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Athabasca University

Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies During the Colonial Era

The Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies (IPNGS), operated from 1974 until 1988, when it was absorbed into the National Research Institute (NRI). Its director from 1974-78 was Ulli Beier, who had been running a similar institute in Ife, Nigeria, since his departure from UPNG in 1971. The Institute was funded primarily out of National Cultural Council (NCC) money, although Beier was able to bring some Nigerian support with him on his return to PNG in 1974 (Krausman interview with Beier 77). The stated objective of IPNGS was to research, record, and interpret "all aspects of traditional indigenous culture in Papua New Guinea." With this material in hand the Institute was to establish a folklore library, a tape and sound library, a film project, a publications programme, and a trust fund for further research. In addition, IPNGS was charged with the responsibility of regulating who could conduct such research and under which conditions. All IPNGS records were to be made available for the development of literature, drama, music and the visual arts in PNG (NCC 1977, 39). 

Beier saw the IPNGS as a rescue operation. The material had to be collected and archived as soon as possible, since many village cultures were dying from culture contact. But his interests were not archival. "Our aims were not merely scholarly but also political: we were trying to build up a reservoir of cultural heritage and to help the development of a sense of national unity" (1978, 5). The IPNGS therefore developed a strong publication programme. The most interesting of its publications for literary history were the journals. Oral History, which had begun in the Department of History, was published jointly with the Department. It continued the results of fieldwork conducted all over PNG. Ulli Beier had begun Gigibori in 1975. It was a folklore journal of high standards, which appeared twice each year. Although many of PNG's writers worked at the Institute as research officers, literature had no particular place in Institute periodicals until the appearance of Bikmaus in 1980. Bikmaus was meant to serve the historical and folkloric roles of Oral History and Gigibori as well as the literary role of PNGW.

The publications available in 1977 give a fair representation of the activity of IPNGS during this Beier’s tenure as Director: 4 Occasional Papers (20-40 pp. each on the topic of housing); 3 books of local songs (80-100 pp. each); 1 collection of NBC talks about poetry (128 pp.) by Ulli Beier, called "The Eye of God Does Not Grow Grass"; 1 collection of Central District Guitar Songs with vernacular and English texts (55 pp.); 22 collections of poetry (50-66 pp. each), including Russell Soaba's Naked Thoughts; vol. 1 of the How folklore series, ed. Apisai Enos and Russell Soaba; 4 readers in local languages; 3 bibliographies of music/writing from IPNGS archives; 10 novels; 13 plays. Beier had single-handedly taken over the business of publishing literature for PNG writers with one institute. Former students and colleagues from UPNG like Russell Soaba, Jacob Simet, Apisai Enos, and Kaka Kais joined Beier as researchers for the Institute.

As the 1970s wore on, though, it was clear that the NCC funds would not be renewed by the Australians or replaced by the new independent Government. The IPNGS was becoming untenable as an independent institute. Beier left for Australia. He was replaced in 1978 by John Kolia, who was succeeded by Kumalau Tawali and then Andrew Strathern, as Director of IPNGS. Strathern was an anthropologist who had spent many years working in PNG. It was a depressing time to be at the Institute. In 1980, former Prime Minister Michael Somare had issued a general appeal to the nation to support the Institute by donating to its building fund. The Government simply could not afford its K750, 000 price tag (Somare 91). In "Cultural Dependence Since 1972," a Waigani Seminar paper published in 1975, Strathern outlined the financial embarrassments of the Institute. There were only one or two research people for each department. Three of the most senior national staff were away taking full-time training for higher degrees. There was so little money to fund projects that the Institute had to rely on foreign researchers for help. The Administration expected the Institute to generate K5-20,000 income each year, which was then deducted from its budget. Even worse, until 1982, any income in excess of the stipend figure was taken back from Institute control. Strathern complained that the K100 fee charged to visiting researchers was supposed to go into a trust fund to support local research, but that it hadn't been used for that purpose. Finally, since 1980, the total NCC funds disbursed from the national government to the provincial governments had been cut in half from K100,000 to K50,000 (Strathern 289-293).

i. This is the latest of a series of moves that has relentlessly folded one institution after another into larger and larger umbrella institutions. The Literature Bureau activities were placed within IPNGS; the Educational Research Unit (ERU) and IPNGS were absorbed into the Institute for Applied Social and Economic Research (IASER); and finally IASER into NRI. In 1993 the new government dismantled the Tourism Department to create the Tourism Development Corporation. No one knows what will become of cultural interests now. As the process continues, the individual journals of the various institutes are often discontinued, to be replaced by umbrella journals meant to deal with the concerns of the original and separate journals: for example, PNGW was replaced by Gigibori and Oral History; Gigibori and Oral History by Bikmaus; Bikmaus is itself now to be replaced by a new journal (Lahui interview 1993).

Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services