750 Papua New Guineas in Search of a Literature


  • Max Kelly


In 1970 the prestigious A.N .Z.A.A.S. Conference was held in Port Moresby. To mark this occasion each delegate was given a publication put out by Collins, Longman and prepared, in the main, by staff of the University of Papua New Guinea. Perhaps because it abounds in maps, the editors called it an atlas. It is crammed with fascinating statistics about the then emerging nation. By the date of publication over 750 distinct languages had been identified, which implies over 750 different cultural groups. Superimposed on these culture groups were the spiritual and material expatriate cultures of eight major christian missions and an uncountable number of minor sects. At one stage these mission groups claimed the adherence of something like 92% ofthe population. What kind of adherents and what were their purposes was not questioned. Peter Lawrence in Road Belong Cargo develops the well documented theme that imported christianity simply reinforced and modemised existing local religions with disastrous results in the case of the Rai coast indigenes who form the subject of his book. We can hardly view christianity as a unifying cultural force through cargo cultism, though the cult of cargo is still a major area of concern to govemment and missions alike.