0162 | A Short History of Papua New Guinea – John Waiko

Context: Courtesy of the mother in law, I read this while working in the Wycliffe kitchens.

Reading up on PNG history is one of the areas I’m focussing on in preparation for a role there as a language surveyor. This book is one of the relatively few summaries of the nation’s history. There’s currently a drive to write a more up to date and holistic history of the nation but until that’s published this is one of the better reviews on offer. What makes it all the more valuable is that it’s written by a native.

Waiko covers the nation from prehistoric times until 1992. It’s very readable, especially the early sections on early colonisation and the period from WW1 to WW2.

After this though, it focusses more on the political and less on the historic with details of government administration and reform. I have to admit that I skimmed sections here. Agrarian reform and what hospitals were set up where doesn’t really grab me.

While the impact of personalities such as the indomitable Hubert Murray was explored in the early sections of colonisation, the lack of detail about specific people after independence made the book less enriching than it could have been. I’d have liked to have seen more about the Somare and others who were key policy makers in the early days prior to this book’s publication.

Waiko knows and loves his country and this is evident throughout and therefore provides a valuable viewpoint for the non-PNGean. In two places this is particularly helpful: firstly, in the discussion of colonisation and its inherent problems and secondly in depicting the emerging voice of the nation in the run-up to independence. It’s good to hear some quotes from national writers in their response to contemporary history.

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