Department of History Seminar: Mourning the Dead: New Guinea Villagers and the Pacific War

In the war theatre of PNG unprecedented numbers of Australian, American and Japanese soldiers fought and died during the Pacific War alongside Papuan and New Guinean volunteers, conscripts, labourers and villagers.

Human remains are still recovered today, eighty years later, and both Japan and Australia invest in missions to locate and repatriate the dead

Histories of the Pacific War in Papua and New Guinea that integrate locals and ‘strangers’ are difficult to wrestle from archives where New Guineans are shadows on the margin. A recently discovered archive of community histories and war-diaries written by New Guinean men from the Huon Peninsula during and shortly after war in their local languages provides a unique opportunity to develop multi-perspective, inclusive narratives.

This presentation focuses on the Lutheran dominated Huon Peninsula, and uses unique community histories written during the Pacific War to analyse relationships with outsiders, cultural meeting points and misunderstandings. The New Guinean community histories, I argue, allow insights into processes of unresolved mourning, incomplete ritual, and intellectual courage of New Guinean leaders and thinkers to develop conceptual understandings of ‘the difficult times’ and ‘the great death’ that overwhelmed their communities.

No RSVP required

Tagged in School of Humanities