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Ahuia Ova (1877–1951)

by Nigel Oram

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Ahuia Ova (1877?-1951), Papuan court interpreter, was probably born at Hohodae, a Koita section of the village complex of Hanuabada, Port Moresby, Papua. His father lived in the Koita village of Kila Kila and after his death Ahuia lived in Hohodae with his mother's kin. His paternal ancestors came from the Hood Peninsula and his maternal forbears were Nara (Lala) who lived to the north of Galley Reach. He had little claim to the hereditary leadership in Hohodae which C. G. Seligman, the anthropologist, attributed to him.

Ahuia was employed as domestic servant and cook at Government House and by European officials. One of his employers took him on leave for six weeks to Cooktown, Queensland. He later served as a village constable for five years and by 1914 was interpreter at the Central Court, retiring from government service in 1918. He won considerable influence throughout Hanuabada and beyond and became first president of the Hanuabada Council. From 1929, when he was not re-elected as Hohodae councillor, his leadership came under attack. His powerful position to that date was partly gained through the support of Europeans, especially that of Sir Hubert Murray, lieutenant-governor of Papua in 1909-40.

When the Port Moresby villages were evacuated during World War II, Ahuia worked at the Roman Catholic Mission at Yule Island. After the villagers returned in 1945, he met with great hostility in Hohodae and in 1948 returned to his father's village of Kila Kila. He died, lonely and partly blind, on April 1951.

A man of great intelligence, courage and initiative, Ahuia acted at different times as interpreter and informant to the anthropologists Seligman, B. Malinowski and F. E. Williams. The eventual collapse of his tribal leadership was partly due to occasional abuse of power but mainly to his dependence on European support. While his impact on Papuan history was limited, his career, as expressed in his autobiography, reveals the problems faced by an intelligent and literate Papuan in times of rapid social change. He had to try to reconcile the conflict between traditional values and those of the West. He was more than once banned from membership of his local London Missionary Society church because he had married polygamously. In an article published in the Papua Annual Report for 1923, he condemned traditional dancing which had come under the disapproval of the church, and he burned his regalia. Later he returned to organizing traditional dances and feasts. He became a Roman Catholic, maintaining that he 'must believe both religions, L.M.S. and Catholic … It is because I understand that they are working for one god'.

Several times married, he had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • C. G. Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea (Cambridge, 1910)
  • F. E. Williams, ‘The reminiscences of Ahuia Ova’, Royal Anthropological Inst, Journal, 69 (1939)
  • C. S. Belshaw, ‘The last years of Ahuia Ova’, Royal Anthropological Institute, Man, 51 (1951), no 230.

Citation details

Nigel Oram, 'Ahuia Ova (1877–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ahuia-ova-4980/text8269, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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