Grassroots Law in Papua New Guinea

Grassroots Law in Papua New Guinea

Edited by: Melissa Demian orcid

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The introduction of village courts in Papua New Guinea in 1975 was an ambitious experiment in providing semi-formal legal access to the country’s overwhelmingly rural population. Nearly 50 years later, the enthusiastic adoption of these courts has had a number of ramifications, some of them unanticipated. Arguably, the village courts have developed and are working exactly as they were supposed to do, adapted by local communities to modes and styles consistent with their own dispute management sensibilities. But with little in the way of state oversight or support, most village courts have become, of necessity, nearly autonomous.

Village courts have also become the blueprint for other modes of dispute management. They overlap with other sources of authority, so the line between what does and does not constitute a ‘court’ is now indistinct in many parts of the country. Rather than casting this issue as a problem for legal development, the contributors to Grassroots Law in Papua New Guinea ask how, under conditions of state withdrawal, people seek to retain an understanding of law that holds out some promise of either keeping the attention of the state or reproducing the state’s authority.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Dec 2023
ANU Press
Monographs in Anthropology
Arts & Humanities: Cultural Studies; Social Sciences: Anthropology
Pacific: Papua New Guinea

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Grassroots Law in Papua New Guinea »

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Part I: Village courts and non-courts in action

  1. Legal consciousness and the predicament of village courts in a ‘weak state’: Internalisation of external authority in the New Guinea Highlands (PDF, 172 KB)Hiroki Fukagawa doi
  2. Following an adultery case beyond the court: The making of legal consciousness in and around Nadzab Village Court, Markham River Valley (PDF, 565 KB)Juliane Neuhaus doi
  3. ‘Making kastam full’ in the Sepik: The Awim Village Court as a spectral gift of shells (PDF, 1 MB)Tomi Bartole doi
  4. Unmaking a village court: The invisible workings of an alternative dispute forum (PDF, 341 KB)Eve Houghton doi

Part II: The courts, the law and the Papua New Guinean state

  1. Keeping the sky up: Papua New Guinea’s village courts in the age of capacity building (PDF, 188 KB)Michael Goddard doi
  2. Collapsing the scales of law (PDF, 976 KB)Melissa Demian doi
  3. A system that allows people to say sorry: An interview with Fiona Hukula (PDF, 140 KB)Transcribed and edited by Camila F. Marinelli and Melissa DemianM doi

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