Intensive Study of a Culture:
First Contact and its aftermath in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea
Starr Lectureship Course
by Alex Golub, 26 April 2002
Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago
In the late 1920s and early 1930s Australian
explorers discovered the highlands of Papua New Guinea, home to roughly one
million people who had never encountered Europeans before. In the course of one
generation highlanders experienced contact with Europeans, colonization, and
decolonization, going ‘from stone to steel in one
generation’ and dealing with the
massive cultural change this entailed. At the same time, the Australians who
governed highlanders projected their own fantasies of empire, development, and
benevolent paternalism onto their relationships with Papua New Guineans. This
course examines in detail the patrols that first entered the highlands and
their aftermath in contemporary Papua New Guinea. Using a lens sharply focused
on the ethnography of both highlanders and their Australian rulers, the
readings will draw out the implications of first contact and its aftermath for
issues such as colonization and post-coloniality, globalization, whiteness,
environmentalism, and the representation of indigenous peoples in local and
Description (one page)
This course is designed with two related
goals: First, it is intended to provide participants with specialized knowledge
of first contact in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Second, it is meant to
help participants understand larger theoretical issues in anthropology relating
to culture contact, social change, and the place of fourth world peoples in a
The course begins with two weeks of
introductory readings. The first week lays out the main theoretic issues by
examining the arguments of Levi-Strauss, Sahlins, and Kelly. The second week
provides a brief introduction to the literature on colonization and the
colonial history of the British Empire that served as the backdrop for
exploration in Papua New Guinea. The third week covers Mick Leahy’s initial patrols into the highlands. This is the most well-known and
dramatized instances of ‘first-contact’. Subsequent weeks work to progressively problematize the stereotypes
presented by the Leahy patrol by focusing on the particularities of the
Hagen-Sepik patrol, which presents a more nuanced and extended account of first
contact. Readings about the patrol are accompanied by ethnography from the
areas that the patrol traveled through.
The final section of the course considers the
contemporary situation of the groups visited by the Hagen-Sepik patrol. It
reviews the history of the region since the patrol, and the particular issues
that highlanders have had with mining, forestry, and development work. A final
week focuses on comparing highlanders with indigenous peoples elsewhere in the
The main text for the course is Bill Gammage’s outstanding The Sky Travellers, which will be on reserve as
well as on sale. Hank Nelson's Taim Blong Masta and Sean Dorney's Papua
New Guinea: People, Politics, and History Since 1975 will also be widely
used. Additional articles will be on reserve in the Regenstein.
First contact in PNG is a remarkably well-researched
area. The original explorers who entered the highlands took movie cameras with
them. Their original footage is an arresting and unique record of the
experience of culture contact. In addition, later filmmakers have created a series
of extremely well-known and high quality documentaries. The result is an
incredibly rich and fascinating body of movies regarding the highlands and
their history. An important part of the course will be watching and discussing
Active participation in class discussion is vital.
Be come prepared to talk about the readings and what interested you – or didn't! A short midterm paper (5-7 pages) will be assigned issues
particular to first contact in Papua New guinea. A longer (10-15 pages) final
paper will be due at the end of the quarter. The topic of this paper will be
chosen by the students, and topics can range from other patrols in Papua New
Guinea to similar situations in the Amazon, or to representations of first
contact in Science Fiction.
Grading: Grading will be based on
class room participation (30%), the midterm (30%), and the final paper (60%).
Week 1: Theoretical Approaches to
Monday: Introduction to Course
Wednesday: Tristes Tropes?
Claude Levi-Strauss. Tristes Tropiques. Chapters
37-40. 39 pages.
Sahlins, Marshall. Goodbye to Tristes Tropes:
Ethnography in the Context of Modern World History. Journal of Modern History
65(1). 25 pages.
Indigenization of Modernity?
Sahlins, Marshall. Economics of Develop-man in the
Pacific. Res 21. 12 pages.
John Kelly. Time and the Global In
Represented Communities. 35 pages.
Study Questions: How does Levi-Strauss understand the
relationship anthropologists have to their own culture and the cultures they
study? How does Levi-Strauss’s view of cultural
creativity differ from that of Sahlins? How does Levi-Strauss envision the
future of cultural diversity on the planet, and how does his view differ from
Sahlins? What kind of underlying vision of cultures as separate entities – or connected entities, or non-existent fictions – seems to drive the writings of both authors? How does Kelly’s notion of ‘sea change’ relate to issues of culture change in Levi-Strauss and Sahlins?
Week 2: Colonial Precursors: India,
Africa, and Papua New Guinea
Monday: Colonialism and the British Empire
Cohn, Bernard. “The
Language of Command and the Command of Language” In
Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge. 41 Pages.
Comaroff and Comaroff. Africa Observed In Of
Revelation and Revolution v.1 86-125. 41 pages.
Hank Nelson. You Had to be Firm and Never a
Colony In Taim Blong Masta 160-160. 10 Pages.
Something on the essence of Australian Culture
Friday: Australia and Papua New Guinea
Dorney, Sean. Long Taim Bipo – the Past. In Papua New Guinea: People, Politics, and History
since 1975. 26 pages.
Study Questions: Anthropology is typically about ‘other people’. How do this week’s readings apply the anthropological lens to ‘first worlders like us’? How is colonialism a cultural
project? How did the experience of British explorers and the British Empire
affect the Australian imagination of Papua New Guinea, and Australian’s imaginations of themselves as colonizers?
Week 3: The Leahys, Gold, and ‘First
MOVIE: First Contact
Bernstein. The New Mistress and the Cursed Discovery
In The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession. 219-238. 19 pages.
Nelson, Hank. 2001. “Isla
del Oro: Seeking New Guinea Gold” in
Gold: Forgotten Histories and Lost Objects of Australia ed. McCalman, Cook, and
Reeves. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 17 pages.
Hank Nelson, Gold! and Moneymakers and
Misfits in Taim Blong Masta. 18 pages.
Ian Willis. 1969. Who was First? The First White Man
into the New Guinea Highlands. Journal of the Papua and New Guinea Society 3(1)
Connolly and Anderson, First Contact [selections].
Rumsey, Allen. The White Man as Cannibal in the New
Guinea Highlands. In Anthropology of Cannibalism, L. Goldman ed.
Strathern, Marilyn. The Decomposition of an Event.
Cultural Anthropology 7:244-254. 10 pages.
Study Questions: How did highlanders react to the Leahys, and
how did the Leahys react to them? What sort of cultural resources and
sterotypes did each side in the encounter draw on to understand the people they
met? Despite their differences, what did they have in common, and why? Who were
the middlemen in the first contact situation, and how did they get to be
middlemen? What role did violence and sex play in first contact? What do you
think about it?
Week 4: Introducing the Hagen-Sepik
Introducing the Hagen Sepik Patrol
Gammage, Sky Travellers. Chapter 1-50. 50 pages.
Georg Simmel, The Stranger. In The Sociology
of Georg Simmel, ed. Kurt Wolff. 402-408. 6 pages.
Kiaps: White in New Guinea
Kituai, August. The Role of the Patrol Officer in
Papua New Guinea. In My Gun, My Brother. 23 pages.
Nelson, Hank. God’s
Shadow on Earth, The Lonliness and the Glory, and On Patrol in Taim
Blong Masta. 33 Pages.
Kituai, August. “Policemen
at Work” In My Gun, My
Brother. 28 pages.
Bob Cole, In Defense of Truth: A Response to August
Kituai's My Gun My Brother.
Study Questions: Focus on Gammage’s concept of ‘journeys’ – what does it mean in an
extended sense? What role did indigenous police play in the internal sociology
of the patrol? What would Sahlins say about the biographies of these police?
How did kiaps understand themselves and their jobs? Would Levi-Strauss have
wanted to be a kiap?
Week 5: Sky Travellers. The Enga and
The Patrol Sets Out
Gammage, Sky Travellers. Chapters 5-10. 60 pages.
Enga Speakers and Their Regional World
Wiessner and Tumu. Social Organization, Leadership,
and Trade in the Early Generations of Oral History In Historical Vines. 23
The Huli and Their World
Ballard. Inclined to be Cheeky. 15 pages.
Chris Ballard. The Centre Cannot Hold: Trade
Networks and Sacred Geography in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Archaeology in
Oceania 29. 18 Pages.
Study Questions: Compare the Fox brothers patrol with the
Hagen-Sepik patrol – how did they vary,
particularly in their use of violence? How did pre-existing trade routes in
Enga and Huli territory affect the progress of the patrol? How did Enga and
Huli culture challenge the patrol’s – and our – stereotypes of ‘primitives’? How did the Hagen-Sepik
patrol differ from the Leahys in terms of their use of middlemen, violence, and
creation of rapport with the people they encountered?
Week 6: Sky Travellers: The Min and
Gammage, Sky Travellers Chapter 10-15. 72 pages.
Brumbagh, R. Afek Sang: The 'Old Woman' Myth of the
Mountain Ok. In Children of Afek. 29 pages
Jorgensen, Dan. The Telefolip and the Architecture
of Ethnic Identity in the Sepik Headwaters In Children of Afek. 10
Study Questions: How do the Min and Hewa differ from Enga and
Huli in terms of their social organization and culture? How did John Black’s sexual experiences in Telefomin vary from the Leahy’s in Hagen? How did Black deal with challenges to his leadership by
other members of his patrol, and how did these challenges differ from those
made in Hagen and in Wabag? How did Black’s
personal transformation and the establishment of basecamps in Telefomin, Wabag,
and Tari represent a ‘sea change’?
Week 7: Sky Travellers: The End of the
Patrol and Contemporary PNG
The End of the Patrol
Gammage, Sky Travellers, Chapter 15-18. 24 pages.
Introducing Contemporary PNG
MOVIE: Joe Leahy’s
Sean Dorney. “Fleeting
Glimpses” and “Provincial Government – Secession’s First Solution” In Papua New Guinea:
People, Politics, History since 1975. 36 pages.
Local Imaginations of Global Situations
Ballard, Chris. The Fire Next Time. 10 pages.
Wardlow, Holly. Bobby Teardrops: A Turkish Video in
Papua New Guinea: Reflections on Cultural Studies, Feminism, and the
Anthropology of Mass Media. Visual Anthropology Review 12(1)30-45. 15 pages.
Robins, Joel. On
reading 'world news': apocalyptic narrative, negative nationalism and transnational
Christianity in a Papua New Guinea society In Social Analysis 42(2). 27 Pages.
Biersack, Aletta. The Mt. Kare Python and His Gold.
American Anthropologist 101(1):68-88. 20 pages.
Study Questions: In the long run, who was more affected by
their experiences of the patrol, the kiaps leading it or the people they
encountered? Did Black and Taylor fulfill the ambitions that they had for
themselves and Papua New Guinea? How do their ambitions mirror the larger
Australian imperial project in Papua New Guinea and how successful was that
project? How do people living in the highlands today imagine themselves to be
part of a wider world, and how has that imagination been transformed by contact
with whites? How has it stayed the same?
Week 8: ‘Tribal Fighting’ and violence in
Fighting’ and ‘Traditional Violence’
Ferguson, Brian and Neil Whitehead. The Violent Edge
of Empire In War in the Tribal Zone. 30 pages.
Gordon and Meggitt. The Decline of the Kiaps In
Law and Order in the New Guinea Highlands. 39-71. 32 pages.
Strathern: Let the Bow Go Down in War in the
Tribal Zone. 22 pages.
Crime and the State in Papua New Guinea
Dinnen, Sinclair. “From
Disintegration to Reintegration” In Law and Order in
a Weak State: Crime and Politics in Papua New Guinea. 19 pages.
Dorney, Sean. “Crime,
Punishment, Justice and the Future” In
Papua New Guinea: People, Politics, and History since 1975. 31 pages.
Study Questions: To what extent is violence in Melanesia a
'traditional' phenomenon, and to what extent is it a novel one? Is the weakness
of the state a result of the failure of the Australian administrative project?
How successful were the kiaps in establishing a lasting law and order in the
Week 9: Issues in Resource Development
Landowners’: global requirements for
MOVIE: People of Porgera
Ernst, Thomas. Land, Stories, and Resources:
Discourse and Entification in Onabasulu Modernity. 10 pages
Thomas, Nicholas. Substantivization and
Anthropological Discourse: The Transformation of Practices into Institutions in
Neotraditional Pacific Societies. In History and Tradition in Melanesian
Anthropology. 64-85. 22 pages.
Jorgenson, Clan-making, Clan Finding. Manuscript. 15
Burton, John. Social Mapping and the Response of the
Hidden Valley Landowners to a Court Telling Them Who They Are. Manuscript. 9
Filer, Colin. The Melanesian way of menacing the
mining industry. In Environment and Development in the Pacific Islands. 32
Environmentalism in Theory and Practice
Filer, Colin. How can Western conservationists talk
to Melanesian landowners about indigenous knowledge? 27 pages.
Florence Brunois, In Paradise, the Forest is Open
and Covered in Flowers. In Expecting the Day of Wrath. 20 pages.
Robbins, Joel. Welcome to Big Bush Urapmin.
Manuscript. 9 pages.
Paige West. Environmental Non Governmental
Organizations and the Nature of Ethnographic Inquiry. Social Analysis 54(2)
55-77. 22 pages.
Study Questions: What is the Melanesian way of menacing the
mining industry? How is 'tradition' reified so that it can be represented to
global forces? How do the agendas of indigenous people correspond with or
differ from Western environmentalists? How do mining companies and
environmentalists view indigenous peoples, and how are these views an extension
of those held by Black and Taylor?
Week 10: Representing Indigenous
People to the World and Vice-Versa: Concluding Comparative Reflections
Robbins, Joel. 1997 “’When
do you think the world is going to end?’
Globalization, Apocalypticism, and the Moral Perils of Fieldwork in “Last New Guinea””. Anthropology and Humanism
22(1)6-30. 24 pages.
Conklin, Beth and Laura Graham. The Shifting Middle
Ground: Amazonian Indians and Eco-Politics. American Anthropologist 97(4):
695-710. 15 pages.
Povinelli, Elizabeth. Settler Modernity and the
Quest for an Indigenous Tradition. Public Culture 11(1):19-48. 29 pages.
Brody, Hugh. Maps and Dreams. Selections.
Study Questions: How did the Papua New Guinea experience
differ from the experience of indigenous peoples in Australia and South
America? How do Povinelli and Robbins's self-understanding as anthropologists
differ from Levi-Strauss's? How do they differ from John Black? To what extent
is first contact like fieldwork, and how do the 'journeys' in Gammage's sense
that they involve create a 'sea change' in the people who undertake them?