Mailu - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence attests to the presence of a pottery-using people in the Mailu area—both along the coast and on some of the islands—as far back as 2,000 years ago. The People of what is now known variously as Mailu Island or Toulon Island appear to have established dominance in the region very early on; because of their monopoly of both pottery making and oceangoing canoes they were able to assume ascendancy in direct trade as well as serving as distributors who enabled trade between other communities. This ascendancy was reinforced by raids carried out against coastal villages, which had the effect of driving the population back from the coast to more easily defensible hilltop villages. First European Contact occurred in 1606, when Torres anchored off Mailu Island; this brief encounter was not a pleasant one, for the men of the ship killed many of the villagers and kidnapped fourteen children. Nearly 300 years later, in the late 1800s, this region was made part of the Protectorate of British New Guinea, bringing the influence of missionaries and administrators and introducing European goods to the local Economy. Mailu men began working for Europeans, particularly in maritime industries, very early on in this period, with the effect of introducing new forms of wealth and new ways to acquire it. The London Missionary Society established a mission on Mailu Island in 1894. Government and missionary intervention brought an end to traditional raiding and its consequent head-hunting, thereby contributing to the end of male initiatory practices that centered on the acquisition of heads in war. In 1914, Bronislaw Malinowski arrived in the Mailu territory to do his first fieldwork.

User Contributions:

Nick Thomson
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Jul 16, 2013 @ 11:23 pm
Having lived in this are from 1964 to 1973, and learned a lot from and the people of Mailu and the adjacent mainland, I think that this is a brilliant summary of the history of Mailu. I would like to quote from it in a book I am preparing, for limited circulation, of my experiences there.

Would it be possible to have permission to do that, ensuring the references involved?
David Loea
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Jun 6, 2016 @ 9:21 pm
I am a direct descendant of Mailu or sometimes regarded as Magi. My grandparents namely, Ianamu Odiu Penea, my mother's dad, an inland man from from the Daga tribe was one of the first local pastors passed out from the early mission school, established by Rev, Dr Seville William James of LMS on Ogobada, Mailu island in early 1900s. He married a woman named Maela from Mailu Island and both became local missionaries on the island with Seville William James. He worked along with Rev Seville in the production of Mailu New Testament translation and Mailu Dictionary in early 1920s -30s.
Mailu is the biggest island in Amazon Bay area, Abau, Central province, Papua New Guinea. And because of its pre-historical existence, the people of Amazon Bay (as political known today) and part of Cloudy Bay area are regarded as Mailuans. The language they speak is Mailu or sometimes known as Magi. They are known as skilful seafarers and travel long distances on the sea for weeks and months in search of arm shell known as toea, the trade currency of the Papuan coast in Central province. Today the nation of PNG named their currency as KINA and TOEA.
In 2006, on August 25-26, we commemorated our 400th Year of the atrocity inflicted on us by the Spaniards in 1606. We invited the Spanish government and the church for an international reconciliation on Mailu Island. The Spanish people was represented by two courageous Christian Missionary ladies, Maria and Deborah Tapias on August 25-26, 2006. Seeing the significant of that date, the national government of PNG in collaboration with PNG churches, marked the date as the National Repentance Day.
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Jun 28, 2016 @ 3:15 pm
First, thanks for a good summary. What I think needs to be stressed when describing the traditional culture of Mailu, as done by Saville and Malinowski, is how everything - trading, pottery making, feast, political and economic relations, and cosmological beliefs - were tightly interwoven. One can't be separated from the other.

I have just (day before yesterday) looked through all of William Saville's photos from Mailu and the Mainland. There are about 500, and they are kept at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. Many of these are very good, and they represent many aspects of local lives, as well as that of the mission. The NLA have hopes of digitising these for better availability, but this is still likely to take some years.

Nick, you say you are writing for a 'limitid circulation'. Is it possible to become part of this exclusive group? That would most interesting to me.

Mr Jan Hasselberg
Independent researcher

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