Motu - History and Cultural Relations

Available archaeological evidence suggests that the Motu, seafarers with their own distinctive maritime culture and ceramic tradition, first occupied their present habitat Comparatively recently in the history of settlement on New Guinea's southern shores. From 1872, when the first Christian missionaries arrived, through the entire colonial period inaugurated in 1884 with the establishment of a British Protectorate, Motu—particularly in the Port Moresby villages—participated actively and significantly in the social, Economic, and political developments that culminated in the establishment of Papua New Guinea as an independent nation-state in 1975. The early colonial government employed Motu speakers—including policemen recruited from the Solomon Islands who acquired a knowledge of simplified Motu when stationed in Port Moresby and, subsequently, Motu themselves—in remoter administrative Districts. As a result, a simplified version of the Motu language, at first called "Police Motu," but now known officially as "Hiri Motu," became established as a lingua franca in Papua. Motu from Port Moresby villages, educated in English at their mission school, were also recruited to clerical or commercial jobs in Port Moresby. Nevertheless, before World War II, only a small proportion of Motu in the Port Moresby villages and almost none from other villages worked for wages, and most villagers made their living from traditional subsistence activities. Since World War II, Motu—first from the Port Moresby villages and then from the remoter villages as they were connected to the town by road—have increasingly entered the work force of Port Moresby's expanding commercial, industrial, and service economy, until today almost all Motu men and many women work full-time for wages in the town; those from nearer villages commute daily, and those from remoter Villages live in town during the working week and return home at the weekends. As the Motu work force was absorbed into the urban economy, traditional economic enterprises Declined and eventually disappeared. Apart from a few Commercial fishermen, most able-bodied Motu men and many women are today urban workers: entrepreneurial, professional, white-collar, and blue-collar. Traditionally, Motu maintained trading relationships and lived in peace with some of their immediate inland neighbors, with whom they traded mainly fish for vegetables and fruit, and with the Erema and Toaripi peoples some distance west across the Gulf of Papua, to whose villages they made annual overseas trading expeditions (known as hiri ), exchanging pottery and ceremonial ornaments for sago, canoe hulls, and areca nuts. Outside of these exchange relationships, contacts with other neighboring peoples prior to colonization were fortuitous and hostile.

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