“Our village name is spreading like fire”: Gold fever in a Sepik society, PNG

“Our village name is spreading like fire”: Gold fever in a Sepik society, PNG

When the Awiakay discovered gold on their land, a cascade of dramatic changes shook their society to its roots. The village all but emptied out with so many going to the bush to pan for gold on one of the two creeks where small-scale mining camps were set up. But when one young man became sick while panning for gold, and died two days later, people faced a dilemma. Traditionally, the Awiakay would immediately abandon the area of bush where someone died or contracted a fatal illness, and would stay away for at least two years, out of fear of the spirit of the deceased, and the malevolence of the spirits of nature. But in this instance, gold fever motivated them to find other ways to mitigate these fears. 

In this seminar I will explore the community’s decisions in the light of the Awiakay’s past, people’s personal histories, and a cosmology involving a Christian God and local nature spirits. I trace the rise of the desire for a new commodity eked from their ancient rivers; the changes wrought, and the Awiakay’s strategies of adaptation.


Zoom Link


Meeting ID: 937 9210 4939 

Passcode: 800615


Date & time

Mon 10 Aug 2020, 3–4pm


Online FREE and open to all


Darja Hoenigman, ANU

Event series


Yasmine Musharbash


Updated:  4 August 2020/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications