Coffee, market economy and informality in late colonial Goroka, Papua New Guinea

DP 49
Author name: 
Conroy, J

Set in Goroka in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) where coffee became the staple export crop after the Second World War, this paper explores how a variant of Keith Hart’s informal economy emerged among indigenous Gorokans. Colonial administration was established in the region – quickly recognized as an almost uniquely well-favoured (‘lucky’) place – only during the 1930s. The attempt, bound to create friction with an Australian government intent on honouring its ‘trusteeship’ obligations, was made by a small group of settlers and local colonial officials to establish an ‘anachronistic’ white planter community. Most observers agree that, from the mid-1940s when Gorokans were introduced to monetized economic activity, and to the establishment soon after of ‘European’ commercial plantations and Gorokan coffee smallholdings, indigenous people moved with remarkable speed to accommodate themselves to market norms. Against this consensus it is argued here that, together with the phenomenon of widespread informality, the occurrence of hybridity in Gorokan market dealings suggests an alternative conclusion. This is that the triumph of capitalism by the time of Independence in 1975 may have been exaggerated, due to the operation of an uneasy trio of formality, informality and hybridity.

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