Colonial Origins of the Informal Economy on the Gazelle Peninsula
44 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2014
Date Written: May 1, 2014
This paper is concerned with the accommodation to the market economy of Tolai people, indigenous to the Gazelle Peninsula in Papua New Guinea and regarded as one of the most prosperous and enterprising groups in the country. 'The market' was introduced to Tolai by German (and later, Australian) colonists from the late nineteenth century. Without pretension to novelty in the historical narrative it asserts the value of viewing these events through the lens of 'informal economy', as constructed by Keith Hart. The paper is a companion piece to another study, concerned with the economic history of Chinese immigrants to Rabaul (Conroy, forthcoming). Starting from the proposition that (unlike the Chinese) the Tolai had no tradition of 'trade as a self-sufficient profession', it considers how they adapted their livelihoods to the colonial economy. In German New Guinea, market economic activity was supposed to be conducted in conformity with the norms of a particular model of Weberian 'rational-legal' bureaucracy, introduced by the Reich. In turn, German bureaucratic norms were guided by an ideology of 'national-economic purpose', enunciated for the Wilhelmine state and its colonies. The paper argues that subsequent Australian administrators adopted the German bureaucratic framework, while employing it initially for somewhat different ends and eventually (after World War II) adapting it to the needs of a new ideology of 'economic development'. Across this long period Tolai engagement in the market economy proved to be 'informal', in the sense that it did not conform fully with prescribed bureaucratic norms. It displayed the hybridity found wherever Smithian trade (seen as activated by a natural human tendency to 'truck and barter') is confronted by Maussian exchange (seen as the product of socially regulated customs). The paper considers how tensions between German/Australian expectations of Tolai economic behaviour and the reality of that behaviour played out over the colonial period to 1975. At the end of that time, trade as 'a self-sufficient profession' appeared to be confined to some instances of petty specialized trade amid signs of more general emerging change in trading culture.
Keywords: informal economy, bureaucracy, economic development, German New Guinea, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Weber, Hart, Van Leur, Epstein, Salisbury, Bauer
JEL Classification: E26, F63, N37, N57, N97, O17, P52, Z13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation