Whaling in Papua New Guinea

In the first half of the 19th century there were three important whaling grounds adjacent to Papua New Guinea (PNG). The most extensive was on the northern coast of the main island on either side of the 140 degree east longitude where killings were made in October and November. Other important grounds stretched from the northern tip of New Ireland to Bougainville (fished in February and March), and off the northeast coast of the main island (fished from October to January). There is evidence of intermittent contact between whaling ships’ crews (from the United States, Britain and Australia) and the coastal people of the islands, particularly New Ireland, the Duke of Yorks group, Buka and Bougainville, where ships stopped for food and water. Occasionally PNGans were taken on as crew. These contacts, and the contacts with traders, are thought to have been important for the development of Tok Pisin.

Women in Papua New Guinea

Traditionally, women were expected to produce children (preferably male children), cultivate the gardens, raise pigs, and tend the old and the sick. Marriage customs varied among groups but most had some common characteristics. Marriage was a contract which established reciprocal responsibilities between two clans. These contracts were often made when the couple were children. The payment of bride price cemented the relationship and gave the husband’s clan rights over the woman’s labor. These rights included the right to beat her for perceived poor performance or misbehavior. At marriage women were sent to live in the village of their husbands. Most societies were patriarchal. Where societies were matrilineal women had greater rights. Most societies were polygamous and one way for a man to acquire status was to accumulate wives.

From the mid-19th century the Christian churches advocated monogamous marriages, based on affection and respect between consenting adults. However, a nationwide survey conducted in 1982-84 found that only 35 percent of the women and 29 percent of the men surveyed reported church marriages, and two-thirds of the women in rural areas admitted to having been beaten by their husbands. Women are more likely than men to suffer from malnutrition and infectious diseases. The PNG National Health Plan 1986-90 listed family planning services and maternal care as priorities. However, there is no evidence of improvements in these areas. Maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Women are less well educated than men. Girls have less access than boys to education and more women than men are illiterate.

In theory women are allowed equality of opportunity in contemporary PNG society. In 1973 Chief Minister Michael Somare produced an Eight Point Plan which included “a rapid increase in the equal and active participation of women in all forms of economic and social activity” and women’s rights are enshrined in the national Constitution. In practice, women are discriminated against in both modern and subsistence societies. It is difficult for women to be accepted in professional and managerial roles in either the public or private sector. Only three women have been elected to the national parliament and only one has been a minister. None of the women who contested the 1993 election was successful. Where women work in the cash economy they are usually expected to continue to take responsibility for the household.

In 1992 Prime Minister Wingti publicly recognized the low status of women and discrimination against them in access to education, employment, health care and the law. However, through the example of those women who have broken into the modern sector, and the activities of bodies such as the National Council of Women, attitudes, at least among the educated elite, are gradually changing. There is a Women’s Division of the Department of Home Affairs and Youth, Provincial Women’s Offices and a Women’s Desk in the Department of Finance and Planning. The Women’s Division expects to receive K815,400 from aid donors in 1993. In October 1992 the government launched a National Women’s Policy which includes vocational training and literacy programs, family planning programs and a credit scheme. The programs are to be funded by a K401,100 budget allocation in 1993.

Papua New Guinea in World War II

Papua New Guinea (PNG) became involved in WWII when Japanese seaborne troops captured Rabaul, the headquarters of the Australian Mandated Territory of New Guinea, on 23 January 1942. Australia had made no preparations to defend PNG. When the invasion occurred most of her troops were in Europe fighting the Germans and Italians. The Japanese rapidly took the towns of the north coast of New Guinea and an arc of islands north and east of the mainland, and in April mounted an invasion aimed at capturing Port Moresby, the headquarters of the Australian Territory of Papua.

The United States of America (USA) had entered the war after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, on 7 December 1941. In May 1942 forces from Australia and the USA, combined in the South Pacific Area Command, prevented a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby by defeating the Japanese in the Coral Sea Battle. In July Japanese troops attempted to capture Port Moresby by moving overland from the Milne Bay coast on the eastern tip of Papua, and from Gona on the north coast via the Kokoda Trail. They were defeated at Milne Bay and turned back on the Kokoda Trail in September. Between September 1942, and their final surrender at Wewak, on the north coast, on 13 September 1945, the Japanese gradually retreated from the areas they occupied. When Manus Island was recovered, in February 1944, the US established a giant base from which to attack Japanese bases in Southeast Asia.

The fighting involved 1,000,000 American, 500,000 Australian and 300,000 Japanese troops (almost outnumbering PNG’s population) and an unknown number of PNGan soldiers, police, scouts, carriers and laborers. An estimated 200,000 Japanese, 15,000 Australians, and an unknown number of PNGans died from injury or disease. In regions most heavily affected some estimates of loss of Melanesian life are as high as 25 percent. PNGan soldiers were recruited into the Papuan Infantry Battalion and three New Guinea Infantry Battalions (later combined to form the Pacific Islands Regiment) of the Australian Army. The Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) conscripted men as laborers and carriers. The Japanese conscripted laborers and carriers but seldom used local men as soldiers.

The effect of the war on PNGans depended on the area in which they lived. People in many island and coastal areas suffered greatly from aerial bombardment and from being caught in the crossfire of Allied and Japanese ground troops. Many lives were lost and gardens and houses destroyed. Even outside the war zones village life was disrupted when men were conscripted and women and children left with the responsibilities usually undertaken by men. However, some parts of the country, such as the central highlands, had little or no contact with the war.

The war had an important social as well as physical impact on the PNGans involved. During the period of the Japanese advance, PNGans saw, for the first time, that white men were not invincible. They also saw black American soldiers who apparently had the same privileges as whites. And they met Australians who respected their skills and, unlike the prewar white settlers, were more prepared to regard them as equals. The support that many PNGans had given Australian troops was well publicized in Australia and after the war Australians were ready to support the government’s well funded ”New Deal” which was designed to accelerate economic and social development and improve the welfare of the people of PNG.

See also: The ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’

Last edited by Sam on September 16, 2017