Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Maloat, Sir Paliau (c. 1907–1991)

by Ton Otto

This article was published online in 2020

Paliau preaching

Paliau preaching

Courtesy of author

Sir Paliau Maloat (1907–1991), political and religious leader, was born about 1907 at Lipan village, Baluan Island in the Admiralty Islands, German New Guinea (Manus Province, Papua New Guinea), only son of Maloat, Pulialipan clan leader, and his wife Asap Nelimbul (Ipul), of the Ulput clan. Paliau was orphaned when he was about seven years old and felt neglected and in between the families of his mother and his father. Nevertheless, while he was still a teenager his paternal relative Joseph Paril told him to perform at a traditional feast, perhaps recognising his potential as a local leader. His performance went completely awry, as he mixed up the words he should speak. This traumatic experience possibly contributed to his later criticism of large traditional feasts, which he considered wasteful distributions of wealth that could bring hunger and death.

Following traditional custom, Paliau was known by his first name, rather than his patronymic surname. When he reached the age of fifteen, he was required to pay head tax by the Australian administration of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea and thus sought employment. After some odd jobs, he joined the New Guinea Police Force in 1928, serving in a number of towns and attaining the rank of sergeant at Rabaul in 1935. He regularly sent money home but was critical of the way it was distributed by his kin and so established a renewable fund that could provide loans to those unable to pay their head tax. During World War II, when Japanese forces occupied Rabaul in January 1942, Paliau was the highest-ranking indigenous police officer, and he fled with other policemen to avoid capture. In August 1943 he surrendered and was forced to supervise the native population on behalf of the Japanese until an Allied air raid in 1944 gave him the chance to escape again. After the war he was arrested for collaboration, but he was never charged.

During the war years Paliau had built a reputation as a charismatic leader. On his return to the Manus province in 1946 he attracted people from faraway villages who wanted to hear his message of self-reliance and equality with the white colonisers. Claiming to have had a series of dreams that influenced his religious insights and teachings, he initiated plans to reorganise the local society, including the concentration of villages and amalgamation of village resources. The Australian administration became concerned about his growing influence and detained him in April 1950 on charges of insubordination and ‘spreading false reports’ (White 1953, 11). Subsequently, the territorial administrator Jack (Sir Keith) Murray, under pressure from the local population and facing criticism by a visiting mission of the United Nations Trusteeship Council, followed a more constructive strategy with the aim of enlisting Paliau’s collaboration. The Baluan Native Village Council was established later in 1950 as one of the first such councils in New Guinea, although the island’s population and economic base were small for a viable council. Having divorced his first wife, Lomot Viviana, Paliau married Teresia, daughter of Paliau Chamokou and Sauyang, both from Mouk village on Baluan, in 1951.

When Paliau returned from detention, he was elected a member and later chairman (1951–65) of the Baluan council. This was the beginning of a successful career as a local and national politician. In 1964 he was elected as the member for Manus in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea’s first House of Assembly, and he was a founding member (1967) of the Pangu Pati (Papua and New Guinea Union Party). As a member of parliament, and the president (1966–67) of the Manus multiracial council, he played an important role in the modernisation of Manus society. Appointed OBE in 1970, he lost his assembly seat in 1972, but the same year was narrowly elected chairman of the new Manus District Area Authority, a position from which he was ousted in 1973. Although his career as a national and regional politician was in decline, he remained a popular local leader.

The growing opposition to Paliau at a regional level derived partly from his role as founder and leader of a native church. He had never been baptised and opposed the missions when he returned to the islands in 1946, proclaiming that they had been distorting knowledge of God. Many of his followers defected from the Catholic church to join his religious movement, called the Baluan United Christian Church or Paliau Native Christian Church, while many Manus north coastal villages and villages with strong Seventh Day Adventist parishes opposed the new religion. From 1978 the movement was retitled Makasol, a contraction of the Tok Pisin name Manus Kastom Kansol (Manus Traditional Council), and it gained support from younger educated Manusians returning from positions in the national capital to enter politics in their home province. In 1984 Paliau claimed that he was the last prophet of the world and that his message about possible redemption from earthly suffering applied to all people, ‘black, brown or white’ (Otto 1992, 54). The movement again changed its name in 1989 to fit this more universal mission, being called Win Neisen (the nation of wind, breath, or spirit).

Paliau returned in July 1991 to Baluan, where he died on 1 November. He was survived by his wife, a son and a daughter from his first marriage, and five adopted children, and was accorded a state funeral, which was attended by Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister, Sir Michael Somare. Shortly before his death, Paliau had been knighted. The honour recognised one whose life aim had been the liberation of his fellow Papua New Guineans, not only from Western economic, political, and ideological domination, but also from elements of the native tradition that he saw as inhibiting progress. He had a captivating presence, possessing great rhetorical powers and a strong imagination. At times he came into open conflict with colonial and post-colonial governments and the Christian missions, but he was loyally supported by many. His religious and spiritual insights led to prophesies of salvation for all the earth’s people. Towards the end of his life his followers accorded him an almost divine status as the ‘Melanesian Jesus.’ His house on Baluan became a shrine to his memory.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Fenbury, David M. Practice without Policy: Genesis of Local Government in Papua New Guinea. Development Studies Centre Monograph no. 13. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978
  • Kais, Kakah. The Paliau Movement: Past, Present and Future. Papua New Guinea: University of Papua New Guinea Press and Bookshop, 2008
  • Maloat, Paliau. ‘Histori bilong mi taim mi bon na i kamap tede [The Story of My Life from the Day I Was Born until the Present Day].’ In The Politics of Melanesia: Papers Delivered at the Fourth Waigani Seminar at Port Moresby, edited by Marion W. Ward, 144–61. Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1970
  • Mead, Margaret. New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation—Manus, 1928–1953. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1975
  • National Archives of Papua New Guinea. ‘Special Report: Local Government on Baluan Island, Manus.’ 7/N-CA 35/6/38
  • Otto, Ton. ‘From Paliau Movement to Makasol: The Politics of Representation.’ Canberra Anthropology 15, no. 2 (1992): 49–68
  • Otto, Ton. ‘Paliau’s Stories: Autobiography and Automythography of a Melanesian Prophet.’ Focaal 32 (1998): 71–87
  • Otto, Ton. ‘The Paliau Movement in Manus and the Objectification of Tradition.’ History and Anthropology 5, no. 3 (1992): 427–54
  • Otto, Ton. ‘The Politics of Tradition in Baluan: Social Change and the Construction of the Past in a Manus Society.’ PhD thesis, Australian National University, 1991
  • Schwartz, Theodore. ‘The Paliau Movement in the Admiralty Islands, 1946–1954.’ Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 49, no. 2 (1962): 209–421
  • White, Osmar. ‘This Is Paliau, Ogre of the Islands.’ Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 17 September 1953, 11

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ton Otto, 'Maloat, Sir Paliau (c. 1907–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/maloat-sir-paliau-29941/text37079, published online 2020, accessed online 2 August 2021.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2021