Contemporary Warfare in the New Guinea Highlands

Topics: Papua New Guinea, Marriage, Kinship Pages: 9 (2273 words) Published: April 24, 2004
New Guinea highlanders can go to war with each other to avenge ghosts or to exct revenge for the killing of one of their one. As we have to seen from other reports, or lessens we have discussed, people don't seen to comprehend the complex interrelationship among the various parts of their own social system.

The leaders of Papua New Guinea see intertribal fighting as a major social problem with severe economic consequences. Although fighting is not new to them, warfare seems to re-emerge in 1970s with a new set of causes. It is believed that the introduction of western goods may have resulted in changes in economic arrangements, marriage patterns, and, ultimately, warfare.

A little information about how warfare started and its causes:

After decades of pacification and relative peace, intergroup warfare reemerged in the Papua New Guinea highlands during the late 1960s and early 1970s, only a few years before national independence in 1975. The outcomes of this warfare were death and destruction, martial law, and delay in highlands development schemes.

Possible explanations:

a. psychological insecurity surrounding political independence from Australian rule

b. disappointment at the slow speed of development

c. relaxation of government control which suppressed fighting since the pacification process began.

But none of these explanations has looked at changes in the structure or

infrastructure of highlands societies themselves which could account for behavioral changes in the management conflict.

Traditionally, groups maintained differential access to resources such as stone used for axes and salt. Ace heads and salt were produced in local areas and traded for valuables available elsewhere. The introduction of and distribution of items such as salt and steel aces reduced the necessity for trade, thereby altering the need for intertribal marriage as well as reducing extratribal contacts of a type which facilitated marriage between persons of different tribes. The reduction of intertribal marriage, over time, resulted in a decrease of the web of affinal and nonagnatic kin ties which had provided linkages between autonomous tribal political units. The result of this reduction of intertribal marriage is the resurgence of tribal fighting.

Some researchers believed that once tribal fighting ended, men would be able to wander farther afield and develop relationships with single teenage girls over a wide area. Pacification, then, might reasonably be expected to result in an increase of intertribal marriage.


Warfare in traditional highlands societies has been regarded as chronic, incessant, and is said to have been accepted as part of social living in most areas. Indeed, the pattern of warfare was one of the most continuous and violent on record. Some neighboring groups maintained relations of permanent hostility and had little to do with one another. In contrast, most neighboring tribes intermarried and attended one another;s ceremonies.

Pacification was an early goal of the colonial administration. By the end of 1930s, fighting was rare in the vicinity of Simbu province government stations. By 1940, Australian authority was accepted and attacks on strangers and tribal fighting had nearly ended, although the entire highlands was not pacified until 1960s. This period also witnessed the introduction of Western goods such as salt and the steel axe.

From the end of WW2 through 1970s, educational and business opportunities expanded, local government and village courts were introduced, and national self-government was attained in 1975. Highlanders came to expect that development would lead to material gains.

Tribal warfare began to reemerge as a significant national problem in about 1970, 5 yrs before independence. By 1973, the government had become concerned that the situation might deteriorate to a point that they could no longer effectively administer parts of the highlands....
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