Photographs capture traditional Papuan society

Papua – Ukandi – boys wearing bark pigtails called aia - unbound, 1927 
NAA: A6003, 11.7B

Francis Edgar Williams served as the government anthropologist in the Australian territory of Papua from 1922 until his death in 1943. During his time there he took nearly 2000 glass-plate photographs of traditional society, some in areas never before visited by Europeans.

Williams had strong respect for the role of traditional customary life in ensuring the well-being of the Papuan people. He devoted his years in Papua to detailed studies of traditional Papuan society and undertook extensive field work, spending long periods living among the people in native villages.

The F.E. Williams collection is one of the most extensive records of the inhabitants of Australia's former colony, capturing some of the first interactions between Papuan culture and the western world. Most photographs in the collection are held by the National Archives of Australia and the National Archives of Papua New Guinea, with some in the South Australian Museum. All three organisations were jointly awarded the place on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register for Asia Pacific in May 2012.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019