Tolai - History and Cultural Relations



Traders, missionaries, and others began to converge on the Gazelle Peninsula in the 1870s, and in 1884 it was annexed to form part of the German empire in New Guinea. Climate, soils, and the magnificent natural harbor offered by Blanche Bay combined to make it ideally suited for the establishment of a colony built around a plantation economy. By 1914 the Tolai had come to experience great changes in their way of life. Much of their land had been expropriated, but they had also prospered through the sale of copra and other produce as well as the provision of schooling that had opened up to some Tolai a range of occupations outside the village. After World War I the area came under Australian rule by mandate of the League of Nations. The period between the wars was characterized by much stagnation, though in the later 1930s there were signs of economic recovery and improved standards of living for those Tolai in villages close to Rabaul. During World War II the Gazelle Peninsula became in effect a vast Japanese garrison, and when their supply lines were cut as a result of U.S. naval victories, life became increasingly harsh for the Tolai: many died from maltreatment, malnutrition, and lack of medicines. The Australian administration was restored after the war, but quite a different approach was now adopted leading to major developments in the fields of local government, the economy, health, and education. Yet, through the 1960s, despite the evidence of growing affluence, there were also clear signs of mounting social tensions at work. These tensions were to culminate in the emergence of the Mataungan movement, which came to play a prominent part in bringing about self-government and a little later national independence for Papua New Guinea.

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