23. George Greathead’s report on ‘Crime in Mount Hagen’

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

On my first circuit (January-May 1952) I found copies of this report at many Government Stations because the judges wanted it used as a precedent where cases arose in areas the Supreme Court had not been to before. It was written on 1 June 1947 by George Greathead, who was then District Commissioner at Wewak, because the Chief Judge had, on 28 May 1947, completed the first Supreme Court trial at Mount Hagen (The King v. Porge) and had called for a ‘report on the local situation’. Although I have compressed it slightly, the wording is exclusively George’s – especially ‘my staunch local Native advisers’, ‘we had made considerable progress’, ‘our stocks … would slump’, ‘rehabilitate our position’. It presents a wonderful picture of a dedicated kiap on a busy one-man station, several days’ walk from anywhere.

The Hagen country was first penetrated by a Government Patrol conducted by ADO Mr J.L. Taylor accompanied by Messrs M.J. and D.J. Leahy (prospectors) and Mr K. Spinks (Surveyor) during 1932-33. During 1934 the Leahy brothers were granted a Mining Lease at Kuta, 4 miles south of the present Government Station at Gormis, and immediately commenced working the lease. The same year the Administrator, Brigadier-General T. Griffiths, invited the Lutheran and Catholic missions to establish Stations in the newly discovered country from Chimbu west as far as Mt Hagen. This invitation was immediately accepted: the Lutheran Mission established stations at Ega and Kerowagi, in the Chimbu sector, and at Ogelbeng, in the Hagen sector, while the Catholics established themselves at Denglagu, at the head of the Chimbu River, at Dimbu, in the Chimbu sector and at Wilya, in the Hagen sector. The Wilya station was moved during 1937-38 to Rebiamul, adjacent to the present Government Station. From the outset the Hagen people traded freely with the Leahy brothers and the Mission Stations, and were quick to offer themselves for casual labour. In no time, many hundreds of young Hagen warriors were experienced miners, understood the use of a spirit level, and generally made themselves very useful units in assisting their new visitors from the east. Tribal fighting continued but it appeared to be the Hagen code that the Europeans were not to be molested – a code that was rigidly adhered to. Hagen was only visited periodically by Government officers from 1933 until 1935, the visits becoming slightly more regular and of longer duration after 1936, following the establishment of a permanent Government Post at Kundiawa – 70 miles east of Hagen. In January 1938 administrative consolidation began at Hagen when Patrol Officer M.S. Edwards established a post at Gormis and, by the time of his departure in December 1938, he had laid down solid foundations upon which future intensive consolidation of Government influence was pursued. Inter-tribal warfare has been reduced to a minimum; offenders being detained on the station more for educational purposes, than as punishment.

It was my privilege to relieve Mr Edwards at Hagen in December 1938. From the outset it was evident that the Hagen wanted to be directed; they could not help themselves and, probably quite unconsciously, they became amenable to discipline and were accepting direction as though they had been doing it for years past. A court-house was built on the station which the people were given to understand was their house in which their differences were to be presented to the Government Officer as against their previous practice of settling disputes on the battlefield. Their reception of this innovation was immediate; and for the time being it was effective – the differences for the most part were of such simple nature as minor domestic common assault, trespass, with a limited amount of stealing. The usual punishment amounted to detention at the station on general labour jobs for varying periods of from one week to three or four months.

But by March 1939 there appeared disturbing signs on the west flank. From the outset it was my policy to confine administration to a radial of 12 miles from the station. The people within this radial area indicated their acceptance of Government control and direction, in return for which the Government accepted the obligation of protecting them from attack from outside the radial. Up to this stage not one instance of a capital offence had occurred within the radial area, although quite a few instances had occurred just prior to my taking over. The try-out of the new Government Officer came towards the end of March 1939 in the form of the wilful murder by Andagelgangam Natives from beyond the area of radial control, of a man of Kuli, just within the area. The demand from my staunch local Native advisers for tangible evidence of my good faith in assuring protection from outside attack was immediate and sustained. Death must be met by death, they clamoured.

My first step was to request the presence of the offenders at the Station court-house. With what result – “Who are you to tell us what we will do? Are you a flower that we can cut down only for you to spring up again? Have you not blood in your veins that we cannot cut and bleed you to death? If you want, come and get us!” – were the retorts. Government prestige demanded that I accept the challenge to ‘come and get’ them. It took the form of a dawn raid since that was the only practical possibility of securing the wanted men. Well prepared for our arrival, the patrol was greeted with showers of spears and arrows. The patrol, forced to protect itself, opened fire, resulting in casualties among the Native attackers. Regrettable as the affair was, it meant the saving of many Native lives in the future, it advanced administrative consolidation many years, and was welcomed by the community as satisfying the requirements of justice and a realistic deterrent to the contemplated revenge for past killings. Contact with the Andagelgangams was quickly established and they remain to this day among the most co-operative and most understanding supporters of Government consolidation. With Government prestige and good faith now established the way was paved for permanent consolidation. The construction of the great arterial highways of which Hagen boasts today were got under way, each group constructing roads surveyed through its own territory, and court arbitration became a daily routine. This state of affairs prevailed until about July 1939 but it was the transition period when a flare-up was to be expected at any time, and in any locality.

Up to this time the Native population was profuse in its assurance that they had attained a status equal to that of the coastal Natives, eg under complete Government “control”. I assured them that we had made considerable progress and that our goal was in sight, but that we had not yet achieved that objective. “But we have reached the status of coastal Natives” was their retort. “We built the roads, we have abandoned criminal offences; and we bring our differences to you for arbitration and adjustment. What else must we do to convince you that what we claim is correct?” They did not have long to wait! Towards the end of July 1939 an influential citizen of the Diga Andabanch reported early one Saturday morning that a difference had arisen at Andabanch. Asked for further details he told me that a slight difference had arisen between two couples who had been attending a private courtship dance. Pressed for further details he said that other family members of each aggrieved party had interested themselves in the difference and were throwing mud at each other. “Just a friendly quarrel; nothing to worry about” was the philosophical reply of my informant when I demanded the presence of all participants at the court-house. It will suffice to say that by the time my informant returned to the scene of the disturbance, four warriors were dead and 35 were seriously wounded.

Here, indeed, was the test. Throughout the day influential citizens of adjacent Native groups visited the station and expressed their disgust at the turn of events, and their sincerity was not to be denied. All leaders of groups bordering Andabanch were called together and the position outlined to them. It was impressed upon them that the goings-on at Andabanch had cast a grave reflection upon whatever progress we had made, and that our stocks in the eyes of the District Officer at Madang, and the Administrator at Rabaul, would slump immediately. It was then put to them that they alone could rehabilitate our position with those above, whose eyes were now focussed upon us. “Well, boys, the ball is in your court”, I told them. It was indicated to them that the following morning a patrol would proceed to the scene of the disturbance and, since this would be the cue for every man, woman and child to move out and take refuge with relatives further afield – such was former procedure – I suggested to the chiefs that such evacuation had to be cut off and every participant apprehended. By so doing it would be some basis for our rehabilitation.

The results were far beyond the highest expectations. Probably 4,000 warriors put a block on every exit and, by the following evening, the total of 218 Andabanch Natives had been apprehended. This work was facilitated by the fact that a census of the group had been completed only a week previously. “What is the use, he has our names in the book” – was the thought uppermost in the minds of those turned back from escape through the cordon, to hide along the undergrowth fringing the creek banks. In all, 76 of the 218 arrested were detained on road construction work for various terms compatible with the seriousness of the part each played in the disturbances. The populace considered that justice had been done, not by reason of arrests, but because of the fact that two men had been killed on either side. The terms of detention of those arrested were considered by the responsible citizens as commensurate with the offences committed by the offenders.

This disturbance marked the close of serious crime in the sub-district until about September 1940. Then there was the isolated killing of a man by Gur of Kuli, on the eastern flank. Gur was arrested and escaped on two occasions, with the result that it was possible to try the experiment of committing him to Kainantu gaol for a term of 18 months. At that time there were no Hagen Natives in the Police Force and Hagen Natives never made the journey to Kainantu. Gur went out of the minds of people at Hagen and this factor is interesting. Nowadays, however, Hagen police are located at all Highland stations and members of the local community travel freely from one end of the country to the other. Having due regard to health, it would appear that Wau is the logical location for committal of Highland natives on long term sentences.

But happenings at Hagen from April 1946 to January this year have brought us face to face with the real problem of the administration of justice in the Highlands. In late April of 1946 Porge of Diga Muguga, who had worked for some years on the Leahy mining leases at Kuta, committed the deliberate, cold-blooded pitiless killing of a woman of Ruruga – the crime for which he appeared in the Supreme Court last week. In my long experience among the Hagen people I cannot recall any similar method of killing and I would suggest that it is entirely against the code of the people. It disgusts every decent citizen. Barely two months later, a long woman of Palinger was stoned to death in her house at night by an unidentified killer. Later, in July 1946, a woman was cut to pieces about sundown at a point not more than one and a half miles south of the station. The following day, over 500 warriors armed with spears and bows and arrows and in full war splendour, marched on the station and demanded that the time had come for direct action. Threateningly, they asked what I was going to do about it. A suspect was already in custody and the warriors demanded that, if I did not propose to take immediate and direct action, they would tear down the prison and deal with the culprit in their own way. For over two hours the atmosphere was tense and ugly – to such an extent that I deemed it essential to issue ball ammunition to selected police and I put a strong protective guard on the suspect. Quiet was restored only when I took the matter up with the District Officer, Lae, on the radio telephone, and gave an assurance that I would leave no stone unturned in my efforts to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Late in 1946 and in January 1947 came two more brutal killings of women by tomahawks – one on the mountain slopes 4 miles south of the station and the victim slain, as she walked innocently along the track, by a Hagen man who had worked for months on the mining leases at Kuta. The January 1947 homicide was similarly perpetrated north of the station. Never before has Government, in the Highlands, been faced with a problem of a magnitude comparable with what confronts us today.

Your Honour has heard, from the lips of the community itself, its reactions to homicides of such revolting nature as those perpetrated at Hagen during the past twelve months. These people, from the first days of our Administration amongst them, have co-operated to the fullest with us. Our conception of law and justice has been diligently interpreted to them over a period of 9 years. For over 4 years I have considered that all Natives within a radial of 12 miles of the Government Station are under complete ‘control’. All of the killings referred to have been committed within this radial area.

I submit that capital punishment is by no means foreign to us in the past consolidation of Government influence in the Territory. I submit, further, that for some years past the Hagens have been placed on a pedestal and there has been a disinclination to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. My long experience among them has convinced me that they are no different from other Natives of the Territory. Certainly they would appear to have a more highly developed system of society – but it is a society that demands of us that we mete out punishment commensurate with crime. Today we must face up to this obligation. If we evade that obligation most serious repercussions and loss of Government prestige at Hagen will be very imminent.”


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