The history of Wau township in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea, is intimately linked with the development of gold mining throughout the region. The site of a series of gold rushes in the 1920s, Wau emerged as an early administrative outpost, a town complete with all the trappings of frontier Australian communities. In recent years, Wau has declined, and the Biangai communities reflect on this decline in ways that manipulate both the early colonial discourses and their own. Central to these discussions are images of cannibalism, as the consumption of both living flesh and ancestral landscapes. In this paper I examine the gold rush, how early prospectors conceptualized the colonial project, and what Wau's subsequent decline has meant to the Biangai who now pursue new mining opportunities. I trace these events and perspectives through historical and present-day discourses. Throughout, a fascination with mountains, gold, and "cannibals" is prominent, with Wau emerging out of struggles to conquer these elements of the landscape. Cannibalism remains a pervasive theme in contemporary Biangai discourses as they now try to recreate an era of successful gold mining and community life in and around Wau by overcoming many of the same elements. However, the moral terrain between consuming flesh, consuming land, and consuming gold are differently deployed in order to explain success and failure, and to imagine the nation.
The Contemporary Pacific – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Jul 27, 2006