Accepted paper:

The violence of men and the violence of land: moral reckonings at Higaturu, Papua New Guinea


Victoria Stead (Deakin University)

Paper short abstract:

Higaturu, PNG, is a place shaped by human and non-human acts of violence, including wartime killings, retributory executions, and a devastating volcanic eruption. In the wake of colonialism local understandings of these converge, giving rise to ambiguous moral reckonings.

Paper long abstract:

Located in Northern Province, Papua New Guinea, Higaturu is a place marked by multiple intersections of violence. Originally established as an Australian colonial headquarters, in 1943 it was the site of execution of at least 21 (and possibly as many as 60) Orakaiva Papua New Guinean men convicted of treason during the Second World War. The men were hanged, first from a breadfruit tree and then from a gallows constructed for the purpose, by Australian soldiers and colonial officials. Their crime was the handing over to occupying Japanese forces of Australian Anglican missionaries and an American solider, who subsequently met vicious deaths—bayoneted and beheaded on nearby beaches. Then, eight years after the executions, the nearby Mt Lamington volcano erupted, killing thousands and devastating Higaturu. Today Higaturu remains uninhabited but laden with memory and meaning. The Mt Lamington eruption has been conceived both as a retaliation for the violence of the executed Orakaiva men and as a retaliation for the violence of the Australians who executed them. This paper explores Higaturu as a site of emplaced memory and narrative, and of ambiguous moral reckonings. Shaped by the violence of men and by the violence of land, Higaturu is a place where understandings of both converge and are transformed in the shadow of colonial pasts.

panel Land02
Moral horizons of land and place