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Learning to Be a Kanaka

Menace and Mimicry in Papua New Guinea

Neil Maclean

Keywords: citizenship; education; Maring; mimesis; nationalism; Papua New Guinea; postcolonialism

Self-identification as a kanaka is a common rhetorical ploy in highlands Papua New Guinea, used to emphasize both a sense of economic and political marginalization, and a continued identification with tradition. However, I argue that the figure of the kanaka is not simply that of the villager, but of that terminated project of education, the ‘school leaver.’ I juxtapose the reflections of one such ‘school leaver’ on his exclusion from the educational trajectory with the celebrations and rhetoric surrounding the opening of a new village school. This throws into relief a village perspective on education, and what it means to be a citizen of the nation-state of Papua New Guinea. Bhabha’s (1987) analysis of colonial ‘mimicry’ informs my identification of the contradictory quality of this perspective. As a critique of the legacy of postwar education policy from the perspective of a contemporary generation of village leaders, the article is also intended as a response to Pels’s (1997: 178) call for “more ethnographies of decolonization.”

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