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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Proclamations of the Red Queen

22nd September 2008

History: Papua New Guinea and “Sodomy”: 1969-1972

Posted by: Craig Young

In the Journal of Pacific History, Christine Stewart has written an intriguing piece about gay sex and attitudes toward it in Papua New Guinea, which was administered by Australia until 1975.

In 1972, that was still in the future. Copper mining, secondary and higher education, new employment opportunities and mass media, were all altering the traditional rural village ways of life and tribal isolation of that country and its indigenous Melanesian communities.

At the time that Stewart investigates, Sections 208-211 of the Criminal Code of Papua New Guinea (1903/1921- Papua and New Guinea were originally two distinct colonial protectorates) related to “offences against the the order of nature” (s208), “anal intercourse” (s209) and “indecent practices of gross indecency” (s211).

The cases studied in this paper were derived from Crown Prosecution  case notes in the relevant sections of the PNG National Archives in Port Moresby, and date from 1969 to 1972.

In 1972, one Mama Kamzo (17) went to work on a rubber plantation outside Port Moresby. His foreman, Debozina, had sexually propositioned young men before, and had sex with Kamzo out in the fields. Kamzo was also arrested when the police arrived, despite his (and his tribal kinsmen) insistence that Debozina had threatened him with a knife unless he submitted, and the knife had been located in Debozina’s quarters. The judge acknowledged the role of coercion, and Kamzo was acquitted.

The Crown Prosecutor was apparently unhappy with this, as he thought this might mean “submissive partners” could claim rape had occurred “falsely” in similar circumstances, as it was to be some time before PNG laws against sexual violation were made gender neutral, and according to Stewart, there were misogynist ruminations about “similar” “false” (sic) coerced heterosexual rape cases. Fortunately, though, the legal principle of double jeopardy applied here, and Kamzo went home to his village, even though the Full Court voided his earlier acquittal.

At the time, there was also a substantial debate about the existence or absence of homosexuality in traditional indigenous communities, and the lack of pre-colonial sanctions against ritual or ceremonial forms of homosexual initiation. In 1969, Piki Piliu and Clemence Kausigor were caught having al fresco sex in the bushes near the beach in Wewak, in the East Sepik district. They were sentenced to three years, although different Sepik sources gave different assessments about the presence or absence of homosexuality in indigenous Sepik society, with the result that both gentlemen had their sentences reduced to eighteen months each.

A third case involved Siune Wel (15), a teenage male sex worker who frequented hotels in Kundiawa, and had frequent sex with prison warders. He was caught and sentenced to nine months imprisonment, while the warders pleaded ‘entrapment’ and ’seduction’ and were let off.

In Lae, ex-UK RAF officer Chris Leach met Peter Yaku, a former Melanesian boyfriend who he’d met in Wewak, and their relationship reignited. One Gwakarum of Buang (30) spied on the couple while they were having sex in a guest house, and Judge William Prentice handed down a light sentence in Leach’s case, although he was later deported from PNG after the completion of his sentence. As for Gwakarum and Yaku, they seem to be shady characters, and both were eventually convicted on seperate murder charges.

Stewart ponders the significance of indigenous homosexuality, and the changing meanings of sexual violence, sex work and cross-cultural sex in the late colonial era. Unsurprisingly, she concludes that the colonial era Criminal Code provisions were unjustly applied in each of the four cases cited above.


Christine Stewart: “Men Behaving Badly: Sodomy Cases in the Colonial Courts of Papua New Guinea” Journal of Pacific History: (June 2008): 43:1: 77-93.

Tags: Politics

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