Garia - History and Cultural Relations

According to Garia oral traditions, they originated to the west of their current location as the first human beings, given birth to by a boulder assisted by a snake goddess. Following the political annexation of northeastern New Guinea by Germany in 1884, exploratory expeditions skirted Garia territory but had little direct contact with the people. These first Foreigners were associated by the Garia with Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay, an earlier Russian explorer of the coast to the east, and they were considered deities called magarai (masalai in Tok Pisin) after Maclay. The most direct Garia contact with Europeans began with labor recruiters during World War I. Between the wars such recruiting intensified and a three-year term in European employment became routine for young Garia men. In 1922, Lutherans established a mission station and schools in the area, and by 1936 the Garia were considered fully "controlled" by the Australian administration, with government-appointed headmen, courts, head tax, consolidation of the population into villages, and abolition of tribal warfare. Although the Japanese occupied the Madang coast during World War II they had little direct impact on the Garia. However, during this period the missionaries were evacuated and several cargo cults swept through the region, one of which originated locally. At the close of the war plantations resumed operation and the missionaries returned to find much of the traditional religion reestablished amid the cargo-cult activity. The 1950s saw administrative attempts at economic development of the region, including the introduction of coffee as a cash crop, and in 1964 the Garia voted in the election for the first House of Assembly. Garia are now incorporated in the Usino Local Government Council and Lutheran and Seventh-Day Adventist missions are well established.

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