Collection MS 1447 - The changing attitudes to illness and misfortune of the Motu/Koita people

Masters Thesis: The changing attitudes to illness and misfortune of the Motu/Koita people
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AU PMB MS 1447


The changing attitudes to illness and misfortune of the Motu/Koita people


  • 1989 (Creation)

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207 page digital PDF

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(1915 - 2004)

Biographical history

Robert 'Bob' Leonard Pulsford was born on 2nd September 1915 in Waterloo, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. He attended Hawkesbury Agricultural College and worked as a jackaroo on three properties in NSW. In 1941, he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force for a year in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG), serving in Port Moresby, Buna, Finschhafen and Madang in a Malaria Control Unit. After demobilization he completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA) at the University of Sydney, graduating with Honours in Anthropology. He began his service in TPNG in April 1950 with the Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries (DASF), based first at Boram near Wewak, and then at Urip near Dagua, 30 miles west of Wewak, where he managed the Dagua Rural Progress Society, producing rice and peanuts as cash crops.

In 1953, he married Mary Upton and their children were born in the Territory; Ian in Wewak and Susan in Lorengau. In 1955, he was posted to Manus, as District Agricultural Officer, where copra was the main economic crop, and in 1958 to Taliligap in the Gazelle Peninsula where he was in charge of a training centre with a focus on cocoa production. He was in Rabaul for two years as District Agricultural Officer for East New Britain then changed careers in 1963 and became the first Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology at the newly formed Papuan Medical College in Port Moresby teaching medical students and nurses. He retired in December 1973 when the Medical College became the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG). During this period, he co-authored 'Health in a Developing Country' with Prof John Cawte. He was awarded a Masters (MA) degree from the University of Sydney for his thesis: 'Changing Attitudes to Illness and Misfortune amongst the Motu – Koita'; the result of ten years study in Pari urban village near Port Moresby. Pulsford died in 2004.

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This thesis was submitted at the University of Sydney and was awarded the degree of Master of Arts (Pass) in Religious Studies. This study, conducted by Robert Leonard Pulsford, provides details and analysis of the Motu Koita traditional belief systems to general health and sickness. The study details the attitudes and their effects on introduced Christian faith and Western medicine. The cross-cultural health and religious situations witnessed by village-based community workers, including professionally trained doctors, nurses and welfare officers, provides insights into health practices. The author’s vast experience of working in the field of Papua New Guinea’s public health system provides a greater sensitivity to the sacred folklores and myths of the Motu Koita people by surveying the social, geographic and economic aspects as well as describing the ceremonial rituals of pre contact times. The study offers a comparison of the role of village diviners, magicians and the like over Western medicine.

The thesis includes nine pictorial images or illustrations which add valuable dimension to the religious and social interactions of the Motu Koita people, in particular Pari Hanua or village people. These images are described as:

  • A black and white photograph of old Pari village of traditionally thatched roofed houses. Photo taken about 1926 and a hand drawn map of Pari village done in February 1965.
  • Black and white photograph of the Kidukidu stones with two Pari men squatting between them and a poster drawing based on the legend showing a woman (Ugava Vaina) suckling a Kidu Kidu (tuna fish).
  • Four photographs demonstrating the Pari village ceremonial Tuna (Kidukidu) fishing carried out on the 8th August 1986.
  • Copy of an old photograph of Hanuabada Women’s Cricket team taken before 1940.
  • Hanuabada woman in traditional (Sene) dancing costume of necklaces of dog’s teeth and seeds, betel nut and headdress of feathers.
  • Hanuabada man Revo Pita in Motu traditional (Sene) costume of the pectoral ornament of pig’s tusks, necklace of coral, headband and feathers.
  • Pari village women and men celebrating Easter by singing and dancing to the Prophet (Peroveta) song rhythms dressed in modern floral outfits.
  • Pari village elder, Airi Airi dressed in floral outfit dancing to the Peroveta rhythms.
  • Pari village women with dishes of cooked food on their heads proceeding with much singing to the communal table for sharing with everyone at the Easter celebrations on 13th April 1968.
  • Burial of the Pari village elder of Airi Airi Rahobada on the 9th October 1969. Rev Puka Oala reading from the Bible in Motu conducting the burial service.

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  • English

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Person: Pulsford Family
Address: Canberra ACT
Country: Australia

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Access this title at PMB Member Libraries or by contacting the Bureau directly:

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ISO 639-3: eng
Glottolog: stan1293


Related material held in the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau collection includes: A Warwai Ure Iesu Karisito, translation of Gospel stories into the Blanche Bay dialect, and Rev. Walker’s, Reflections on the Work of the Missionary. Robert Pulsford engaged in this study to collect teaching materials for the Sociology students at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Papua New Guinea and for the nurses at the Papuan Medical College. Work of the Missionary, written on his return from New Britain, PNG. (PMB MS 1264).

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  • English



Archivist's note

Archival description by Deveni Temu and Kari James. Uploaded on 26 May 2024.

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