Princess Anne set to tour PNG as royal family contends with British empire’s colonial past

Almost 140 years ago, a British flag was hoisted into the sky in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby.

The Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, is set to become the first member of the British monarchy to ever visit the site where it was raised, as part of her PNG tour.

Princess Anne is the latest royal dispatched to Commonwealth countries as the House of Windsor celebrates 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s rule.

But the tours come at a precarious time for the family.

Recent trips have forced the monarchy to confront some of the sins of colonialism, and the institution has faced pushback, notably in the Caribbean.

But in PNG, the Queen’s representative is expected to receive a warm welcome.

A time of transition for the House of Windsor

As part of the recent royal tours in the Commonwealth, William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were last month sent to the Caribbean.

But the plan to strengthen ties there backfired.

There was significant resistance in Jamaica, where there were calls for reparations for slavery and revelations about a move towards becoming a republic.

“We see no reason to celebrate 70 years of the ascension of your grandmother to the British throne because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, has perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind,” an open letter to the monarchy from Jamaican campaigners read.

Prince William and Kate’s tour of Jamaica featured a signal the nation was ready for independence. (Reuters: Paul Edwards)

It came after Barbados last year removed the Queen as its head of state and became the world’s newest republic.

It is an extraordinary moment of transition for the British monarchy.

As cultural values ​​shift and members of the Commonwealth question the association’s purpose in a modern world, it is unclear what the future holds for Prince Charles and Prince William when they ascend the throne.

PNG, however, is choosing to stay the course.

“As other countries might look at departing from the Commonwealth or having the Queen as its head of state, Papua New Guinea is looking in the opposite direction in embracing what we have and making it bigger and better than it was before,” PNG’s Minister for National Events, Justin Tkatchenko, said.

Why PNG will keep the Queen as its head of state

PNG, Australia and the United Kingdom have a long and complex relationship.

In 1883, the then-colony of Queensland tried to annex the bottom half of what is now PNG for the British empire.

The British did not initially approve until Germany started settlements in the north which it called German New Guinea. The following year, a British protectorate was declared in the south.

A protectorate differs from a colony because local leaders are allowed to rule but the nation is still under the control of the more powerful country.

The British annexation of New Guinea
The British government formally proclaimed the territory of New Guinea as a protectorate in 1884. (Wikimedia Commons: Augustine E. Dyer)

By the end of World War II, the two regions were combined and administered by Australia.

In 1975, Papua New Guinea finally gained its independence.

But PNG’s history with the United Kingdom and British colonialism is very different to that in the Caribbean.

It was Australia which was on the ground, and any lingering concerns about colonialism and indentured labor are generally directed at Australia.

There are still some mixed feelings regarding Australia’s former and current roles in PNG, but pushback has been somewhat eased by the fact PNG gained independence relatively smoothly and Australia has been its biggest aid donor and development partner since.

Mr Tkatchenko said his nation would not be following the Caribbean path.

“What happened in the Caribbean, they’re a completely different race and tradition to Papua New Guineans,” he said.

At a tumultuous time for the world, and with Russia invading Ukraine, he said strengthening ties was “not just about the royal family”.

“It’s also about uniting ourselves with the other Commonwealth countries that this country can benefit from through trade and economic stimulation and also security,” he said.

A poster of Princess Anne flanked by a Union Jack flag and PNG's flag
PNG’s Minister for National Events, Justin Tkatchenko, says his country is rolling out the red carpet for Princess Anne. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting )

Mr Tkatchenko said unlike the moments of awkwardness Prince William and the duchess faced in Jamaica, Princess Anne would be treated with respect and honor during her visit to PNG.

Princess to walk among stilt houses

During her time in PNG, Princess Anne will visit the village of Hanuabada.

The traditional village stretches across the shoreline and into the water of Port Moresby’s main harbour.

Houses are built on stilts, and the princess will walk along one of the famous boardwalks which connect the homes to the land.

A small village of corrugated roof homes built at the edge of a port, surrounded by lush greenery
In 1884, a British naval officer declared Hanuabada and the surrounding lands a protectorate of the empire. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

It was here in Hanuabada where a British naval officer declared the protectorate in 1884, under the reign of Princess Anne’s great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

While the PNG organizers see the visit as a celebration, the particulars of the trip have caused considerable consternation for the monarchy, which is cautious of any colonial overtones.

The specifics of Princess Anne’s visit, particularly to the proclamation site, have been debated and weighed up in detail.

The chairman of the Motu Koita Assembly, which represents the traditional landowners of Port Moresby, Dadi Toka Jr, said people were excited about the visit.

“As Indigenous landowners, we feel that we have a connection with the royal family that dates back to 1884,” he said.

A man in a blue business shirt grins with Port Moresby behind him
Dadi Toka Jr is in charge of the government body that represents the traditional landowners of Port Moresby. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

“Motu Koita people from this area were given access to health and education. We advanced quite rapidly because of that connection.”

Mr Toka agreed PNG had a different history and approach than some countries in the Caribbean.

“During that colonial period, yes there may have been challenges, but we weren’t slaves, we weren’t prisoners,” he said.

‘A lot of work to be done’

Among those watching on when Princess Anne visits the flag-raising site will be Elsie Kaia Joseph. She is the great-great-granddaughter of one of the men who sold the land to British missionaries.

She wants the history to be shared more widely and is backing plans for a museum on the site.

“To me, it’s always been the foundation of Port Moresby and what is now Papua New Guinea.”

A Papua New Guinean woman with cropped dark hair looks out at Port Moresby from a hill
Elsie Kaia Joseph says traditional landowners in PNG have lower standards of living. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting )

Many people in Port Moresby’s traditional villages have lower standards of living than those in other parts of the growing city and some live in relative poverty.

Ms Joseph said she felt the Motu Koitabuans had been “forgotten”.

“Right now, we’re sort of losing out with a lot of development of our people and our land, which we have given up for the sake of PNG,” she said.

It is not a problem confined to the people here. Many people in Papua New Guinea struggle to get access to basic services.

“We gained independence in 1975, our forefathers had a vision of what our future would look like,” Dadi Toka Jnr said.

“The vision they had hasn’t quite transpired, in my view. So, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

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