The Editor's attempt to answer the question:

For those visitors to this site who are wondering what is a "Kiap" I advance (whilst welcoming any correction, modification or fine tuning by my peers) the following explanation:

"Kiaps" were multi-functional administrative field officers who worked in Papua New Guinea usually from remote or semi-remote locations. They were also often referred to as "patrol officers" by outsiders when in fact a "patrol officer" was only one of many levels of seniority within the ranks of the "kiaps".

Chapter 1 of the Australian Institute of Criminology's paper "Women in Transition, Social Control in Papua New Guinea by Cyndi Banks" provides a fairly reasonable historical background to the "Kiap" concept.

In the context of the Australian administration of PNG "Kiaps" were mostly Australians with Papua New Guineans being recruited into the "service" from the 1960's onwards. I believe that Phil Bouraga was the first PNG national kiap.


I would like to think that timing of recruitment of Papua New Guineans was more a function of the political and educational maturation of the country in that the educational system had reached a stage where it was graduating sufficient numbers of students at a level of education necessary for entrance into the public service. Others may contend that it was a result of external and internal pressures forcing the issue and that there was a paternalistic or racial element in the equation. As the saying goes, the truth is most probably somewhere in between, it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Linguistic Derivation:

It is my understanding that "kiap" is a "tok pisin" (pidgin-english) corruption of the German word for Captain, "Kapitän" and is a legacy of the German colonial era in New Guinea. It's also interesting to note that "Kapitän" is the nautical form of the word as opposed to "Hauptmann" which is the military equivalent, refer the following on-line English-German dictionary.

Glossary: multi-functional


Carried out many or most of, if not all of the following functions:

  • geographic/demographic exploration (patrols);

  • police (exercise the powers of as well as management of police personnel) and magisterial (prosecutor, defender, judge & jury) duties;

Readers should note that this rolling up of police and magisterial functions all into one made for a very efficient judicial unit; one didn't waste time arresting a person and putting him through the judicial process if he wasn't guilty however it should be noted that this efficiency can only be achieved if all this authority is vested in one man then all you need is one good man but therein lies the rub.

  • corrective institutions (including asset and staff management);

  • treasury (payment and receipt of public monies);

  • postal & telegraphs (radio based);

  • banking (agency function);

  • civil works (roads, bridges, building construction including schools, aid posts, housing, markets, bush saw mills, water wells);

  • area planning & co-ordination of other government functions such agriculture, health, education, co-operatives, social welfare;

  • outstation management (construction, maintenance, stores & supplies)

  • census (collection and analysis of demographic data);

  • electoral including political education;

  • local government (electoral, administrative, by-laws, financial, taxation & works including equipment);

  • aviation (airstrip construction, maintenance & strip reporting);

  • security;

  • Transportation (vehicles and equipment management and maintenance);

  • Lands (dispute resolution, demarcation, titles & alienation);

  • Labour (regulatory and recruitment);

  • and last but not least, that wonderful ubiquitous phrase that was in all duty statements" any other duties that may be directed to be carried out from time time" or words to that effect.

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Neil Lucas:

Apropos the article “What is a Kiap”, I have unearthed from the yellowing personal files some comments made, at 50 year intervals, which may be of further interest.

C .A. W. Monckton, Resident Magistrate, Northern Division, Papua. 9th.August, 1906:

“There seems to be a popular impression that any man is capable of acting as a patrol officer in New Guinea, but the following list of what a patrol officer is required to know and his duties will, I think, show that such is far from the case.

Such officers must have a working knowledge of the Justices Act of Queensland (adopted), the various Small Debts Acts, an exceedingly complicated Mining Act. The New Guinea Laws and Ordinances, the Criminal Code, the Intestacy Act, the Native Regulations, the Postal regulations, book-keeping, infantry drill, bone setting and simple surgery, medicine, road making, surveying, building, boat sailing and the Motuan language.

He must learn the attitude of the different tribes towards the Government and towards each other, and their peculiarities, he must be physically capable of resisting malaria and dysentery, and of keeping pace with the (native) Constabulary in long rough marches, also of maintaining discipline in the gaols and the station, as well as among the two or three hundred crude savages employed as carriers and labourers.

He must also be prepared to spend weeks alone with the natives, spend most of his pay on living expenses and at the end of a few years to have his health shattered and then be useless for any other occupation, and to be the recipient of a constant stream of abuse both locally and in the public press, with the prospect that unless he is lucky enough to get killed or die before he is incapable of any longer doing his work he can starve in Australia or New Guinea at the end.”

To this impassioned acclamation was added in 1955, by a person with the nom de plume of “MAVARU”, the following refinement:

“Changing times have necessitated field staff officers to have further qualifications. Now he must also be a typist, storeman, mechanic, radio operator, driver, agriculturalist, coroner and undertaker, police investigator, anthropologist, security agent, hotelier and diplomat; stevedore, shop and factory; hygiene, labour, industry and prices inspector; airfield, wharf and bridge construction expert; census taker, electoral returning officer, economist, re-afforestation officer, social surveyor, defence counsel, departmental liaison officer, electrician, mayor and social organiser, local authorities propagandiser and organiser.

In addition to these normal qualifications, for an officer to remain in the service, he must practice monastic celibacy; to remain free of public stigma and humiliation he must remember that ‘a defence of an attack’ is now ‘ a defence is an attack’; he must be prepared to live in sub-human habitation, give his undying, unquestioning, unrecognised, unreciprocated loyalty, and for any hope of promotion possess certain academic qualifications, and to remain sane, possess a sense of humour”

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Sunday Chronicle PNG - Sunday 4/4/2010

Tribute to Australian Kiaps and Patrol Officers

THIS year as we focus on the National Census, I am reminded of some unsung heroes who have contributed so much to the development of our country and who formed the basis of our census. 

They were called the 'kiaps'. Kiap is a word originating in PNG in pidgin, it largely means captain. The Kiaps undertook their service in Papua New Guinea between 1949 and 1974, after the end of the Second World War when Papua New Guinea was then an Australian managed territory known as the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The best estimate of how many men served in these roles is around 2,000.

The kiaps were noted for going on patrols. Every village in Papua New Guinea was to be visited at least once per year for annual census. So it was that the kiaps and medical staff who saw more or less every person in

Papua New Guinea at least once per year. At those times, the census was rural Papua New Guinea's registry of births marriages and deaths. Time and again the kiaps were made aware of how much the people appreciated the annual census revision. Typically, following the census the kiap would arbitrate a spectrum of disputes, ranging from compensation for pigs damaging gardens to lovers' quarrels and so their duties were not limited. Their duty statement contained the traditional bureaucratic proviso at the end that said that on top of all those other duties they were required to carry out 'any other duties that may be directed to be carried out from time to time'.

Our country, as known to outsiders, is a country of large impenetrable jungles, high mountain ranges and wide and wild rivers. The rough terrain makes it extremely difficult to move between places, resulting in the isolation of tribal groups and more than 700 languages among those tribes. It still remains.

"The kiaps were an extraordinary group of young Australians who performed a remarkable service of our country. "They were some of the Australia's finest", said one former kiap. Their adventurous spirit was matched only by their commitment to the wellbeing of the people of Papua New Guinea. If you do not know or if your parents never told you, then the story of the Australian Kiaps remains largely untold to many Australians and Papua New Guineans today especially those born in post-independence.

The kiaps were usually representative of all arms of government in frontier areas and they often brought the first trickle of European civilization to any unreachable places. The extraordinary efforts of these Australian men and a small number of women make up a valuable chapter in Australia and Papua New Guinea's history but are still untold. I say thank you to those Aussies and their families. These great Australians and of course with the aiding of few energetic Papua New Guineans have achieved amazing results with limited resources and in the most inhospitable conditions.

 "The kiaps lived a dangerous existence," another former kiap said. "There was an ever-present threat of attack from hostile tribes and locals, and many kiaps were murdered on patrol. The harsh conditions on the frontier also proved to be very dangerous, with accidents and illness claiming the lives of kiaps. The list of kiaps killed in boating and aircrafts accidents are extensive and many are unrecorded".

They kept our primitive and hostile communities together in the formative years of PNG. They kept our tribes together and kept our villages and districts functioning. In Philip Fitzpatrick's book he describes the kiaps as men with dogged perseverance who helped bring the emerging nation of Papua New Guinea to independence. During their patrols kiaps could have been killed by poison tipped arrows or spears or axed to death. They could have suffered from accidents or sicknesses like malaria or been exposed to snakes, crocodiles, large bush pigs and millions of mosquitoes. Patrols were certainly not glamorous; rather, they were hard, dirty uncomfortable work compared to conditions those Aussies now working under AusAID funded projects.

They went where others feared to tread and did so without unnecessary bloodsheds or disruptions of the lives of the people, frequently to the detriment of their own health and well being. Some died in drowning accidents. Others were murdered while on official police business, such as the East New Britain District Commissioner Jack Emmanuel, who was killed by disaffected landowners on the Gazelle Peninsula when he attempted to intervene in a land ownership dispute.

They made PNG in a state of constant fear and predation, village upon village, to one of free travel, cooperation across language groups and peace between long standing tribal combatants. When one compare their duties at that time to the US and Australian armies no serving in Iraq or Afghanistan today, I believe both are at par.

Without these Australians and few Papua New Guineans in those days, PNG would not have come this far. Indeed all ex-kiaps deserve some kind of recognitions from both Papua New Guinea and Australian governments.

Jacob Sekewa,
Port Moresby.

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Keith Jackson's (ex-chalkie and current Sydney "A" list spin doctor, see Keith, I've now learnt how to spell that word) disrespectful little ditty from a Kundiawa review circa 1965:

Kiaps here, Kiaps there,

Bloody Kiaps everywhere,

PO1's, PO2's,

CPO's can POQ.


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