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White European Colonials brought civilization

In defence of colonialism: the case of Papua New Guinea

by C. R Hallpike

History Reclaimed, 23 November 2021

Modern liberals [the left], so loud in their condemnation of colonialism, for the most part have little or no idea of the conditions of life in traditional primitive societies, or the harsh realities facing the early European colonists. A classic example of the need for colonialism has been Papua New Guinea. Independence has seen a terrible regression.

Papua New Guinea is the eastern half of a vast island to the north of Australia across the Coral Sea.  The western half of the island was a Dutch possession from the eighteenth century, and was then seized by the Indonesians after they gained independence from the Dutch in 1949. What is known as Papua was initially a British Protectorate in the south-eastern half of the island, originally established at the insistence of the Australians in 1884, who were worried because Germany was securing its own colony of German New Guinea at the same time on the north-east coast of the island. In 1905 Australia took over responsibility for Papua, and at the outbreak of World War in 1914 occupied German New Guinea as well. After the war this became a Mandated Territory of the League of Nations. In the Second World War, the administrations of Papua and New Guinea were combined, and remained so until independence in 1975. This eastern half of the island is nearly 160,000 square miles, but in the early years of colonisation the population was less than one and a half million. Nevertheless, the number of languages spoken in Papua New Guinea is nearly 850. A relatively small proportion of coastal languages are Austronesian languages brought in the last two or three thousand years by sea-faring people, but the vast majority of languages are the far more ancient ones spoken in the hinterland.

Papua New Guinea is essentially a mass of mountains and river valleys covered in dense tropical rain-forest, through which are scattered large numbers of very small tribal societies speaking mutually unintelligible languages. Traditional societies were very loosely organized, with no hereditary chiefs to exercise political authority, nor did they even have councils of elders for peace-making and dispute settlement. Old men were more likely to be regarded as contemptible dotards than as wise counsellors to whom the community should listen with respect. Elaborate and highly competitive exchanges of pork and dances were organized by Big Men, faction leaders in their communities, who might also be fight leaders, but whose importance disappeared with age.

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