Indentured Labor in Papua New Guinea

In the late 19th century men were indentured to work on plantations within Papua New Guinea and in Australia, Fiji and German Samoa. Some went willingly and some were taken by force or persuaded by fraud. The practice of kidnapping laborers to work overseas was known as blackbirding. When Britain established the Protectorate of New Guinea in 1884 it adopted a policy of protecting the people from gross exploitation. The indentured laborers working on plantations in Australia were repatriated. Recruitment for overseas plantations was forbidden and conditions of employment of labor by plantation managers and miners were established. This policy was continued in Australian Papua from 1906 until indentured labor was abolished after World War II.

Conditions were much harsher in German New Guinea (1884-1914) which had been founded with a clear intention of exploiting local labor. Laborers continued to be indentured from German New Guinea to work in German Samoa until 1913. When Australia took over the German colony after World War I, Australian and British plantation managers and miners persuaded the Administration to allow them to continue practices and conditions inherited from the German administration.

The indentured labor system disrupted village life economically and socially. When men were away women undertook tasks that were usually the responsibility of men. Thus, the labor of village women subsidized the indentured system. Men returned at the end of their contracts with Western goods, a knowledge of Western ways and a status in society that they might not otherwise have had.

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