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  • The Unseen City: Anthropological Perspectives on Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
  • Keith Barber
The Unseen City: Anthropological Perspectives on Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, by Michael Goddard. Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2005. ISBN 1-74076-134-0; 225 pages, notes, bibliography. A$34.95.

"The Unseen City" that is the focus of this collection of essays is the part of Port Moresby that remains out of [End Page 444] sight for most non-Melanesians. It is the everyday social environment of migrant settlers and urban villagers who daily negotiate the legacies of tradition and the colonial past and the contemporary challenges of living in a modern city. Contrary to stereotypical portrayals of Port Moresby as the site of crime and corruption, the essays in this volume present a picture of creative, dynamic "grassroots" responses to the demands of every-day life.

The provenance of these essays is author Michael Goddard's long association with Port Moresby, which goes back thirty years. More immediately, it is an extensive period of professional anthropological fieldwork conducted in and around Port Moresby during the 1990s. During five years' residence in the city while teaching anthropology at the University of Papua New Guinea, Goddard was involved in two research projects: one involved interviewing gang members in Bomana Jail, and the other, the weekly monitoring of three urban Village Courts. These two projects have provided a wealth of detailed information on grassroots urban concerns and perspectives, which, combined with meticulous documentary and historical research, regular return visits to Port Moresby, and the type of insights that only come from long-term intimate involvement in the daily life of a city, have produced a coherent body of fine-grained anthropological analysis. Each of these essays has been published before, but here they are brought together with an original "Introduction" to constitute the first major publication on urban Papua New Guinea for a very long time.

Something must be said about the style of these essays. They often begin with a simple observation—one that only long-term acquaintance with the city and its inhabitants and close observation of daily events would render curious or paradoxical. They then proceed by way of meticulous documentation of the historical background, the ethnographic context, and the contemporary social and political circumstances of these events to render the observations understandable. In every instance, the reader is left with a wider understanding and fuller appreciation of Port Moresby's social complexity.

An example is the essay "From Rolling Thunder to Reggae." It begins with the observation that, following the well-publicized eviction of squatters from two Port Moresby settlements in 1998, the victims became the recipients of charitable distributions and public sympathy (even from the same authorities who had authorized their eviction), and in one case were allowed to eventually drift back. As background to these events, we are treated to a carefully documented history of the development of Port Moresby's housing since the Second World War, and a history of stereotypical portrayals of migrant settlements from colonial times to the present. The paradoxical treatment of settlement dwellers is then explained by the concurrent existence of alternative contemporary imagery of urban settlements—as criminogenic (tending to produce criminality) on the one hand and as representing grassroots integrity on the other—both of which can be mobilized simultaneously by the same or different authorities to satisfy different political constituencies. [End Page 445]

Chapter 2, "Off the Record," begins with a puzzling oddity: In the statistical records of the Konedobu Village Court there is no record of any cases involving sorcery—and yet the micro-ethnic community that the court principally serves is one in which sorcery is a prevalent tradition. After a general description of the village court system and the Konedobu Village Court and its ethnographic and demographic setting, the transcript of a case involving an accusation of sorcery is analyzed, focusing on its careful circumlocution of "the 'S' word." The opening paradox is explained by the desire of this respectable and law-abiding community to manage its reputation in light of the prevailing unfair and prejudicial imagery of settlement communities as unruly andcriminogenic.

The following two chapters, "Big-Man...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 444-447
Launched on MUSE
2006-07-27
Open Access
No
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