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Kiki, Sir Albert Maori (1931–1993)

by Eric Johns

This article was published online in 2019

Sir Albert Maori Kiki (1931–1993), author, politician, and trade union leader, was born on 21 September 1931 at Orokolo village, Gulf Province, Papua, first child of Erevu Kiki, village constable, and his wife Eau Ulamare, of the Parevavo tribe near the Purari River. Raised in the traditional manner by his mother, Kiki attended the London Missionary Society primary school at Orokolo and in 1946 passed Standard V. After a few briefly held jobs, he worked as a ‘doctor boy’ (orderly) at Kerema hospital under the medical assistant Albert Speer, who recognised leadership qualities in Kiki and became his mentor and a father figure.

In 1948 Speer arranged for Kiki to study at Sogeri Education Centre near Port Moresby, then at the Central Medical School in Fiji (1952–56). He failed the medical course but went on to gain a diploma in pathology. More important to Kiki than his studies were his discoveries in Fiji of the existence of trade unions and the greater racial equality in everyday life. He was inspired by these revelations to work against inequality when he returned to Port Moresby in 1957. While in Fiji, with Speer’s permission, he adopted ‘Albert’ as his first name. In 1958 he married Elizabeth Arivu Miro, a nurse, in a traditional ceremony and later a Catholic service; she came from Moripi, a village near Orokolo.

The following year, while employed as a laboratory technician at Port Moresby General Hospital, Kiki established the Kerema Welfare Society, which led to the formation in 1960 of the country’s first trade union, the Papua and New Guinea Workers’ Association. He then gained employment as a welfare assistant (1961–63) for the Hahalis Welfare Society at Buka, North Bougainville. In 1962 he was selected by the administrator, Sir Donald Cleland, as the official delegate for Papua and New Guinea at the independence celebrations of Western Samoa. That year, in response to the local white-dominated rugby league, he helped to form the Rugby Union Association of Papua and New Guinea which welcomed players of all races.

Kiki commenced study towards a laboratory technician diploma in 1964 at the Administrative College in Port Moresby. While there he joined an elite group of politically aware students in the ‘Bully Beef Club’ which came together to consider the country’s political future. In 1966 a committee of its members, including Kiki, caused controversy with demands for self-government and for the rapid promotion of local public servants. Mainly from this group, the Pangu Pati (Papua and New Guinea Union Party) was formed in 1967, and Kiki became its full-time secretary and treasurer. By then he was well known as an outspoken advocate of political advancement and equality for his people, and he was soon challenging opponents of early home rule with his attacks on Australian colonial policy and practice.

In 1968 Kiki unsuccessfully contested the House of Assembly elections. That year, with the assistance of the German-born academic Ulli Beier, his autobiography, Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime, was published. The book was acclaimed for its descriptions of traditional culture and for its trenchant criticism of colonialism. He was elected to the Port Moresby Town Council in 1971, remaining a member until 1973. In 1972 he was elected to the House of Assembly and was appointed minister for lands and environment (1972–75) in the administration of (Sir) Michael Somare, and then deputy prime minister (1975–77) and minister for defence and foreign relations (1975–77) in the first post-independence government, also led by Somare. In 1975 he was appointed KBE. His political career ended abruptly when he failed to be re-elected in 1977. Having purchased a farm near Port Moresby, he tried unsuccessfully to develop piggery, poultry and cattle ventures. In the late 1970s he helped to found and was a board member of Kwila Insurance Corporation Ltd, and Credit Corporation (PNG) Ltd (chairman 1980). He served on the board of a number of other companies, including the government-owned PNG Shipping Corporation Pty Ltd (chairman 1977–80), and New Guinea Motors Pty Ltd.

Sir Albert died suddenly in his Port Moresby home on 13 March 1993. His body lay in state in the Grand Hall of Parliament House and, after a service at the Boroko United Church, he was buried in the Nine Mile cemetery. His wife and their two sons and three daughters survived him. Described as being ‘perhaps too honest for a politician’ (Beier 1968, iii), and ‘a great man with great vision for PNG’ (Canberra Times 1993, 13), he was a major figure in the pantheon of his nation’s founding fathers and was its first author of note.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Beier, Ulli. ‘Preface.’ In Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime, by Albert Maori Kiki, iii–iv. Melbourne: Cheshire, 1968
  • Canberra Times. ‘Master-and-Boy Set-Up “Allowed in NG.”’30 January 1968, 1
  • Canberra Times. ‘PNG Leaders Pay Tribute to a “Great Man.”’ 15 March 1993, 13
  • Denoon, Donald. Public Health in Papua New Guinea, Medical Possibility and Social Constraint, 1884–1984. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984
  • Kiki, Albert Maori. Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime. Melbourne: Cheshire, 1968
  • Moore, Clive, with Mary Kooyman, eds. A Papua New Guinea Political Chronicle 1967–1991. Bathurst, NSW: Crawford House, 1998
  • National Library of Australia. MS 8450, Papers of Albert Speer
  • Oram, Nigel. ‘Albert Kiki Is a Man for His Time.’ Canberra Times, 23 November 1968, 13
  • Steven, David. A History of Political Parties in Papua New Guinea. Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1972
  • Woolford, Donald. ‘He Makes Sure He Doesn’t Get Lost.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 14 February 1970, 5
  • Woolford, Don. Papua New Guinea: Initiation and Independence. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1976

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Citation details

Eric Johns, 'Kiki, Sir Albert Maori (1931–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kiki-sir-albert-maori-28143/text35848, published online 2019, accessed online 7 December 2019.

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