Modern Papua New Guinea

By Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi | Go to book overview

Part One
THE STATE AND NATIONAL IDENTITY

BEFORE EUROPEAN COLONIALISM, people living on the island of New Guinea were organized into many thousands of independent political groupings, some created by individual ‘Big Men’ and ‘Great Men,’ others led by powerful chiefs (Berndt and Lawrence, eds., 1971; Godelier 1986; Sahlins 1963; Strathern 1971). Jealously guarding their autonomy, these groups were linked in loose, yet extensive, networks of trade, marriage, and exchange. These horizontal power structures are still important power bases for contemporary Papua New Guinean politicians at both the level of village politics and national parliament (Standish 1992, 1993; Wolfers and Regan 1988). What is different in contemporary politics is that national politicians must make decisions affecting an entire nation rather than simply serving the needs of their particular constituencies, and being suited to national leadership roles requires that one be a part of an educated elite that is developing interests of its own that are often in opposition to the interests of more ordinary citizens. A case in point is the lack of ‘grassroots’ sympathy for elite sexual politics and elite women's efforts to be elected to prominent positions in the Papua New Guinea government (Zimmer-Tamakoshi 1993); another is the beginning of a hereditary class system based on differences in ‘education, training, qualifications for jobs, business success, financial position, and the capacity to raise financial support in the community’ (Brown 1988:102). While yet multiethnic in character, Papua New Guinea's elite leadership does operate on the basis of ‘wide personal contacts from school, university, and friendships outside

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