Paliau Maloat

Paliau Maloat (1907-1991), usually known as Paliau, was the leader of a post-World War II social movement in Manus District. Born on Baluan Island, Manus, and orphaned at an early age, he had no formal schooling. He worked as a cook in Lorengau, Manus Island, before joining the police force in 1928 during which time he traveled widely with Administration patrols. He was Sergeant of police in Rabaul, New Britain, 1939-42 and collaborated with the Japanese during World War II.

On his return to his village in 1946 Paliau established a movement to improve the material and spiritual well-being of his people. Many traditional practices were abandoned. Marriage payments were fixed and feasts and exchanges discontinued. People were encouraged to save their wages and contribute to a fund for the purchase of Western goods. Villages were cleaned, new buildings well planned and various development projects were undertaken. Paliau rejected Christianity and developed a new religion which included some Christian rituals. He did not acknowledge a splinter group with some “cargo” cult beliefs which was founded by some of his followers. By 1947 Paliau’s influence had extended to many of the villages on the south coast of Manus. Members of his movement established local government councils and Paliau was elected President of the Baluan council and, later, the Manus council.

In 1953 representatives from the United Nations reported favorably on Paliau’s activities but the Australian authorities felt threatened and jailed him on “cargo” cult charges on several occasions. He served in the national parliament from 1964-72 and became a founding member of the PANGU Pati. As his movement stabilized he became accepted by the Administration. In 1970 he was awarded an OBE. The movement waned as alternative forms of political organization, such as provincial government, developed. However, Paliau still had some followers in the early 1990s.

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  1. It is incorrect to say that Paliau “collaborated” with the Japanese during WWII. When Australian military forces evacuated Rabaul, they instructed the indigenous members of the police force who were unable to escape to cooperate with the Japanese to avoid severe punishment, including execution. Paliau was the senior indigenous officer in Rabaul at the time. All such internees were compelled to work for the Japanese. As senior officer, Paliau served as liaison between the New Guinean police and the Japanese, not merely conveying orders but also striving to settle disputes within the internee community without bringing them to Japanese attention and organizing the internees to see to their own welfare. Many New Guineans who served with Paliau remember his efforts to help them survive. Paliau eventually escaped with a small group of other police and make contact with Australian forces. After the war, the Australian occupation forces accused Paliau of collaboration, but he was acquitted of the charge.

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