Accepted paper:

The making of a "wantok": (post)colonial social categories and ambivalency of identities among Okapians in Port Moresby


Jaka Repic (University of Ljubljana)

Paper short abstract:

"Wantok" is an ambivalent social category that emerged in Papua New Guinea during the colonial era and had been later reinforced through internal migrations, urban interactions and the need of establishing specific identities pertaining to original community, place and culture.

Paper long abstract:

The paper explores ambivalency of contemporary urban identities among Okapians in Port Moresby and the role of the "wantok system" in the social life of their translocal urban community. I will present the case of Okapians in an urban settlement in Port Moresby and their continuous negotiation between traditional notions of community and place of origin on the one hand and migration and urban strategies on the other hand. Being Okapian in Port Moresby represents a dynamic, non-essential social category that incorporates new urban identifications as well as traditional notions of community, broadened affinity, descent and place of origin. In an urban space these notions are transformed into a new social category called "wantok system" that incorporates social networks of co-ethnics, co-villagers, relatives and friends. "Wantok" is made through social interactions and since the category is unclear, it can be ambivalently used either for socio-cultural inclusion or exclusion. Migrating to Port Moresby entails establishing new relations with "wantoks" and new urban identities but among Okapians and other residents of informal urban settlements it also strengthens the role of original place in establishing interactions and asserting divisive cultural differences to other communities in the city.

panel W063
Migrations: of borders, crossings and ambivalent identities