Anthropology, Geopolitics, and Papua New Guinea



Papua New Guinea (PNG)—together with other Pacific Island nations—has taken an active, leadership role in international arenas around the issue of a Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific. Yet, the legacy of the anthropological research in that country has produced an ideological investment in projecting the people as “strange, quaint natives.” This exotification of Papua New Guineans contributes to a situation in which the geopolitical concerns of the modern nation-state of PNG are usually not analyzed within anthropology. This paper investigates the geopolitical interests and diplomatic initiatives of PNG at the United Nations (UN) during the reinscription of New Caledonia as a non-self-governing territory. It utilizes interviews with diplomats and other UN-affiliated persons regarding the problem, if any, that the heritage of anthropology poses for functioning in an international context. In addition, PNG and Pacific Island government representatives discuss the implications of this legacy for government policy. By framing the issues in this way, I argue for the necessity of reconstituting the expertise on Pacific cultures and societies to include Pacific people as experts.