by Dr. Chris Ballard

By most measures, including those of Huli history itself, the period of contact between Huli-speakers and the former colonial state was brief. Two broad phases in this period leading up to the establishment of the independent state of Papua New Guinea in 1975 are distinguished for the Tari region: an “early colonial” period from 1934 to 1945 and a “late colonial” period from 1950 to 1975. The events of “first contact” between Huli-speakers and European mining prospectors, so precious to colonial accounts of the history of the Papua New Guinea Highlands, were both shocking and incomprehensible to most Huli eyewitnesses: the two Fox brothers, accompanied by sixteen armed carriers, crossed Huli territory from west to east during two weeks in November 1934, killing more than forty-five Huli as they passed (Ballard and Allen 1991, Ballard 1992b). No Huli has suggested to me that there was any knowledge of whites or of the colonial state prior to 1934. There is similarly no evidence, prior to 1934, for the trade of steel goods or other “European” materials into the Tari region. The first sightings of airplanes and the subsequent passage through the Tari region of at least nine administration patrols between 1935 and 1945 provoked considerable interest but, other than introducing new crops and the first steel tools,
induced little immediate change in the lives of most Huli. Small numbers of Huli men were employed by patrol officers as carriers and guides during this period and were thus introduced to the patrol posts at Lake Kutubu, Wabag and Mt Hagen.

A far more substantial impact was sustained through the spread of a series of epidemics during the 1940s, though no direct connection between these events and Europeans was established by Huli at the time. Of these, the most virulent was probably the dysentery epidemic (ti darama: “faeces-blood”) of 1945/46. People alive at the time describe the appalling casualties sustained in the major basins, an impression borne out by the testimony of genealogies from this period:

Some time after the whites (honebi) came to Hoyabia [1938], there: was a great sickness, ti darama, which killed “a thousand” people in Haeapugua alone. But people didn’t fight each other, as everyone could see that all were affected in the same way. There had been no big sicknesses before this, so everyone just stayed where they were. (Togoli, 19.10.89, Interview Notes)

Other epidemic events during this period, known as moge and tiwa moge, are remembered and named for the sores (moge) that erupted on people’s bodies. Major epidemics of porcine anthrax (nogo kg kenekene), which may have been present in Tari earlier, also claimed a heavy toll amongst Huli pigs during the same period.

After a five-year lapse in administration contact, government officers from Lake Kutubu began patrolling Hull territory again from 1950, ultimately establishing the first permanent patrol post and airstrip among Hull-speakers at Rumurumu (Tari) in 1952. This permanent government presence marked a major watershed in Huli colonial history; where patrols had previously been content to observe wars without interfering, the intention of the administration to bring the region under control was clearly signalled by the immediate intervention of an armed patrol in a war at Haeapugua. 1952 also marked the arrival of the first missionaries, and within four years of the establishment of Tari station, four different missions had staked claims to distinct areas within the immediate Tari area, to be followed by a further two new missions in the Koroba area. 1

The administration initiated an ambitious road-and bridge-building programme, extending control to the Komo and Koroba areas and supervising the mass migration of Hull men as labourers to coastal plantations under the Highlands Labour Scheme. 2 Political autonomy was returned to the Tari region in a series of steps, with Local Government Councils set up in 1964, National Independence in 1975, and a Provincial Government for the Southern Highlands in 1978; Huli political leaders have been active in all three bodies. Three of the more significant developments of recent years have been the widespread adoption of a cash economy, substantially fuelled through the profits of small coffee-holder production; the completion in 1981 of the Highlands Highway link to Tari from the provincial capital at Mendi, the first widely available means of access to the rest of the country; and the minerals exploration and
exploitation boom of the late 1980s and 1990s. This last phenomenon, which includes the extraction of gas from the Hides field on the Gigira range, a major gold rush at Mt Kare to the north of the Tari basin, and the discovery of alluvial gold in most of the major Huli basins, appears likely to overshadow all other forms of “development” (Clark 1991, Ryan 1991, Vail 1991). See the list of “notable events”, which I
have compiled for the demographic program at the Tari Research Unit, provides a bald chronology for the Tari region during the twentieth century.

(Reprinted with permission of Dr. Chris Ballard. The Death of A Great Land: Ritual, History and Subsistence Revolution in Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of The Australian National University, Canberra, January 1995. pp. 141-142.)

(Photo courtesy of Michael Main shows the tramping down of the Hoiyevia airport in May 1938.)

  1. These missions included (in order of their establishment) the Methodist Overseas Mission (later United Church) at Hoyabia in 1952, the Unevangelized Fields Mission (later Asia-Pacific Christian Mission, later Evangelical Church of Papua) at Halenguali in 1952/53, the Capuchin Roman Catholics at Gubari in 1954/55, the Seventh Day Adventists at Habare in 1956, the Christian Missions in Many Lands (CMML) at Gunu near Koroba in 1958 and the Wesleyan Mission at Fugwa (Mogoropugua) in 1961. []
  2. According to Glasse (in press:5), 34% of all adult Huli men migrated as labourers under the Scheme. []

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