Be Like Winifred: Transferring Images of Colonial Africa to the South Pacific
MetadataShow full item record
European colonial history is filled with examples of attempts to transfer cultural values, attitudes and beliefs from the metropolis to the colonies. European publishers at first sent textbooks to the colonies without altering image or text, as if the colony was an intrasystemic cultural extension of the metropolitan. Such cultural transfer practices might present Wordsworth’s canonic poem about daffodils to African children who had never seen that flower, or begin African history lessons with the words, “Nos ancêtres, les gaulois….” Gradually colonial practices began to recognize intersystemic differences by accommodating the colonial situation. Language might be “translated” through adoption of a simpler form; images might be altered to reflect the geographic locale of the reader; and content translated to represent what was meaningful to subject peoples. Although these decolonization practices are reasonably well documented in the flow of information from metropolis to colony, there are few studies that examine how such print culture practices operated between colonies. This paper contends that, between the wars and for a variety of reasons, including the success of demonstration schools in West Africa and Lord Lugard’s transfer of indirect rule to Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa became a model for other colonies of innovative British colonial philosophy and practice. What this meant for the colonies of Papua and New Guinea was that Africa not only provided colonial administrators with models of development practice, but that Melanesians were urged to be like Africans. Images of successful Africans began to appear in administration journals, school textbooks and magazines. At first photographs of Winifred, an African nurse, are identified as African; but intrasystemic assumptions gradually masked her identity to that of a “black” nurse in the obvious hope that Melanesian women might imitate her example. Other photos of African children and African villages and agricultural practices were used to illustrate similarities between PNG and Africa, but also to demonstrate the more progressive attitudes of Africans. This process of transferring, rather than translating one colonial situation to another continued throughout decolonization in Papua and New Guinea and into the early years of independence. It is part of a decolonizing strategy of model, mask, and shadow that was widely used not only for development purposes, but for the devolution of power. Inevitably, resistance developed to these intrasystemic incursions, as proponents of “The Melanesian Way” replaced images of Africa with those of Papua New Guinea.