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Wedega, Dame Ahioma Alice (1905–1987)

by Eric Johns

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Dame Ahioma Alice Wedega (1905-1987), missionary, teacher, women’s advocate and social worker, was born on 20 August 1905 at Alo Alo village, Milne Bay, in British New Guinea (Papua from 1906) one of ten children of Wedega Gamahari, London Missionary Society pastor, and his wife Ema. Wedega’s career was shaped by her LMS education at the Kwato mission at Milne Bay and, following her baptism at 16 years of age, her first work was with other Kwato missionaries, proselytising and teaching domestic science to women throughout coastal south-east Papua. After the death in 1930 of its founder, Charles Abel, the mission, now independent of the LMS and known as the Kwato Extension Association, came under the influence of the Moral Rearmament movement. Led by Cecil Abel, son of the founder, members of the KEA became swept up in evangelistic fervour and Wedega vowed, along with other women of the mission, to dedicate her life to Christian work and never to marry.

Over the next few years the KEA claimed thousands of new adherents. Wedega was a member of its notable 1935 patrol into the hinterland of Cloudy Bay, which enhanced the mission’s reputation by converting most of the warlike Dorewaide and Keveri people. To consolidate their gains in that area the KEA built a church, school and hospital at Amau, near Cloudy Bay, and Wedega was appointed the school’s first principal.

The Japanese invasion in 1942 disrupted KEA work. After the war a depleted staff had to re-establish their presence. Wedega reopened the school at Amau. In 1952 she was invited by the Australian administration to represent the Territory of Papua and New Guinea at the Pan Pacific Women’s Conference at Christchurch, New Zealand,—becoming the first female national to represent her people overseas. In subsequent years she attended several conferences in Asia, Europe and the Pacific as representative either of Moral Rearmament or the PNG administration.

As one of the few Indigenous women of note, Wedega had to accept many official responsibilities. In 1955-59 she was the first national Girl Guides district commissioner (for Kwato-Amau District). Appointed a welfare officer with the Department of Native Affairs, she conducted domestic science classes for women throughout Milne Bay and, in 1960, helped to establish and run the Ahioma Training Centre for girls. A nominated member (1961-64) of the Legislative Council, she was the first Indigenous woman to participate in national government, but she contributed little in this largely expatriate and male-dominated body. In 1970-71 she worked for the government among the women of the troubled island of Bougainville.

Wedega had been appointed MBE in 1964 and was elevated by the Papua New Guinea government to DBE in 1982. She had retired from government work in 1971 but remained heavily involved in Moral Rearmament activities. Her autobiography, Listen My Country (1981), was the first book to be published by a Papua New Guinean woman. Dame Alice died on 3 December 1987 at Ahioma. She was accorded a state funeral and buried at Duria hamlet, within the Ahioma area of Milne Bay Province.

Select Bibliography

  • E. A. Johns, Dame Alice Wedega (2002)
  • Canberra Times, 23 May 1963, p 4
  • PNG Post-Courier, 8 May 1970, p 33
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Jan 1971, p 6
  • private information and personal knowledge.

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Citation details

Eric Johns, 'Wedega, Dame Ahioma Alice (1905–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wedega-dame-ahioma-alice-15831/text27030, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 October 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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