Selepet - History and Cultural Relations

The central location of the Selepet among the mountain peoples has been very fortuitous. The Selepet people have continually benefited by the expatriates' choosing their location as the point of entry for developing the interior. Lutheran missionaries opened a station on Selepet land overlooking the coast in 1928. They also built a school, a hospital, and a trade store, and they connected these by road to the coast, thereby creating a route for channeling European goods to the interior peoples. Fortuitously, there already existed a trade system stretching throughout the Huon Peninsula, and the Selepet people were pivotal to it. Thus they gained a commercial advantage over all the other peoples. After World War II the Australian administration established a station on the coast and later moved it near the mission station. In 1960, in order to facilitate the administration of the interior peoples, the government built a central airstrip, a subdistrict office, an agricultural station, and an English language school at Kabwum in the heart of the Selepet country. An expatriate missionary and trade stores followed. As roads were built from Kabwum into the adjacent valleys, the Selepet people benefited because they could more readily market their coffee beans, purchase expatriate goods, and supply the growing expatriate community with produce than could the neighboring peoples. The net result, however, was that by the 1970s they were generally characterized as lethargic because they did not have to work as hard as other peoples to gain prosperity. Such lethargy, however, is consistent with their belief that fertility and prosperity are gained by asking for a blessing from one's ancestors, rather than by strenuous personal effort.

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