Modern Papua New Guinea

By Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi | Go to book overview

Peter Larmour


STATE AND SOCIETY IN PAPUA NEW
GUINEA

IF THE STATE IS CONSIDERED to be a centralised, bureaucratic structure of government, then it is a fairly recent introduction in Papua New Guinea. Traditional Papua New Guinea political systems were small and stateless (Langness 1972; Chowning 1977). Order within them was maintained by a mixture of self-help, reciprocity, gossip, shaming, and supernatural sanctions (Taylor 1982). Responsibility for maintaining order was much more widely dispersed among various institutions and the adult population than it was in more specialised ‘stateful’ societies (Southall 1968). Unlike some parts of Polynesia, there was no process of indigenous state formation to be interrupted by colonial rule (Spriggs 1988). The colonial powers—Germany and Australia—defeated or enlisted local leaders but did not inherit an existing centralised, bureaucratic structure of government.

The introduction of the state was not simply a matter of running up a flag. Colonial rule took several decades to establish itself in Papua New Guinea (Wolfers 1975). At its edges, state officials (kiaps) often ruled in personal and violent, rather than bureaucratic, ways. The Highlands were only incorporated in the 1930s and 1940s.

By the end of the 1940s the public service still only numbered about a thousand people (Dwivedi 1986). By independence it had grown to about fifty thousand (Turner 1990). It grew a little in the late 1970s, then contracted in the early 1980s. It now consists of about 150

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