The Name Must Not Go Down:
Political Competition and State-Society Relations in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea

Joseph Ketan

Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific 2004
A book review by Danny Yee © 2006
The Name Must Not Go Down is a study of local politics in the Mt Hagen area of Papua New Guinea, which situates this in the broader context of national politics and mixes ethnographic and historical details with perspectives from political science. Joseph Ketan considers theories of weak states but stresses the mutuality of state-society interactions: local societies have been incorporated into the state, but have in turn incorporated elections and other aspects of the state into their own political systems.

After a theoretical introduction, Ketan gives a history of Hagen leadership and politics since European contact. He describes the different types of leaders — big-men, ritual experts, orators, fight leaders — and how the colonial impact favored some over others and created new kinds of leaders. No simple big-man model fits: there is no hereditary principle, for example, but being the son of a leader is a big advantage, and increasingly so with wealth disparities.

An analysis of Hagen groupings covers lineages, tribes, tribal pairs, clans, and larger-scale alliances. Ketan stresses the importance of named groups, numbers, and status ("the name must not go down"). As with leaders, models taken from Africa are often inappropriate. Ketan also describes the business development associations that resulted from the acquisition by indigenous groups of capitalist assets in the 1970s.

Hagen warfare has evolved with the introduction of guns, moving from showy display in mass formations, with few casualties, to much bloodier raids and ambushes. With the high price of ammunition and weapons, it is also more expensive.

Electioneering in national and (before the Western Highlands provincial government was abolished) provincial elections involves cash-for-votes, vote banks, the locking down of "base-vote" areas with up to 98% support for candidates, and considerable expenditure. Elections have been incorporated into a Hagen "Megacycle", in a reworking of the traditional cycle of warfare, reparation payments, and exchanges. I skipped them, but for those after more detail, Ketan includes two extended case studies of election campaigns: the 1992 Dei Open election and the 1995 Provincial Assembly election campaign in the Kotna-Tiki constituency.

Though it's not annoying, The Name Must Not Go Down shows signs of its origins as a PhD thesis, in its slightly ostentatious display of familiarity with the literature and invocation of theoretical frameworks. And while perfectly functional, the print quality is doubtful: my copy wasn't cut square, the b&w illustrations have been photocopied rather than properly halftoned, and so forth. It's a shame The Name Must Not Go Down wasn't picked up by a better resourced publisher.

The subject material is obviously relevant to those involved with the Highlands or Papua New Guinea more generally. There are many ethnographic studies of specific PNG communities, but an approach to local politics in a national context is new: it helped me make sense of PNG politics. And much of The Name Must Not Go Down is of broader interest: Ketan considers theories of weak states and makes comparisons to other countries, and the interaction of national elections with an indigenous political system has parallels all over the world.

February 2006

Related reviews:
- books about Oceania + Pacific history
- more anthropology
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%T The Name Must Not Go Down
%S Political Competition and State-Society Relations in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea
%A Ketan, Joseph
%I Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific
%D 2004
%O paperback, bibliography
%G ISBN 982020352X
%P 437pp