Paliau Maloat & The Paliau Movement

Paliau Maloat was born on 1907 on Baluan Island in a Matangkor village of Lipan, an island off the south coast of Manus. He was an orphan by the age of seven, both his parents died when he was young and was raised by his relatives.

Paliau Maloat in 1924 entered the formal employment sector when he was about seventeen and at the age of twenty-one, Paliau enlisted in the Police Force in the year 1928. Paliau served as a policeman in Rabaul from 1935 up till the coming of the World War II (WW2). He attained the rank of Sergeant during this period and was in charge of 280 policemen when WWII broke out. After the war in 1946, Paliau returned to Manus and began the formulation of plans to break away from the old way of living and bring his people into the modern world.

Paliau’s own life is his testimony, his life, hardships and struggles he faced and the struggles faced by his people made him to make a difference, to make life better for his people.

Paliau saw that there was a dire need to make a complete break from the ways of the past because the ways of the past were not helping the people progress, instead it handicapped them thus not allowing them to respond positively to the challenges and developments that were taking place. And this is true, the old ways of the past hindered development.  The old way of life according to Paliau contained so much hatred, divisiveness, bad thoughts and negative personal and clan rivalries. He advocated a complete break with the past, he even advocated about breaking away from the missions and setting up an indigenous church that would preach the core values of Christianity.

The colonial administration during that time had certain requirements that the villages had to follow or face the penalties if they disobeyed, the requirements were like, the villagers had to pay head tax levy, keep their villages clean and build new houses and toilets. But the people were not able to properly carry out the requirements of the colonial administration, why? Because, these were new to them, for examples paying of taxes, or building toilets, I do not think they had toilets in the old days so for them to build toilets to use was something new am assuming. And why would the colonial administration want to put such strict measures?

Paliau so badly wanted a complete break from the past that he emphasized on the abolishing bride-price system which saw food crops being given away during the bridal exchange feasts and when all the food was gone, they would experience famine. From my own observation, bride-price is an expensive practice which leaves the groom’s family penniless and without food crops and makes the bride’s family wealthy with food and money so I am in agreement with Paliau.

Paliau also emphasized on equality for everyone (the emancipation of women) and also wanted the people to have the whiteman’s good but in order for them to get the goods, they had to work for money so they could purchase. Maybe Paliau saw the goodness of the whiteman’s goods as he was exposed to them while working out of the province and that is why he also wanted his people to have those goods as well.

Abundance of food and good housing for all in the community was in line with what he had envisaged within his Nupala Pasin concept – the new way of doing things. Paliau experience the pain his people went through during food shortages in his young years so I think here he decides to make sure his people had abundant food, with his new concept doing away with the old ways like bridal feasts which finished the people’s food crops and left them with nothing.

Paliau Maloat also formed a new religion based on Christianity in which life revolved around the church built in the center of the village, and distinct rituals. The Paliau church’s job was to cater for the spiritual needs of those within the movement. The church was established as a result of the Catholic mission’s negative approach, the Catholic mission turned away followers of the movement who went for worship, they came back reported to Paliau who came up with an inspiration for a church for his followers. Paliau’s move to build his church was just like the early protestant movements of Martin Luther who broke away from the Catholic in the sixteenth century in what was known as the “Reformation” which began as an attempt to reform the Catholic Church, by priests who opposed what they perceived as false doctrines and ecclesiastic malpractice. In Paliau’s mind was the suspicion that the missions were not genuine. They profess God’s love and forgiveness on the one hand, while on the other hand turn the people away from worshipping him. Paliau saw that the spiritual need of the people was important, and if the missions were going to turn people away then it was up to him as the one who ‘save rot’ (knows the way) to show the way. (Kais, 1998 )

I think the church’s decision to turn away Paliau’s followers were genuine as they believed they were involved in cultic activities so following Biblical teachings, they turned them away. Paliau did not waste time, he went ahead and established a church which I believe was already in his plan and he just needed some moving factors to help him establish it. Most of his followers were Catholics so the Paliau church practiced the religious rites and rituals of the Catholic church, he even used trained Catholic catechists to teach the people about religious faith. If he wanted to bring in new rites or rituals, I think he would not have gotten his followers to attend his church if he introduced new doctrines so he just used what was already in place in his new church. There were no new doctrines introduced by Paliau’s church.

Paliau also tried to establish a new social order in which traditional cultural distinctions, including the authority of the ‘big men’, would be swept aside. What made Paliau to want to do away with ‘big-men’ system? When Paliau was a young and working, he would visit his village on his leave, he brought with him the wealth he acquired. His uncle would however distribute Paliau’s wealth among the relatives. Paliau understood that his uncle was making a name for himself as it was the way of doing things in the past.

I think this is what led to Paliau wanting abled people in his village to find employment for money so they can purchase their own whiteman’s goods instead of waiting for one to work and come home with such goods so the lazy people can benefit from the acquired wealth. And if everyone had their own wealth, they would not consider the other to be a ‘big-men’ because they all have acquired whiteman’s goods.


Kais, K. (1998 , April ). The Paliau Movement. Retrieved from PAPUA NEW GUINEA – BUAI DIGITAL PROJECT:

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