The Process of Pacification

The history of pacification can be subdivided into four different phases: a first phase of indirect contact, a second phase of first contact and early coexistence between indigenous groups and agents of the state, a third phase of enforcement of pacification and a fourth phase of consolidation and routine administration.

Indirect Contact

Initial contact between non-state populations and the state usually took place by indirect means. Western artefacts, rumours and the sightings of airplanes preceded the presence of the first white men in most of the villages in the Eastern Highlands and had tremendous consequences in shaping the perceptions and expectations of Highlanders. Western artefacts like steel axes, cloth, ceramics or mirror shards reached the villages through long-distance trade networks and were usually associated with the spirit realm. Knives and axes especially were coveted goods, since their superiority over traditional tools was soon discovered. The influx of such goods dramatically increased from the 1930s onwards, when the first missionaries, gold prospectors and government patrols reached the Highlands. This often caused a reversion of traditional trade flows. Groups on rhe highland fringe, which traditionally were in a favourable middleman position between the coast and the Highlands, now suddenly found themselves at the periphery of a trade network radiating out from the government and missionary posts in the Highlands (Boyd 1975: 42, Lindenbaum 1979: 76-79).

Steel tools had a considerable impact, especially on the work of men. According to Salisbury (1962: 118) their labour time in agriculture was reduced by 50-80%, which opened up time for other occupations, particularly warfare. An intensification of traditional warfare is apparent in the study area among the Awa, where the number of deaths per decade rose sharply during the 1930s and 1940s (Hayano 1972: 205f., 224). Introduced epidemics also caused an intensification of warfare, since deaths from sickness were usually attributed to sorcery, which accelerated the cycle of revenge and retaliation. The flu epidemic of 1936 was especially virulent, but during the 1930s and 1940s several other epidemics swept through the Highlands, caused thousands of deaths, and in some villages eradicated up to 20-25% of all inhabitants (Hayano 1972: 93, Radford 1987: 144, 147).

Together with artefacts, epidemics and airplane sightings - all traumatic events on their own - rumours reached the villagers that strange beings had been sighted, with red skin and descending from heaven in big birds. The purpose of their appearance was unknown, but they were variably believed to be sky beings, spirits from the land of the dead or even returning ancestors, and therefore potentially harmful or in the case of the ancestors benevolent. Some rumours predicted the death of all pregnant women or of all black-coloured pigs, while others had it, that the returned ancestors would bring shells and valuables. As a matter of fact, shells and Western goods did arrive at the same time and so indirectly confirmed these rumours (Berndt 1952/53: 50-56, 142f.). With World War II the influx of these goods abruptly stopped, since most of the colonial officers and missionaries were evacuated out of the Highlands because of the Japanese threat. The Highlanders considered themselves betrayed by the spirits and a wave of cargo cults swept through the Highlands, and new rituals were invented to appease the spirits and to re-attract the goods (Berndt 1952/53: 56-65, 141-144).

The first contacts of agents of the state with the local population took place in this context of fear and insecurity, with a society that was already in upheaval and turmoil. In parts of the southern regions such rumours and cargo cults created a climate conducive to rapid pacification, since traditional standards of knowledge were in doubt and an interest in new and non-traditional activities dominated. A collapse of traditional activities was thus not only accepted but supported. The decline of cargo cults among the Southern Kamano, the Usurufa and Northern Fore coincided with the spread of colonial power, and the fervent desire shown by the local population to radically alter their life bore certain traits of a cargo cult in itself (Berndt 1952/53: 149f.).

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