Food and the Home Front: New Guinea Villagers’ Survival During the Pacific War

  • Christine WinterEmail author
Part of the Contemporary Systems Thinking book series (CST)


In histories of the Pacific War, and its impact on Papua and New Guinea, war histories reconstruct and analyze battles and troop movements in great details. In contrast this chapter focuses on the actions and plights of villagers, using rare documents written by senior New Guinean men during and shortly after the war.

During the Pacific War, the strategically important yet confined area, the Huon Peninsula in New Guinea, was a contested space. A former German protectorate, administered by Australia as a C Mandate of the League of Nations, it was occupied by the Japanese in early 1942 and regained by the Allies in late 1943, early 1944. Members of all three nations that had claimed formal colonial control were present throughout these eventful 2 years—occupying Japanese, Australian coastwatchers operating behind enemy lines, and German missionaries—imposing on New Guineans for assistance and cooperation.

By bringing New Guinean experiences to the fore, this chapter is narrating localized histories that are more than simply small, local micro-histories. They are a fundamental change in outlook. The influential late Tongan intellectual, historian, and theorist Epeli Hau’ofa reconceptualized the Pacific as a “sea of islands,” in which local identity is not dissolved but embedded in a shared Ocean. He argues a strategic and moral concept of Pacific-Oceanic identity and history as a process. Focusing on New Guinea villagers, this article intends to create grounded and localized histories as a first step in a bigger process of creating shared histories.


Pacific War Japanese occupation Operation cartwheel New Guinea villagers Civilian experiences German Lutheran Mission Finschhafen 



I would like to thank colleagues who were generous with their time and insights and have commented on earlier version of this presentation, in particular Barry Craig, Robert Cribb, Georgina Fitzpatrick, Geoffrey Gray, Peter Hempenstall, Robin Hide, and Yasuko Kobayashi. This presentation/article is dedicated to the then children of the Huon Peninsula, now in their late 70s and 80s, who lived through traumatizing and “difficult times.”


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Matthew Flinders Fellow in History, Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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