set in front of each hut. The children’s laughter mingles with the songs of men returning from gardens in the forest, and the lilt of women’s voices as they busy themselves around the village. A short distance away, along a rocky coral beach lining the tranquil lagoon, beyond the palms and screened by flowering frangipani bushes that dot neatly cut lawns, sits a whitewashed wooden house, its red roof contrasting vividly with the tall green bamboo overhanging it. The house is large compared to the huts of the village, and is raised a few feet off the ground on stilts and surrounded on all sides by a shady verandah. The window shutters are flung wide to allow the cooling breeze to ease the stifling heat of the day. From the windows, punctuated by long periods of pregnant silence, comes the staccato rat-a-tat-tat of a typewriter.
A tall, spindly Australian with blonde handlebar moustaches and a pale forehead contrasting sharply with the deep brown skin of his arms, has returned just this morning after a week visiting the surrounding villages. Smoking pensively, he alternates between gazing out the window, deep in thought, and typing feverishly. The Assistant Resident Magistrate, Losuia subdistrict, is preparing his Patrol Report.
Patrol reports and station journals of Australian colonial officers in the Losuia subdistrict (Trobriand and neighboring island groups) of what is now Papua New Guinea provide a unique look into the colonial process at the smallest scale: the face-to-face interactions of colonizers and colonized. Reports dating from 1907 through 1969 (with some gaps) give us quotidian detail of these interactions over a long period of time, and chart the changes in colonial attitudes and concerns over much of the 20th century. This study will examine these reports in order to gain a deeper understanding of the complex interactions between the Trobriand islanders and their colonial “masters,” and the functions, formalities and culture of the colonial administration itself. These reports will also give us a point of entry into a wider discussion of the colonial experience around the world. We will examine a range of other sources in order to situate these reports in a wider context, and to help us “read between the lines” set down by colonial officers.
Along the way we will consider various issues, including:
- The changing focus of colonial government over time, as well as aspects and attitudes that remained unchanged throughout the colonial era.
- How the Australian administration in New Guinea paralleled other colonial governments, as well as how it was unique.
- How the personalities and practices of individual colonial officers colored the work of the colonial government, and how certain men and women left their mark on the history of the region.
- How colonial officers acted alternately as representatives of the administration, and as caretakers of the interests of the people, and how these two roles conflicted and/or complemented each other.
“Why We Write”
To study the history of colonialism is to study the history of anthropology itself. In our age of reflexive self-examination, any attempt to understand anthropology’s origins must be rooted in an understanding of the colonial era within which it was fostered, and its intimate relationship with the aims and activities of the colonial experience. While at the extreme, anthropology has been called “colonialism’s handmaiden” (Asad 1973:16), we must at least acknowledge that anthropology, while inwardly taking its inspiration from the ideals of secular humanism, helped along the way the efforts of colonialism to subjugate, control and reorganize indigenous societies in order to more easily extract the riches that were its goal.
Colonialism has too often been conceived of, or represented as, a monolithic and unidirectional enterprise, with a powerful and technically advanced European “center” moving outward to contact and influence a primitive non-western “periphery,” with all the ensuing changes and developments moving in the same direction. One of the aims of this study will be to illuminate ways in which the colonial experience was multi-faceted, with numerous players motivated by numerous and sometimes conflicting goals and aspirations, and with as many effects and transformations taking place among the colonizers as the colonized. We will see how various colonial powers began their exploits not only for different reasons, employing different strategies along the way, but also how competing interests and aims existed within each colonial society, and how differing goals and motivations can be traced down to the level of individual players. We will also see that various indigenous societies apprehended their colonizers in different ways, and that these societies can also be teased apart to reveal differing and at times competing aims with regard to accommodating, resisting or re-forming the colonial encounter, from the level of the regional group, down to the village, and again right down to the individual. It is within this “complexity of colonialisms” (Jaarsma 2001:27) that we site our study.
By acknowledging the “less-than-monolithic nature of the colonial context of ethnographic writing” (Jaarsma 2001: 27), we can perceive that while the grand sweeps of political, cultural and economic forces acting over time to transform our world are still a cogent arena for analysis, they are grounded in many smaller events, processes and interactions taking place on smaller scales of time and space. In light of this, historical anthropologists find the roots of great and unified narratives in the smallest settings of village, hut and garden, and at the smallest of time scales, that of the everyday and day-to-day. Lacking a time machine that can take us into the past to do face-to-face fieldwork, the historical anthropologist must seek out those records, at times seemingly mundane and inconsequential, that describe events at this personal and quotidian scale. With the correct backgrounding and an understanding of the contexts in which they are written, these everyday records can speak volumes for the true nature of the colonial experience “on the ground,” that is, at the scale of person-to-person contact and conversation.
The patrol reports that inform the core of our study are perhaps the prime example of this type of record. By reading them, not only are we allowed to “ride-along” with a colonial representative that is the flesh-and-blood manifestation of colonial control and conduct, but are also able to observe the motivations and concerns of this officer as they change over time. Furthermore, a closer reading will enable us to some degree to elicit the motivations and concerns of the indigenous people on the other side of the exchange.
As we carry out our investigation, we will sample various disciplinary approaches. Conventional historiography, economics and political science will allow us to flesh out a wide-angle view of the history surrounding the colonial Trobriands. Our topic will be informed by the corpus of colonial studies developed in the past fifty years. Ours will be an historical anthropology in that it will be devoted to an application of current anthropological theory to historical texts (Silverman and Gulliver 1992:16), as well as an anthropology of colonialism in that it will attempt to draw upon a specific and local historical trajectory in order to inform a wider discussion of the colonial experience.
It was (and is) a practice of the western notion of governmentality to identify or create bounded groups and categories of things, places and people. This classificatory form of knowledge was fostered by and exerted influence upon the apprehension of “the Other,” or nonwestern colonial subject, throughout the colonial experience (Cohn 1996:16). To name a thing is to control it (Mcgrane 1989:48; Foucalt 1972:89). It was a French explorer less than 150 years ago who gathered a group of islands together and called them “The Trobriands,” and other white men who circled larger areas on maps and called them “The Massim,” and “Melanesia,” et cetera. This was perhaps 20 to 35 thousand years after humans first took up residence in the region(Summerhayes 2000:109). The local inhabitants have/had a much more nuanced view of the geography of the area, and probably didn’t conceive of this particular grouping of islands as a meaningful set until the idea was introduced with the first white men. A local man in 1850 would not reply when asked that he was a resident of these islands, instead he would identify himself as from an individual island, or perhaps even a single village. There is great variety in culture and language between islands, and within the larger island of Kiriwina itself. Moreover, two adjacent villages, one coastal and one inland, may not hold much in common, but two villages on different islands might feel a substantial affinity due to kula and other ties.
While recognizing the arbitrary, self-serving or even oppressive (as some might argue) nature of these kinds of colonial categories, we will continue to use them here. While possible, it would be difficult to write or read this study without adhering to the western names and groupings. To do so would distance us from the language of the archival material that will form the core of our discourse. Therefore the group of islands will be called “the Trobriands,” and the main island will be referred to as “Kiriwina,” instead of the more indigenously correct “Kilivila,” or locally preferred “Boyowa.”
The Trobriands are a collection of generally low-lying coral islands situated north of the eastern tip of New Guinea in the Solomon Sea (Figure 2). Of the main islands, Kiriwina is by far the largest. Irregularly shaped, it is approximately 40 kilometers long and from 3 to 13 miles wide. The other main islands, in descending order of size, are Kaileuna, a few kilometers west of Kiriwina across a central lagoon; Kitava, east of Kiriwina, and unlike the others possessing high coastal cliffs; and the boomerang-shaped Vakuta, just south of Kiriwina, separated by a narrow strait. These islands consist of mixed terrain, including coral scrubland, mangrove swamps and pockets of rich soil. Due to the porosity of the underlying coral, fresh water can be obtained from springs along coral outcroppings, from wells, and in the many caves that dot the islands. Numerous smaller islands complete the group, some uninhabited, but some with one or two small villages (one notable smaller islet is Tuma, lying to the northwest of the group, said to be the resting place of departed souls). These islands, together with a scattering of even smaller islets to the west called the Lusancays, comprise the Losuia Subdistrict.
A population of about 8,500 in 1900 grew to 20,000 by 1990, the bulk of which live in some sixty villages and hamlets on the northern part of Kiriwina (Weiner 1988:11). Other islands are home to no more than 1,000 in a handful of villages each.
The only “town” in the group is Losuia, the administrative center and port, situated on the western lagoon of Kiriwina.
The Trobriands comprise the northern quadrant of a larger collection of islands known as the Massim, lying roughly in a ring north of Milne Bay, which share some aspects of culture and make up the kula circuit. The Massim and the eastern tip of New Guinea comprise the Milne Bay Province of modern Papua New Guinea (Figure 3).
Traditional Trobriand Culture in a (Betel) Nutshell
While aware of the problematics of the “ethnological present” (Forster 1973:36), for ease of description we will describe elements of culture in the present tense, while acknowledging that these elements have undergone continual change before, during and after the colonial period. Furthermore, it is misleading to speak of a single, monolithic and all-encompassing “Trobriand culture,” as there is substantial cultural and linguistic
variation between islands and even between villages. For ease of presenting a general synopsis, we will speak of “Trobriand culture” while acknowledging these differences.
Trobriand subsistence is based upon swidden cultivation of several types of yam. Yams, along with taro, are considered kauna, the only foods that truly sustain human bodies. As with most Melanesian societies, Trobrianders use pigs as a form of wealth and exchange, but the yam takes precedence as wealth, exchange item, and symbol of status. A dictionary of Kilivila (the language of the Trobriands, also known as Boyowan) lists 18 terms for different varieties of yam (Senft 1986:596). Other types of foods are grown, collected, or caught from the sea, but only the yam has such a central place in Trobriand identity.
Descent is matrilineal, with individuals belonging to a lineage or dala that is passed along from the mother’s line. Malinowski minimized the role of the father in Trobriand identity, but later researchers, notably Wiener (1988), have shown the importance of the father in both upbringing and access to political status in adulthood. As nearly all Trobriand belief systems are alimentary in nature, people literally are what they eat. Membership in a dala is conferred by mother’s milk, and a father’s nurturing (namely feeding kauna to the infant) strengthens ties to the larger society, hence a mother gives interior or familial identity and a father gives external or political identity. Matrilineal descent is further mediated by patrilocal residence, as a new wife will generally go to live in her husband’s village.
All individuals are members of one of four clans, each with its own set of totems, origin myths, and proprietary magic. The magic held by each clan is determined by what taboo foods were consumed by past members. Original members of all clans emerged with magic residing in their bellies, but different ancestors ate different taboo foods, which “killed” certain types of magic, thus the amount of magic possessed by each clan is dictated by what taboo foods its members managed to avoid eating. Even today Trobrianders will bring their own dishes and other implements when dining with others to avoid contamination. There is some argument as to whether these units are really “clans” at all in the classic sense used by anthropologists, or some other form of associative unit (Montague: pers. comm. 2005). These units take a back seat in importance to dala and other ties.
Unlike most Melanesian societies, which are truly acephalous or egalitarian, the Trobriands operate under a hereditary chieftainship. Various local chiefs are inferior to a Paramount Chief, who resides in the village of Omarakana on Kiriwina, and who is always a member of the highest-ranking Tabalu dala (lineage). Local chiefs are either of the Tabalu or second-ranking Toliwaga lineage. Each village or hamlet has a headman who may or may not be a hereditary chief.
The notion of reciprocity lies at the heart of all Melanesian societies, and the Trobriands are no exception. To eat food grown by oneself is considered extremely selfish and unacceptable. Each man grows food for his sister, or more accurately, his sister’s husband. Ideally, a man would plant one yam garden for each of his sisters, but this is not always the case as other considerations can complicate the social landscape.
Newly harvested yams are first neatly stacked in the garden, highlighting for a time the status and ability of the gardener, and then carried which much fanfare to the sister’s village to be placed into a yam house, or bwaima, in front of her and her husband’s house. This act of exchange confers status performatively to the giver and in wealth to the receiver. In theory, each man capable of gardening will be filling his brothers-in-law’s bwaimas while his is being filled in turn. Yams properly stacked in a raised bwaima will keep for many months and serve as the basis of diet until the next harvest. Well-stocked bwaimas are the primary symbol of wealth and status in the Trobriands.
Monogamy is the rule with some important exceptions. Chiefs and a few other high ranking men, such as powerful sorcerers, were previously allowed multiple wives, and as each wife has her own house and bwaima, these men were in a position to accumulate extensive wealth, status, and due to their ability to display largesse, political power. Polygamy, with its attendant potential for accumulating wealth, was the principal vehicle for gaining and enhancing political power (Austen 1945:18). Before the arrival of Europeans, some Paramount Chiefs had dozens of wives, and their power was further enhanced by sole ownership of every coconut and betelnut tree on Kiriwina. Both these institutions were eventually curtailed, the former by efforts of missionaries and the latter by a massive program of coconut tree planting by the colonial government, who gave ownership of the trees to commoners.
Unlike other regions of New Guinea, especially the main island, where bloody intertribal warfare remained the norm well into the 20th century, warfare in the Trobriands had become somewhat stylized and ritualized by the time of European contact. This is not to say that violence did not exist, rather that most often it involved personal disputes that sometimes grow into intervillage brawls that could be bloody and even fatal. Judging from patrol reports over the years, most disputes resulted from instances of adultery or other sexual jealousies, accusations of sorcery, or disputes over ownership and use of land. Trobrianders must be very careful in what they say, as arguments can lead to “hard words,” or insults that cannot be taken back, forgiven or forgotten (Weiner 1988:62). With a finely developed sense of honor and shame, individuals must eventually take action against such hard words. Fighting is often the result, but suicide is another way of escaping shame, the favored method being climbing a coconut tree and plunging head first to the ground. Some disputes can be resolved by a Kayasa or yam growing competition, wherein two men will try to out-garden each other. Kayasa can also be held as a healthy form of intervillage competition. Since its introduction in 1903s, the Trobrianders have adopted and adapted cricket as another competitive practice, one in which all villagers can take part, not just gardening men.
Magic and sorcery inhabit every corner of Trobriand life. Each facet of existence can be helped (or hindered) by accompanying magic. Magic is utilized in the form of verbal spells chanted into a physical vector of some sort. These spells are individually owned, hereditarily transmitted, and are closely guarded secrets. A good example of beneficent magic is that involved in gardening. Nearly all gardeners will employ the services of a garden magician who will visit a site under preparation in order to encourage the healthy growth of yams and taro. The gardening cycle is closely linked to human procreation and growth, and the spells employed by these men, as well as all language involving horticulture, abounds with appropriate metaphor. The earth is encouraged to take up the seed of the plants and to gestate and give birth to healthy offspring. Monkton remarks that these magicians, along with those possessing other benevolent forms of magic such as fish-bringing, healing, et cetera, also have expert knowledge in their respective fields, in the case of gardening where and when to plant each type of crop, when to trim the sprouts, and the like. He also relates meeting an old garden magician laboriously carrying a large stone up a hill, in order to plant it to serve as an example to the yams as to how large to grow (1921:184). Other, more dangerous magic is held by high status men, including the power to dictate the weather.
The greatest fear of most Trobrianders is black magic. Only those dying of extremely old age are considered to have died a natural death, all other deaths are considered to be the result of sorcery. Sorcerers generally bewitch their victims through oral vectors imbued with incantations, the most convenient of which are betelnut and tobacco, both of which are freely shared and traded within and between communities. Bewitchment can also be effected by either literally or figuratively piercing the victim with an enchanted bone splinter, stingray spine or other sharp implement. This method introduces the likelihood that sorcerers, like their more benevolent counterparts, use practical knowledge along with spells, in this case poisons such as that derived from pufferfish. Villagers long resisted European attempts to have them raise their huts off the ground on stilts or coral boulders for health reasons, as this would give easy access to sorcerers armed with their pointed and decidedly unhealthy weapons.
Although most black magic is used by human sorcerers, there are some even more sinister figures stalking the psychic landscape of the Trobriands. Most notable of these are the mulukwausi, or flying witches, terrible creatures that inhabit the shadows of moonless nights, flying around or perching in trees. They swoop down to attack and kill by eating the entrails of their victims. As the gut is the seat of consciousness and being, the mulukwausi are literally soul-eaters. Most at risk are mariners caught at sea on moonless nights.
A practice unique to the Massim region is the kula ring. This trade circuit unites cultures otherwise dissimilar in language and other traits. The main goal of kula is to circulate native wealth items between partners in different locations, usually (but not always) on different islands, and eventually around the entire ring, in order to gain status and fame for the participants. Shell necklaces or bagi circulate clockwise and shell armbands or mwali circulate in the opposite direction (Figure 4). The older and/or more valuable items are named and the history of their ownership can be recited. The kula ring comprises the Trobriand group, Iwa, Gawa and Muyuw (Woodlark) Islands to the southeast, and the D’Entrecasteaux group to the south. While some links in the kula chain are overland, such as between the villages of Omarakana and Sinaketa on Kiriwina, most participants travel by sailing canoe to their immediate neighbors in each direction once yearly, but have been known to venture further in order to coax the desired items along. Other trade often accompanies kula activities, and this is one explanation of its usefulness. Some researchers theorize that the kula originally involved the trade of stone implements and raw stone (not available on the coral islands of the Trobriands, and absolutely necessary to subsistence farming), until the advent of Europeans and their metal tools, when shell valuables gradually came to the fore.
The Trobriands have a long history of excellence in woodcarving, and this brings them renown throughout the area. Carvings were in demand by neighboring groups long before European contact and have continued to play a major role in the economy of the islands. Most carving activity is concentrated in the Kuboma district of Kiriwina, especially in the village of Boitalu. It is interesting to note that Boitalu, other than its status as the center of carving, is considered a pariah village due to the inhabitants’ taste for stingray or vai, which along with bushpig, is the strongest food taboo for all other Trobrianders.
The greatest claim to fame for the Trobriands in western eyes is the freewheeling sexual mores enjoyed by unmarried youth, popularized by Malinowski’s Sexual Life of Savages (1932). This book put the region on the map of popular consciousness as “The Islands of Love.” Unmarried young men and women engage in rather promiscuous liaisons, and this activity is tolerated if not encouraged by the older members of society. These activities are usually carried on in private, but during the annual harvest festival of Milamala exuberant dancing can sometimes spill over into public sex, with even married individuals getting away with some indiscretions. Other than on this occasion, marital fidelity is strongly valued, and formerly uninhibited single men and women face severe penalty if caught adulterizing when married. Missionaries did their utmost to curb promiscuity, with success depending on the commitment of individuals to the missions’ teachings, but these practices are known to persist. During most of the colonial era it was an unwritten rule that young unmarried patrol officers were not to be posted to these islands (Mackellar 2005, pers. comm.)
While this study will concentrate on the early years of colonial administration of the Trobriands from 1891 to 1935, we will briefly examine the entire colonial period ending with national independence in 1975, in order to ground our story within a wider historical context.
Long before the appearance of Europeans in the southwestern Pacific, the Trobriands were home to a highly complex society possessing a well developed tradition of boatbuilding and sailcraft, in extensive contact with the outside world through trade relations with neighboring islands. The region was initially settled at least eight thousand years ago, likely in two main waves: first by Papuans and later by Austronesians (Brown 2001:15).
Being part of an interisland network of trade, first contact with Europeans was probably preceded by stories of these new people in their big ships, and therefore wasn’t as earth-shattering an experience for the Trobrianders as it was for more isolated groups elsewhere in Melanesia. The very first visitors were probably whalers and itinerant traders, stopping to trade for fresh water and foodstuffs, and these initial contacts will most likely remain undocumented.
The first documented visit was by the French navigator Bruni D’Entrecasteaux in 1793, who named the island group after his first lieutenant, Denis De Trobriand. The ensuing years brought a steady stream of explorers, traders and the like, who left valuable trade goods such as iron tools, but also left their diseases to decimate the indigenous population. It has been posited by Montague that the islands were so decimated by disease in the early 19th century that society virtually broke down, only to be rebuilt by the chiefly Tabalu lineage, who arrived from the Philippines bringing today’s familiar yam culture (pers. comm. 2005). It could be argued that this was the first and most successful colonial venture in the Trobriands.
Missionaries first entered the region around the mid 19th century, with failed missions established at nearby Woodlark Island in 1847, and at Dorei Bay in 1855. More enduring attempts were then made, with the London Missionary Society founding its first Mission at Port Moresby in 1874 and at Milne Bay in 1891(Brown 2001:16). Several missions were founded in the Trobriands by the turn of the 20th century. Many of the missionaries were Christianized Pacific Islanders, with the bulk from Fiji.
Also by 1900, traders had set up shop at stations around the islands, exchanging tools and tobacco for coastal products such as beche-de-mer (sea cucumbers), pearls and pearl shell. Labor recruiters or “blackbirders” were also operating in the area by this time, taking men to work on plantations in Fiji, Samoa and Queensland, under conditions one step up from slavery, with contracts of indenture little understood by the workers (Brookfield 1972:31).
By 1883, the colony of Queensland in northern Australia had grown concerned about expansionist aims of various European powers, and acting in defiance of Great Britain, its own colonial master, claimed the southeastern portion of New Guinea and adjacent islands in order to create a “buffer zone” to its north (McPherson 2001:2). The Dutch had already annexed the western portion of New Guinea and the Germans were busy developing a plantation system in the northeast. While the action taken by Queensland technically made the Trobriands part of an Australian colony early on, the islands did not see the arrival of resident colonial government for another twenty years.
The British, reluctant to take responsibility for a region so remote and seemingly inhospitable, finally succumbed to Queensland’s pressure and declared southeast New Guinea a British protectorate in 1884, and in 1888 British New Guinea, or Papua, became a Crown possession. With the Papua Act of 1905 administration passed to the fledgling nation of Australia (Amarshi et al. 1979:15; Brown 2001:18).
Permanent colonial government arrived in the Trobriands in 1905 with the founding of a station at Losuia on the western lagoon of Kiriwina. With this event the “colonial triad” of missionary, trader and government official was complete. These three forces are too often viewed as complementary actors in a unified colonial front, while in reality they were often at odds in their philosophies, aims and practices.
The reasons behind the foundation of a colonial government are multiplex, and sometimes apparently conflicting. This conflict reveals the ambivalences and ambiguities inherent in what might be called the late colonial period.
One major role of government was to mediate the contacts and exchanges between the indigenous population and “non-governmental whites,” mainly missionaries and traders. This meant, initially and publicly, the protection of Europeans from potentially murderous natives, but also, and to a greater extent in less violent places such as the Trobriands, the inverse: “[T]he government’s task [was] policing the violent excesses of power of white entrepreneurs, missionaries and government officials” (Brown 2001:18).
Economically speaking, the foundation of colonial states in Melanesia is viewed as a way to secure a stable workforce for the labor-intensive plantation economies that supplanted the initial mercantile (coastal trade) exploitation in importance. After poor results with other crops, the production of copra (dried coconut meat, a raw material for the extraction of coconut oil, an important industrial commodity in the 19th and early 20th century) came to the forefront, spurring the establishment of extensive plantations in the region: “For the first time, Melanesians were affected by European demand for an industrial raw material, so that Melanesia’s relations with Europe began to be guided by the development of industrial capitalism as opposed to the trade relationships of mercantile capitalism” (Amarshi et al. 1979:6; original italics). While Papua never achieved the plantation development of German New Guinea, the goal was the same.
Sir Hubert Murray
It would be difficult to find a place and time more affected by the hand of one man than the Territory of Papua in the first half of the 20th century. Hubert Murray served as Lieutenant Governor there from 1908 until his death in 1940, and shaped not only the colonial landscape, but also the nature of the government service.
Murray’s philosophies were well ahead of his time in 1908, but gained credence and respect as time wore on. He decided at the outset that the welfare of the “native Papuan” was to overshadow all other goals in his domain. While the suppression of warfare and the establishment of rule of law were also prioritized, Murray felt strongly that his administration first and foremost needed to protect the indigenous population from the excesses of white settlement and economic exploitation. Writing in 1913, he expressed his opinion of the dangers facing an unregulated Papua: “I am coming to the conclusion that any white community left with absolute power over ‘natives’ would resort to slavery within three generations” (Griffin et al 1979: 25).
World War I saw the addition of German New Guinea to Australia’s portfolio, granted as a League of Nations mandate. While initially supporting a merger until realizing that his policies would be jeopardized, Murray argued successfully against the amalgamation of the two territories, and they continued to be governed separately until after WWII. Australian New Guinea would always be Papua’s bigger, but younger brother, with a larger white population and greater economic output, but with less protection for indigenous ways of life.
Murray’s policies ensured him many enemies both in Papua and at home in Australia, who accused him of choking the economy and “mollycoddling the natives,” giving Papuans more freedom than their (perceived) limited faculties warranted. Murray was not opposed to development per se, but insisted that it proceed at a slow and steady pace, and that Papuans always retain the option of remaining as villagers and farmers. While not fully accepting Papuans as equal to whites, his views were far advanced from the racism endemic to much of the white community. Murray did allow discriminatory regulations known as “caste legislation” to be adopted, but only as an act of appeasement to his critics in Port Moresby, so that the greater welfare of indigenes could be preserved.1
In truth, the economic fortunes of Papua did suffer as a result of Murray’s policies, and it remained a “backwater of empire,” understaffed and underfunded, throughout the colonial period. But nowhere has indigenous culture suffered less from the inroads of westernization (Griffin et al 1979:23-32). Murray’s stated philosophy was “association over assimilation” (Brown 2001:16).
Murray followed the practice of his predecessor William MacGregor, taking an active role in the exploration and patrolling of the territory. Murray spent much of his time touring and inspecting the various districts, and regularly accompanied his officers on lengthy foot patrols. He called the cadre of Resident and Assistant Resident Magistrates his “outside men,” and insisted that all be responsible for the personal inspection and patrol of their domains. All patrol reports were personally reviewed by Murray, who usually jotted notes on the cover page of each one, often simply a laconic “seen” or “read,” sometimes a question regarding an entry, and in rare instances a few words of praise or encouragement (Figure 5). His hands-on style of government, his understanding of the conditions in which his men worked, and the fact that, even into his seventies, he could appear at any time at remote government stations, earned him the respect of all his officers.
Murray also developed close personal friendships with many Papuans, and when visiting Australia sent postcards to many indigenous friends (Griffin et al 1979: 30). Upon his death he was mourned throughout the Territory, by indigenes and whites alike.
The Trobriands were governed from Losuia by the Australians from 1905 until independence in 1975, with patrols as the principal form of governance throughout this time. The colonial era can be roughly divided into 4 periods: pre-WWI, the interwar years, WWII, and postwar. Each of these periods can be characterized by the concerns and practices of the colonial government.
Prior to WWI, the administration was primarily concerned with the establishment of an infrastructure conducive to economic growth, as well as the alleviation of disease through programs of personal and community hygiene. Constant pressure was placed on locals to facilitate intervillage communication by improving the paths that linked them, and the government station at Losuia was developed through the use of convict labor. A jetty, gaol, storehouses, clinic and vegetable gardens were built. Locals were ordered to reserve Fridays as a day of work for the government, usually on track or road improvement or clearing land for, and maintenance of, government plantations. Numerous failures to do so provided a steady stream of minor infractors into the gaol, and therefore a ready supply of free labor for projects in and around Losuia.
High on the priority list in these early decades was the planting of coconut trees along all paths and also in government and village plantations. Early patrol reports stress the counting of trees and detailed accounts of their growth and state of health. The hope
was that local production of copra would make the subdistrict self-supporting and provide a viable tax base for the chronically underfunded Papuan administration.
Starting in these early years and continuing throughout the colonial era, the Australians depended upon indigenous agents to assist in governance. A Village Constable (VC) was appointed for each major village and imbued with the authority to carry out government policy during the long periods between patrols. Like the Australian officers themselves, these men were chosen on the basis of perceived intelligence, resourcefulness and industry, but also on the basis of acceptance of, and compliance with, colonial authority. Village headmen were often, but not always, appointed as VC. Again like their white officers, the personal style and ability of these VCs often dictated the effectiveness of government. A well-chosen VC could assure an “orderly” village, while a poor one was often simply ignored by villagers. These men walked a delicate line between government authority and traditional structures of power. Most patrol reports include comments on the performance of the VC in villages visited.
A Village Council was also formed, consisting of all the elders, headmen and other influential members of the community. Not imbued with any administrative authority, these councils served as advisory bodies or a sort of “blue-ribbon panel” for each village, and served as the nucleus for later self-governance. These councils were a way to legitimize or officialize existing power structures on the islands, in an Australian version of “indirect rule,” a policy borrowed from the British who first experimented with it in Nigeria in the late 19th century (Afigbo 1972:6). Indirect rule was a loose term that encompassed any colonial effort that used pre-existing traditional systems of power to govern. The notion was to let the locals look after themselves under the eye of the colonial government, which would only exert direct power to correct abuses by local leaders. Technically, the colonial rulers were advisors to local government, and the Australians in Papua did all they could to implement policy without the use of force. “Indirect rule does not, in law, give orders; it gives advice” (Coen 1971:14). A primary quality of an effective ARM (Assistant Resident Magistrate, the normal title of the officer in charge at Losuia) was persuasiveness. Patrol officers often got things done through cajoling and exhortation, but in the end, everyone knew who was in charge. The façade often wore thin, and many reports simply state that the ARM visited a village, found something amiss, and ordered the residents to correct it on the spot.
The founding of the Government station at Losuia came at a time of an epidemic of venereal diseases brought by earlier foreign visitors. The stamping out of this epidemic was at the forefront of initial colonial efforts. A visit to each village along the route of a patrol included lining up all inhabitants for an inspection of genitalia, with the proper recording of occurrences of symptoms and ensuing treatment. Insides of dwellings and the area around the village were often searched to bring in anyone trying to avoid inspection. Advanced cases were ordered back to Losuia for quarantine and treatment at the clinic.
General village hygiene was also stressed, with orders given to clear away and burn trash, and a general exhortation to increase the space between huts in order to let fresh air flow between. Locals were also urged to raise huts a few feet off the ground on stilts, also to allow the healthful effects of fresh air. This met with mixed results as a raised hut was seen as vulnerable to attack by sorcerers. The emphasis on village hygiene tended to merge subtly from health issues into those of aesthetics, with many comments made in reports about good villages with well-built huts set in healthy, straight lines and poorer ones with shabby huts set more haphazardly. This reflects the British colonial attitude seen elsewhere that order, morality and health all go hand in hand (cf. Comaroff and Comaroff 1997:334). Thomas cites similar attitudes expressed in British Fiji, and suggests that geometry, hygiene and openness to surveillance were commingled in a British/Australian “paradigm of order” (1994:119). Issues of visibility, such as the ability to see under and between dwellings, were conflated with sometimes imaginary issues of hygiene. Also reflective of prevailing British attitudes were comments made by patrol officers regarding the morally uplifting effects of hard physical labor, for instance, R.L. Bellamy, the first ARM at Losuia, in describing the breaking up and moving of coral boulders for construction of the station jetty, writes: “This crowbar coral work is very heavy but its moral effect on the district is excellent.” (Station Journal 2/17/1911).
After WWI, German New Guinea was taken over by Australia and governed by the military until 1921, when it came under civilian rule under the auspices of a mandate of the newly formed League of Nations. The original colony of Papua and the new Australian New Guinea were governed separately through 1949, with the latter’s capital being set at Rabaul on New Britain. The new colony had seen much more capital investment under Germany than its Australian neighbor, and also contained extensive mineral deposits. It continued to overshadow Papua in terms of economic output and growth.
The interwar years brought some changes in local governance, but little in the way of additional economic development, due to a continued chronic lack of capital investment, as well as various protectionist policies put in place by Australia, both discussed below. Papua remained “a sleepy backwater of empire” (Schieffelin and Crittendin 1991:14). The Territory continued to be governed on a shoestring budget with minimal staffing. The colonial capital of Port Moresby contained a white population of “barely 700 in 1935, about half the total white population of Papua” (Schieffelin and Crittendin 1991:15), with another quarter living in the southeastern regional center of Samarai. This left around 350 colonials scattered throughout a vast area. In the Trobriands, perhaps two dozen traders, missionaries and government officials comprised the entire non-native population. It was up to local government officers to take up the slack with individual resource, diligence and creativity. Their success in maintaining order is a testament to the efficacy of their methods and industry, as well as to the local population’s acceptance of the colonial system.
Health and hygiene continued to be a priority for ARMs. The aggressive inspection and treatment program had effectively curtailed the VD epidemic, and village-wide genital inspections ceased to be a part of patrol visits by 1929. Other health issues continued to be addressed, and by this time patrols often included a Medical Officer who would treat minor ailments on the spot and send more serious cases back to Losuia for treatment at the clinic. Village cleanliness and order continued to be stressed, with a new focus on the digging of latrines and establishment of safe and convenient sources of water for each village.
In 1918 the Native Plantation Ordinance was enacted, enabling the government to designate various tracts of land as communal plantations. These plots were meant to be collectively planted with coconuts, with proceeds from the sale of copra to be divided equally between government and locals. This scheme remained in place for many years, but met with limited success.
The need for financial self-sufficiency within the colony entailed a complete annual census in the Trobriands, in order to collect a head tax. Villagers could choose between a variety of strategies to pay (or avoid paying): they could sell local produce to traders and pay cash, they could dive for pearls to trade for cash with which to pay, or produce wood carvings for cash, or they could donate labor to the government plantation. ARMs spent large amounts of time laboring over village tax rolls, cajoling locals to pay, and tracking down those in arrears. Substantial leeway appears to have been given to tardy taxpayers, and reports contain numerous descriptions of attempts to collect back taxes many months overdue. Ultimately, recalcitrant taxpayers were arrested and spent time in gaol, where their labor was rendered up for maintenance of the station, work in the government plantation, or as carriers or boat’s crew for the next patrol.
World War II
Just seven weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese army captured Rabaul, a large harbor and the capital of Australian New Guinea situated on the northern tip of New Britain, previously held by a small Australian garrison. Rabaul is situated just three hundred miles north of the Trobriands. The Japanese quickly poured in men and materiel, making Rabaul their main base for further expansion south into Australian Papua and New Guinea (Eichelberger 1950:90). By April of 1942, although never occupied by Japanese troops, the Trobriands were effectively surrounded by Japanese bases. With a few notable exceptions, all white government officials, missionaries and traders were evacuated, and the islands were set to become part of the nascent Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Ernest Whitehouse, previously ARM for ten years in the Trobriands, returned to Losuia to represent the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit
(ANGAU), the military organization formed to govern areas not occupied by the Japanese, and remained in the Trobriands at risk of capture by any Japanese who might have chosen to land. Other Australians in the area volunteered to take to the bush in order to act as coastwatchers, reporting on enemy movements.
1943 saw a massive invasion of Kiriwina by men and materiel of the US Army and Australian Air Force, as part of operations aimed at creating airstrips within range of Rabaul for fighter aircraft tasked with protecting bombers from more distant bases as they bombed the Japanese stronghold. Landings were made both at Losuia in the south and along the north coast, and two large airstrips were carved out of the swamps and coral scrubland of the interior. Major roads were built connecting these airstrips and other installations.
ARM Whitehouse proved invaluable to the allies as a liaison to the indigenous population. Most locals welcomed the American and Australian troops and helped the war effort in many ways.
This large operation left its mark on the island. The new roads helped intervillage communication, although they weren’t always the most convenient routes. Large amounts of materiel were left behind to be salvaged and re-used locally. Conversely, the construction of airbases and connecting roads damaged large areas of already limited arable land, not all of which was recoverable. The colonial government attempted to identify and compensate those who had lost property, and this effort continued into the 1950s.
The newly created infrastructure and readily salvageable construction materials helped the colonial triad reestablish itself quickly, but things would never be quite the same. Local people had caught a glimpse of a modern world beyond the filtered view provided by their sparsely numbered and undersupplied colonial masters: “The war offered a vision of an undreamed-of world of plenty” (Brookfield 1972:93). Not only was the sheer number of men involved in the military effort an eye-opener, but their behavior toward locals was quite different from the colonial Australians as well: “the more friendly and less domineering attitudes, especially of the enlisted men, were both noted and appreciated by the Melanesians” (Brookfield 1972:94). Among these troops were large numbers of American blacks, and to see these men in the same uniform as whites must have changed local perceptions as well.
A “New Colonialism”
The postwar years brought a new emphasis: the preparation for independence. The dreams of colonial wealth and economic self-sufficiency of the pre-war years had never materialized, and the international political climate had begun to militate for independence of all colonized peoples, but Australia didn’t want to pull out of Papua prematurely, leaving an unstable state as such a close neighbor. This reluctance was compounded by a persisting paternalism that perceived the indigenous population as not really able to govern themselves, linked to a progressivism that added “yet.” The postwar focus on indigenous welfare and development is best summed up by the words of the charter of the newly formed United Nations:
…to recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount,
and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote…the political, economic, social and
educational advancement of the inhabitants…and their progressive development towards self-
government and independence. [Essai 1961:57]
This rededicated focus on the interests of the indigenous population was colored by persisting views of inferiority that had subtly shifted from racial terms into social and anthropological ones. Australian Minister for Territories Paul Hasluck’s comments from 1958 echo sentiments little changed from the turn of the century: “[T]he advancement of a primitive people is gradual and is necessarily surrounded by some hesitations and many unforeseen complications” (Brookfield 1972:99). The hope was that a smooth and unhurried transition would foster a healthy and modern democracy, as well as allowing time for the necessary social and economic maturation that was entailed by the perceived evolution from “traditional” to “modern.” The responsibility of the ruling society (Australia) was weighty, in that only its wisdom could bring about the necessary mix of development and stability that would ensure success for its colonial children: “[W]hile development is positively promoted, it is not permitted to be injurious to the native inhabitants, and …a balance [must be] struck between the development of resources and the well-being of a dependent people. “ (Essai 1961:57).
While many colonial governments can clearly be judged to have put their economic interests ahead of the colonized population, it must be remembered that the Australians in Papua never realized much profit, and from early on attempted to balance economic exploitation with the interests of the indigenous population. However warped the perceptions of those interests may have been by racial or political views is a matter for interpretation. Furthermore, it should be noted that individual colonial officers, especially those “on the ground,” never grew rich or famous through their careers, and must be viewed as having had a true love of service and a desire to help their indigenous charges.
Australians shared British fears of political instability in its colonies, brought about by rash moves toward independence: “[I]t was the duty of a colonial power to hold back self-government until the politically aware in the population reached a critical mass; otherwise an activist minority might gain control, and exercise power in its own interests” (Brookfield 1972:100). National independence came about in 1975 not as a conclusion of the Australian programme of political and economic development, but as a reaction to intense anticolonial pressure brought to bear in the UN, as well as through the actions of a new Labor government in Canberra.
Patrol reports from the postwar years began to include an analysis of the potential for self-governance for each area visited. These comments generally centered on the efficacy of the Village Councils. Town and District Councils were also formed, comprised of both Administration officials and “citizens” (indigenes) appointed by the administration. These councils, like the village councils, were advisory bodies without any real power, and the appointed native members were sure to be compliant with the philosophy of the territorial government. In 1951 a newly formed legislative council first met. Comprised of 28 members, it included 16 Administration officers, 6 mission or commercial representatives and 6 indigenous representatives, of which 3 were appointed and 3 were elected. Although these were important initial steps, the makeup of each body assured solidarity with the aims of the Administration, so both were, in reality, “practice” governments.
Paralleling a postwar economic boom in Australia was an expansion of government services, as well as the abandonment of the concern for financial self-sufficiency for the Territory. From a pre-war total of around 500 Europeans, the Administration grew to 800 in 1949, and to 3500 in 1961, plus some 250 indigenous Auxiliary Officers (Essai 1961:63). The Auxiliary was created as a training division in order to allow Papuans to gradually begin to fill the ranks of the administration. This period also saw the spin-off of specialized divisions responsible for health, education, agricultural development, et cetera.
This postwar expansion of government services and personnel was apparently not evenly spread. It seems that the Losuia subdistrict, as a relatively small, isolated and economically unimportant region, was neglected administratively, at least into the mid-fifties. In a memo to the Director of Native Affairs in Port Moresby, the District Commissioner in Samarai, after commenting on recent disturbances in the Trobriands, bemoans a continued chronic lack of staffing: “[H]ad this station been adequately staffed, both matters would have been quickly dealt with…The administrative history of the Trobriands in the post-war years is most unfortunate” (Memo 14/3/1/1659: 3/3/1954). He goes on to point out that the station had been staffed by a lone junior cadet officer for the past eighteen months.
The policy of gradual development and preparation for self-rule continued until independence in 1975, but this did not entail the complete withdrawal of all colonial officers from the country. Many stayed on to assist in the new government, in similar capacities as before independence.
The histories of anthropology, colonialism, western governmentality, and modernity are all inextricably linked. Not only did anthropology prove instrumental to the development and governance of Europe’s colonies, but the securing of colonial territories enabled anthropological studies to safely proceed. An anthropology of colonialism must by definition also be an “anthropology of anthropology” (Pels 1997:165), one in which the anthropologist must eschew any notions of true objectivity, as if we must gaze into a mirror and past our reflected image in order to view the object of study over our own shoulder.
Perhaps the most commonplace view of colonialism is one of a strong Europe, secure in its notions of supremacy and moral righteousness, moving out into a more “primitive” world to impose its culture and economy on the less powerful or technically developed. Missing from this view is the fact that European identity was, from the earliest voyages of discovery, formed and informed by a dialogue with “the Other,” that is, the non-European colonial subject. European constructions of alterity, or “otherness” were based upon changing paradigms over time, and are discussed below. Thomas writes that the historical contingency of these constructions renders them “less as actual visions of real others, but instead as discursive forms that are distinctive to epochs and epistemes” (1994:68). The important qualification here is that while conceptions of otherness arose from historically contingent factors and ideas, later conceptions rarely replaced earlier ones, but were simply overlaid. The latest ideas may operate at the forefront of discourse, but older ones continue to thrive in the background. The epoch may pass, but the episteme endures.
Before the emergence of anthropology as a scientific profession, European views of nonwestern peoples were informed by the accounts of explorers, missionaries and travelers. The early colonial period was influenced mainly by a religious worldview, one in which the world was divided into Christian and heathen, moral and immoral spheres. Missionaries often formed the vanguard of western intrusion into native societies, and the propagation of a “Christian cosmology” paved the way for organized colonial endeavors. This missionizing has been called a “colonization of consciousness” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1997:8) that won the hearts and minds of indigenes and made them ready to become willing colonial subjects.
The Christian view of non-western societies characterized them mainly in terms of what they lacked, in this case religious and moral salvation. Indigenes were not seen in terms of what they were, but as potential Christians. Other conceptions of the nonwestern world, both much earlier and later, pictured indigenes based on other perceived deficiencies. A French writer in 1582 noted that savages were “sans roi, sans loi, sans foi” (without king, without law, without faith; Thomas 1994:72). It is interesting to note that while the influence of missionaries is often viewed as one of the most destructive forces in terms of non-western culture and belief, the missionaries, at least, viewed indigenes as fully capable of achieving equality with Europeans (at least morally) through salvation and education. Pels notes that “Missionaries are less prone to essentialize, because for them, otherness is already in the past” (1997:172)
Anthropology has from the start received its inspiration from the natural sciences, and the age of enlightenment saw the attempted taxonomic classification of mankind. This ordering of races along a great chain of being helped to justify the subjugation of perceived lesser races. This taxonomic paradigm also entailed the essentialization of racial types in terms of intellect, physical form, and temperament. Thus “the Bushman,” “the Papuan,” or “the Tongan” were seen as idealized typifications, and individuals were pigeonholed into these slots based on their similarity to a type specimen that was substantially a product of western imaginings (Thomas 1994:84). This essentialization rendered categories of people that were seen to be rather static and limited, unable to rise beyond their natural place in the scheme of things, and allowed the European to assume a perceived mastery. Essentialization also tended to funnel western perception into a singular view of national or racial types, wherein reference was made to “the Hottentot” or other typical specimens with little or no need to qualify descriptions to allow for individual variation.
The Victorian age saw the zenith of British imperialism and a shift from racial essentialization to evolutionary categorization. Unilineal evolutionism still placed societies along a hierarchy, but rather than basing their taxonomy on static traits, evolutionists spoke in terms of stages of cultural development, running from primitive savages to European civilization. This still placed Europeans, especially the British, at the top of the heap, but allowed for further development of “lesser” races, albeit at a rate that was determined by natural inclinations for progress, not to be unduly rushed. This potential for advancement was further qualified by the notion that climate dictated the limits of potential for cultural evolution, with the tropics being too oppressively hot and humid to allow for much industry of effort and ensuing civilization. This climactic approach again placed native societies permanently below the level of Europeans in regards to ability for social, political and economic potential.
The end of the 19th century saw the flowering of anthropology as a professional science, one that matured at the height of the industrial revolution and the colonial age. Anthropology was from the start “devoted to a description and analysis – carried out by Europeans, for a European audience – of non-European societies dominated by European power” (Asad 1973:15). While the intimate connection between anthropology and the colonial era makes it simple to conclude that anthropology was a tool for imperialists, at the same time, ethnographers were from the start uniquely situated to play the part of indigenous advocate and colonial critic (James 1973:42). This is not an “either/or” situation, but rather a multifaceted relationship in which actions ranged from complicity to resistance, depending on the setting and players involved. Ambiguity and ambivalence were endemic to both sides of the equation, and this doubt was symptomatic of the colonial era as a whole, as over time economic imperatives became increasingly entangled by humanitarian concerns.
The African Connection
When studying the history of colonialism and anthropology in Melanesia, one must, strangely enough, look to Africa. The British were heavily involved in Africa during the imperial period, and much of what developed there was adopted by the Australians in New Guinea. While remaining carefully aware that Australia has had its own and unique historical trajectory, it can be generally said that Australia was a most loyal subject of the crown, a British colony in its own right, and looked to Britain for much of its direction and guidance. Australian administration in New Guinea was closely modeled on British efforts in places like Nigeria, Kenya and Rhodesia. Likewise, Melanesian anthropology was inspired by earlier works of British social anthropologists in the African colonies (McPherson 2001:203). While the link between Bronislaw Malinowski, the Trobriand Islands, and the foundation of professional ethnography looms large in the history of anthropology, it must be remembered that much of Malinowski’s later work focused on Africa, and most of the students of his groundbreaking seminars went on to fieldwork there (James 1973:50).
The early decades of the 20th century saw the ascendancy of functionalist theory in social anthropology. Ethnologists of the time felt they had developed a general theory of culture that could explain the bewildering array of human cultural variation. They were also consumed with documenting as much of the world’s traditional cultures as possible before they were obliterated by modernization. Functionalism was later criticized for seeing cultures in terms of a timeless “ethnographic present” in which culture change or anything considered inauthentic was ignored or at least downplayed in order to highlight “primitive” traits and native authenticity. Indigenous societies were seen as generally static and unchanging until contacted by western modernity, and the colonial context in which studies were conducted was often absent from the equation (Forster 1973:36).
The period between World Wars I and II was a time of burgeoning growth and development of anthropology as a science, even as it remained an intrinsic part of the colonial world. This period saw the notion of “development” come to the forefront of colonial discourse. Indigenous societies were seen as in need of guidance and direction in order to advance socially, technically and economically, prior to taking their place among the “modern” nations of the world. Anthropologists were enlisted to facilitate development while preserving indigenous culture.
Anthropology is too often portrayed as blithely continuing along without much regard to its motives and practices in relation to colonialism until after World War II, when political and social changes brought about a critical revolution in the social sciences. Self-examination was actually beginning to take place between the wars. A dialogue began in 1929 in Africa, the journal of the fledgling International African Institute, in which Malinowski, while defending anthropology against attacks by colonial administrators, also called for an interrogation of the colonial situation, and showed prescience for issues that would come to the forefront of colonial discourse a half-century later:
[The anthropologist] must become more concerned in the anthropology of the changing African, and in the anthropology of the contact between white and coloured, of European culture and primitive tribal life… [1929:22]
Railing against the abuses of colonialism and the hypocrisy of white demonizing of Africans, he writes:
Let Mr. Mitchell read the report of the Goaribari massacres in new Guinea; the history of
‘blackbirding’ in the south seas …or for that matter the antecedents of any of the numerous
punitive expeditions in the south seas… [W]holesale massacres of natives by whites, strange
retaliations in the names of “justice,” “prestige,” and “the white man’s honour” did also occur in
the Dark Continent, and it is not only the coloured African there who deserves the title of
“murderer,” nor is it the white European who should use such terms of abuse as marks of his own
racial superiority. [1930:411]
In pointing out the competing interests and wide differences in outlook between various colonial forces, as well as between colonials and natives, he states:
Let us look more closely at the possibilities of team-work done by missionaries and settlers,
administrators and journalists, engineers and recruiters. And…why not include among them the
native African, “savage” and detribalized alike; or the West Coast lawyer; or the black expert in
yellow journalism; and incidentally also the East Coast Indian? They are also actors in the
play…[W]e know that these groups…are divided by profound, indeed irreconcilable,
interests…To speak of a “community of interests” is a travesty of facts. [1930:421]
Note the early acknowledgment here of many hybridized and transcultural groups on the colonial scene.
The later indigenization of anthropology was also foreshadowed by the presence of Kenyan student Jomo Kenyatta at Malinowski’s seminars in the thirties, and Kenyatta’s 1938 ethnography Facing Mount Kenya, in which Malinowski writes an introduction touching on rising African nationalism and growing worldwide resistance to colonialism.
Decolonization and Deconstruction
The changing political climate of the 1960s was paralleled by the beginnings of wholesale decolonization by colonial powers, especially the British in Africa. Also at this time developments in the academic world spurred a reexamination of the colonial experience and its relationship to anthropology. Ethnohistory began to challenge the artificial demarcation of anthropology and history. Marxism and feminism began to influence the field, as studies of the small-scale economics of peasant societies directed new interest to colonialism. Foucalt’s seminal work (1972) on the archaeology of knowledge inspired inquiries into the assumptions of objectivity at the heart of classical anthropology, and a critical evaluation of the relationship of power and knowledge. The increasing indigenization of social science, as more non-westerners gained access to The Academy, fueled a debate over the relevance of anthropology in the Third World. These trends continued into the 1970s and 1980s, with anthropology drawing on developments in other fields to inform its own reappraisals. Literary theorists highlighted the politics inherent to textual representation, and historians increasingly looked for alternate narratives that could illuminate histories of the non-empowered, culminating in the development of subaltern studies (Pels 1997:165-168).
Pels notes that anthropologists generally view colonialism in three ways, “as the universal, evolutionary progress of modernization; as a particular strategy in domination and exploitation; and as the unfinished business of struggle and negotiation” (1997:164). These three views, while generally following each other in terms of historical development, do not replace each other, and are all still operative in both positive and negative forms.
The progressive view of colonialism, in which nonwestern societies are seen as being in need of guidance and help in developing in order to improve life in one way or another, has been the dominant view of colonial governments since the late 1800s, and the role of anthropology in this paradigm is to provide understanding of specifics of culture that can help or hinder progress (Hoben 1982:350). While emphasis has moved over the years from cultural advancement to economic and technical improvements, the field of Development Anthropology is alive and well.
The perception of colonialism as mainly an arena of exploitation, while present in early critiques of European practices abroad, came to the fore during the upheavals of the 1960s. Increasing liberalization and radicalization saw many anthropologists reevaluating their place in the colonial equation, finding it their duty to become partisans on the side of marginalized indigenous groups, as colonial powers were replaced by westernized neocolonial governments bent on retaining old structures of exploitation and inequity. This view of the “colonial struggle” inverts assumed notions of anthropology as a tool of colonialism, placing anthropologists at odds with western governmentality.
The third view, which defines colonialism as a site of struggle and negotiation, is the most recent development, and frames most colonial studies of the past two decades. This paradigm opens up spaces that allow for views of colonialism(s) that are historically particular and culturally specific. It also allows the researcher to see beyond a landscape of dichotomy (colonizer/colonized, center/periphery, propagator/recipient, exploiter/victim, etc.) in order to approach the colonial experience as a more diverse field of analysis. Other dichotomies that lie closer to home are also exposed for deconstruction, such as western scientist/indigenous subject, and indigenous need/anthropologically-tailored help.
No one of these three views is the “right” one, as all are still operative, yet the last one can be seen to encompass the first two. It is within this view of struggle and negotiation, not only within colonialism but also within anthropology and western thought in general, in which we can take another step back to see a fuller picture, and also a step forward for a more intimate and informed look at our particular subject, that we site our study.
Benedict Anderson writes that the primary tools of colonialism are the census, the map, and the museum (1983:163). Others would add the clinic to this list (Arnold 1993: 4). Each one renders the unknown into knowable, bounded, and manageable groups. The rise of western modernity and governmentality were linked to a new set of “investigative modalities” that arose as the western worldview shifted from religion to science. This move changed imaginings of the exotic from a heathen wasteland to be Christianized into “a field to be observed” (Pels 1997:167). The process of establishing a colonial enterprise involved demarcating people, places and things into groups and categories which could be counted, analyzed and described at home. Thus the colonial project was an exercise in officialization using modalities such as “historiography, observation and travel, survey, enumeration, museology, and surveillance” (Cohn 1996:xiii). In grander settings such as India these projects would usually be divided between specialized departments, but in a smaller setting such as the Trobriands, a government officer might touch on all of these areas in a single patrol. Ethnography, as an investigative modality in its own right, can be viewed as “a specific offshoot of a wider field of colonial intelligence” (Pels 1997:167).
While traditional notions of colonialism are usually framed in terms of economic and political relationships, more recent studies have increasingly focused on colonialism as a cultural phenomenon, one which not only involves the meetings of European and indigenous cultures, but also one that has its own culture of government and administration, as well as one that creates new and hybrid structures of meaning at the sites of encounter (Thomas 1994:2). The study of the culture of colonialism is often pursued through colonial texts such as the patrol reports at the heart of this study.
Other Work on Patrol Reports
While no work on patrol reports from the Trobriands has been published, reports from other districts of Australian Papua and New Guinea have been incorporated into various studies, showing both the usefulness of these historical resources as well as some limitations.
Naomi McPherson provides a brief description of patrol reports and their place in the colonial administration (2001:5). She characterizes them as “written representations nicely complement[ing] those of indigenous oral history and ethnography.” She relates that reports are “highly descriptive and multifaceted, which make them invaluable as ethnographic documentation,” but they became more uniform in format and style after WWII. She also suggests that as archival texts they require more than merely a straightforward reading, but also require “an attempt to hear silent voices, submerged perspectives, and actions through the text. This is clearly another form of imagining” (2001:9). So the researcher must use an informed imagination in order to read between the lines and recover other views not clearly stated in the text. A solid backgrounding in the local culture and a familiarity with events of the time are important to this exercise, as well as a conservative approach to interpretation.
Jill Nash expands on this exercise (2001:121). As an ethnographer who did fieldwork on Bougainville during the last years of Australian rule, she finds that the motives attributed to indigenes, and other interpretations found in patrol reports of the time, often did not correspond with her own impressions. She suggests the use of techniques developed in subaltern studies to “recover the voice of the colonized” from colonial records, namely, the “negative consciousness” approach offered by Guha. This approach states that “for each sign we have an antonym, a counter-message, in another code…it is possible to produce a chart with phrases that correspond to each other, one being the words of the colonizer, the other, the evaluation of the colonized. The phrases of one correspond to the phrases of the other, but they are opposites.” Bougainvillean concerns about the Panguma mine, characterized as “foolish” by the local District Officer, can now be seen as “wise” given the history of the mine and its effects on the people of the island. Indigenes characterized as “backward” or “recalcitrant” by colonial officers can be viewed as protective of custom and resistant to colonial meddling. While a word-for-word inversion of colonial accounts is obviously not realistic, this approach has some value for us, as there can often be “two lists of corresponding signifiers” in operation when two sides give their interpretations of events.
Nicholas Thomas suggests a more general alternate reading of colonial texts, in which the uses of reports are reinterpreted: “These would long have been interpreted…as innocent and pragmatic reports and plans, but can be alternately read as efforts that produce scope for surveillance as they describe and identify particular populations and social problems; that create charters for intervention as they express the omniscience of the colonial state” (1994:41).
Paula Brown notes the somewhat myopic and less than fully objective nature of many reports as officers stereotype people and places. Local people are seldom named unless they are special in some way to the administration: Officers “usually name their fellow officers and other white men, and sometimes even their dogs and horses; they occasionally name [indigenous] police officers and personal servants, but rarely do they name local people” (2001:24). While not defending any racist attitudes displayed in patrol reports, it is helpful to note that these texts were written with colonial administrators as the intended audience, and officers would include only that information they felt would be of interest to them for the sake of brevity. This kind of stereotyping points more to a systemic attitude common to the administration as a whole than to attitudes held by any individual officers. Furthermore, a review of reports from the Trobriands shows that, at least there, officers usually did refer by name to indigenes that were individually mentioned.
Perhaps the best display of the usefulness of patrol reports, as well as their drawbacks, is in Schieffelin and Crittenden’s account of the ill-fated Strickland-Purari patrol of 1935, in which two colonial officers, along with a detachment of indigenous Armed Papuan Constabulary and several dozen carriers, penetrated the southern Papuan highlands, “discovering” a previously unexpected large population. First contact with six societies there produced confusion, wonder and awe amongst the local inhabitants, as well as deadly violence. By interviewing eyewitnesses amongst the locals some years later, the authors were able to crosscheck the official reports with indigenous sources. This illuminated the sometimes-complete divergence of accounts in regards to first contact and ensuing exchange. Local inhabitants often thought they were meeting spirits returned from the dead, and their decidedly ambivalent and hesitant behavior in light of this was often interpreted as “treachery” or dishonesty by the patrol officers. The attribution of motive to the local’s actions was nearly always divergent from their true feelings, and of the numerous perceived “attacks” upon the patrol that resulted in many indigenous deaths, only a few were probably actual assaults. The others were simply overcurious people jostling in too close to a bedraggled and exhausted patrol. The authors quote a local witness: “[T]hey surrounded the patrol to look at them and blocked the path. They were like a garden fence around them, and the strangers became worried and feared and attack. They shot many men” (1991:160). Also made clear is the unreliability of the facts of some reports, as the officers often contradicted themselves and confused details in the subsequent inquest.
The lessons we can bring to our study from these previous works is that patrol reports, while extremely useful in their detail, are only one view of the colonial encounter, a view filtered not only by the authors’ own cultural lens, but also by the tailoring of the reports to the intended audience of colonial administrators. Personal traits and styles of particular patrol officers also color the reports, and no officer was omniscient to the complete picture of a given situation.
Materials and Methods
The bulk of this study will involve description and analysis of surviving patrol reports and station journals from the Losuia subdistrict. These documents run from 1907 to 1969, but the present study will cover the years up to 1935.2 Some gaps exist, but enough survive to give us a fairly consistent account of government activity throughout this period. These records are housed at the PNG archives in Port Moresby. Some early reports are illegible due to poor mimeographing of copies or from the typing of multiple carbon copies, and from the effects of time and humidity on paper and ink, and others are just barely readable (Figures 6 and 7). Interspersed with patrol reports are various interdepartmental memos from administrators, containing comments and recommendations for action. These memos help to give us a better picture of the culture of the colonial administration, as well as the mindset of those responding to events on the islands from their offices in Samarai and Port Moresby.
Not only do these reports detail government activity, but they also contain a rich store of description of Trobriand culture. Patrol officers regularly wrote such descriptive material for the edification of their superiors and other officers that might follow them later. As reports became more standardized there was a section included for anthropological information. After all, these islands were famous in anthropological circles for their prominent place in the development and popularization of the discipline, and colonial officers were conscious of the fact that they were living and writing in Malinowski’s shadow.
The main purpose of writing this study is to reveal the extent of information contained in these reports. Numerous small details and observations provided by patrol officers should prove to be of great interest to a small but enthusiastic group of Trobriand scholars. Hopefully this study will provide to others small strands that can be woven into their own work, or unraveled to reveal grander stories.
Important to this work is the DEPTH project at CSU Sacramento. The DEPTH database provides us with the ability to search thousands of pages of ethnographic text using key words or phrases, allowing research to take place in a matter of seconds rather than hours or even days using conventional means.
Notes on Usage
Patrol reports are cited by administrative serial numbers that were typed on the front page by the original authors, as well as actual date of entry. In the case of a lengthy entry, the original page number is also supplied. For instance, an entry from a patrol report dated June 2nd, 1914, will be cited as (PR 12/1913-14; 6/2/1914: p.2), with the administrative serial number “12/1913-14” taken from the top right of the cover page of the report. Serial numbers varied over the years, with some reports numbered oddly or out of sequence.
Entry dates have been transposed from English to American usage, for instance, an entry dated March 7th, 1924 will appear as 3/7/1924, instead of 7/3/1924. Quotes taken from commentary sections at the ends of reports will cite the title of the section, i.e. “summary”; “health”; “anthropological,” etc.
Station journals are cited by date of entry.
Memos are cited by administrative number and date of writing.
Most original spellings have been retained, other than obvious typographical errors, in order to preserve the originality and periodicity of the writing; for instance, “Haemorrhage” rather than “Hemorrhage,” et cetera. In the same spirit, little attempt has been made to correct numerous fragmentary sentences or other grammatical liberties taken by the original authors. Bracketed insertions [are] included only where the original meaning is at risk without them. Parentheses ( ) within quotes are original to the text.
Readers will note that administratively, years are divided into periods from July 1st to June 30th, rather than January 1st to December 31st. This is due to the seasons in the southern hemisphere. In the population centers of southeastern Australia, June and July are the dead of winter, hence July 1st corresponds in some ways to our New Year’s Day.
While “Pidgin English” developed into a lingua franca in Australian New Guinea, eventually evolving into the Tok Pisin that is a national language of modern-day Papua New Guinea, in colonial Papua an indigenous tongue came to the fore. Motu (also at times termed “Motuan”) is the language of the prevailing cultural group around Port Moresby, and the enlistment of many of these people into the colonial service led to its adaptation as a lingua franca throughout the Territory of Papua. This adapted form is known as Hiri Motu or Police Motu.