Gnau - History and Cultural Relations

Prior to Western contact, Gnau villages were relatively isolated, apparently not participating at all in the extensive trade network that crisscrossed the region. Extravillage relations appear to have been limited to immediately neighboring groups and were often hostile in character. In the 1930s, Australian labor recruiters began to visit the area and Gnau men were hired for two-year terms on coastal copra plantations. World War II had little direct effect on Gnau life, but plantation workers, whose return to their home villages was delayed by the war, became important agents of social change in the postwar years. An Australian patrol post was established in the region in 1949, and by 1955 the administration had largely succeeded in ending Gnau intervillage warfare. The relative peace thus introduced resulted in an expansion of village hunting and gardening territory, and fostered more peaceful relations between individual Gnau villages. In 1951 a Franciscan mission was built in the area, followed in 1958 by an evangelical Protestant one. The missions established an airstrip, stores, schools, and a hospital. Gnau became taxpayers in 1957 and received the vote in 1964, when they began electing members of the National Assembly and, later, local government councillors. Taken all together, these contacts have transformed the Gnau from isolated villagers to a group defined by outsiders as a single people who are increasingly involved in the regional and national polity and economy.

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