Competent Men: Papuan and New Guinean Medical Staff in the Wake of the Pacific War

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In histories of medical institutions and training in colonial Papua and New Guinea there is an insidious danger of slipping into deficit histories. This article uses Dipesh Chakrabarty's theoretical critique of colonialism as a waiting room of history to revisit medical training not so much as something offered by colonial administrations, but as something taken by New Guineans and Papuans. Focusing on the Pacific War and the consolidation immediate after the War, this paper investigates continuities with German colonialism in New Guinea, and Australian colonialism in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea and the External Territory of Papua during the interwar years. The postwar native medical orderlies, for example, followed in the footsteps of the prewar medical tultuls. This article argues that understanding how institutions and education schemes were permeable to the desires of Papuans and New Guineans, and malleable to life trajectories might be a starting point to write histories that give dignity to the genesis of medical health services and medical practitioners in Papua New Guinea.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-113
Number of pages19
JournalHealth and History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Pacific history
  • Colonialism
  • Health
  • Decolonisation
  • Papua New Guinea
  • German colonialism
  • Australian colonialism
  • Japanese colonialism
  • Pacific War
  • Japanese occupation of PNG
  • Health education
  • Post-war reconstruction
  • Papua New Guinean colonial health services
  • medical training
  • colonial historiography
  • public health


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