Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kev's Cult

Back in the early sixties I was a 22 year old kid in charge of a primary school in an isolated part of the Gulf of Papua. Over one week I noticed that almost all the girls were not attending school. I asked the boys what was happening and was told that they were dancing on their ancestors' graves. Being a relatively newby in Papua New Guinea, I thought that it was a traditional thing. In the next village I had noticed a newly built platform around a large tree; a nice meeting spot for villages under the shade of the tree...not!

About a week later I heard loud engine noises and lots of villagers shouting, and as it was late afternoon I went with villagers to see what was happening. To my amazement there was a contingent of native police officers and three Australian kiaps berating the villagers for starting a cargo cult. Apparently the platform around the tree was to receive the cargo. From what I could make out the kiaps (patrol officers) ordered the villages to tear down the platform and gave them some work on a road as punishment for being so silly.

As they left, the whole contingent of police and Kiaps drove past me in Landrovers and neither said anything or even looked at me. Kev was starting to feel that they thought I had started the cargo cult.

Later, on reflection, I figured out what the likely cause was. When I wanted to order some supplies to be shipped out from Port Moresby by coastal trader I would ride into the Government Station at Ihu and talk on the two-way radio to Steamships Trading Company and place an order. When it arrived it was usually boxed and sent out to my school on a government tractor and trailer. When the tractor arrived in the village, school kids would help unload the box and we all waved the tractor driver goodbye as he left......without any money changing hands. I figured that the villagers thought that my ancestors over the horizon (another unfathomable concept) had sent me the goods.

Nothing was ever mentioned about cargo cults and I never heard any talk about what they believed about my 'cargo'. I did talk to the other teachers and suggested that we explain how orders are paid for by cheque. Around that time I had a staff member who disliked me and I did think that maybe he was mixed up in it at some level.

Recently I have tried to access Patrol reports to Arehava, to try and find what it was all about and whether my name was mentioned. Unfortunately most of the Patrol Reports have been destroyed in arson attacks on government stations. The University of Southern California has a comprehensive collection of patrol reports covering most of the colonial period, but they must be accessed in person. The Australian Archives in Canberra also has quite a bit of information on patrols etc. When we visited Canberra a few years ago we did a search, but nothing came up regarding Kev's Cult.

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