Raskols: The Gangs of Port Moresby?

In 2005, I remember coming across the work of Stephen Dupont, an Australian photographer who tried to document the facelessness of raskols in Port Moresby.

His exhibition, Raskols: The Gangs of Port Moresby, presented a series of formal portraits of the ‘Kips Kaboni‘ or ‘Red Devils‘ – supposedly the longest established group of raskols in PNG (I don’t know how they figured that one out – they must have done research at the Port Moresby Public Library?).

It has always amused me how expatriates who live or have lived in PNG, or who have had some sort of connection with PNG (including the Western media), use the

English word “gang” as the literal translation for the Tok Pisin word raskol.

As a Papua New Guinean, when I think of raskols, and I go through the instantaneous nano-second mental process of translating it into English, the first word that comes to mind is “thieves” – not “gangs”.

I’m not saying that the former is better than the latter (although one does have greater negative connotations than the other) – on the contrary, I’m simply making the observation that expatriates seem to make a connection between the two words that I, as a Papua New Guinean, never have.

And it’s true, I never have thought of raskols as “gangs”.

When I think of gangs, this is what I think of: the Bloods, the Crips, the Mongrel Mob, Hell’s Angels, Black Power, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Surenos and Nortenos – even Al Capone, the Mafia, the Triads, the Melbourne gangland killings, and the Nine Network’s show: Underbelly and that SKY TV Show: Ross Kemp on Gangs.

But raskols? No.

If you look at the list of gangs I named off the top of my head, its not hard to discern that a lot of them are based on ethnic minorities – which presents an

interesting enigma concerning raskols. I’ve never ever in my entire life heard of a raskol group in PNG that is entirely based upon a specific ethnic group – despite PNG being home to over 820 indigenous languages (12% of the World’s total) and consequently, approximately (give or take a couple hundred due to modernisation and assimilation) the same number of different cultures.

I’m not too sure how other Papua New Guineans feel about the issue, but it would be very interesting to find out a bit more about what connotations the word raskol conjures for both the expatriate and the Papua New Guinean.

So please leave a comment about my post.

To be honest, if I was given the choice between staying the night with a bunch of raskols or the Bloods or the Crips – or any other of the gangs I mentioned, I’m choosing my raskols any day. Guaranteed.

I wonder what the PNG expatriate would choose?

~ by Tavurvur on September 1, 2008.

12 Responses to “Raskols: The Gangs of Port Moresby?”

  1. Hi,

    Top blog!

    And appreciate your comments and feedback at http://www.trupela.com/ – have also added a link to your blog from there.

    Regarding the raskols – I’m an expat volunteer from australia – been here now for close to four years. I think the raskol is abused and like you said it brings up images of highly organised and violent gangs.

    Street boys or raskols there all the same to me… human beings trying to survive. There was a time that the chiefs could be trusted but that time has long gone. As folks move away from the villages into towns and settlements – they end up somewhere in the middle – neither rural nor urban – a new class is emerging in PNG – the lost folks.

    PNG lacks a true visionary in government – although making bucks is important – the real focus should be on the future of this country and its people – not the pockets of a few.

    The so called raskols of PNG are but human beings trying to survive the best they can. For me… wandering the streets of Goroka – visiting the local markets – sharing a story, a smoke and some buai with the “lads” has become a source of solace for me. Beats doing drinks at the Bird or the Pacific any day!!!


  2. I must say with Russ’ upcoming work offer and my very limited knowledge on not only Papua New Guinea but also Port Moresby where we will be stationed, this is my only true concern, raskols. Not particularly for the possible physical ‘object’ loss but for the real concern that in any way, shape or form our beautiful honest open gentle child would be put in any danger, be that mental or physical.

    Our priviledge of being ‘Qantas’ babies (my father worked for Qantas for 25 years and my mother for 8) gave us the incredibly unique view of an incredibly large and complex world. We have travelled extensively through out the years and have had the amazing good fortune to experience many cultures, races, religions, people and nations. I know it helped to meld me into the woman I am today, this is one of the reasons we wish to take this vital opportunity, I want our child to also realise in this turmoltuous time in our planets life that there is good and bad in every nation. I want to open him to other cultures and ways of life. Yet this one minor hiccup, for me anyhow is the raskols. I have no other concerns, I know he and I and Russ will navigate our new home with the passion of a new born beginning its life, we will approach our time in PNG the same way, I am just truly concerned for his well being. Am I being overly cautious? Most likely. Will it stop us from accepting Russ new position? Absolutely not. But as a mother Lochy is my primary concern.

    My choice of living with one or another of the ‘gangs’ , I will take our old neighbourhood childrens gang from 1983.

  3. Artistically raw pictures, but haven’t I seen those poses before???

  4. Hey people. Thanks for the comments!

    I remember an expatriate telling me over a beer that as he was driving from 10 Mile to 3 Mile one late evening, he decided to take an extreme measure just in case he was held up on the way.

    Sure enough, as he was maneuvering through the labyrinth of potholes at 4 Mile, a group of young lads walked in front of his car and stopped him. Somewhat blinded by the headlights, they could tell that he was an expatriate and demanded that he hand over his wallet immediately.

    As they approached the car and looked inside, they got the shock of their lives.

    Apart from his undies, the man was bare naked behind the steering wheel.

    He simply looked at the group of boys and told them that they were late – he had already been held up at 6 Mile and everything worth stealing was stolen.

    They let him through.

    When he got to the Mobil Station at 1 MIle, he pulled over, took his clothes, wallet, and watch out from under his seat and redressed himself.

    Not bad eh?



  5. Exactly who are the guns and knives being used on? That would answer any questions of survival or just rotten behavior. Roaming your land and taking what you want because you need it does not define survival techniques. I earn my living, and do without things I need and want, I do not take what is not mine. Eye for an Eye is what I wish upon those who inflict harm on others. Raskols and cops alike should suffer the same treatment they’ve inflicted on others. How tough would they be then? Pictures of these men holding guns does not scare, it merely depicts a man with a mind of a child.

  6. Just wondering, what kind of controversy did this cause within the media? Did you have a response on how this work may have ‘made a difference’ to public opinion or anything? I’m doing an essay on your work and I would love some more information about these portraits, they are extremely moving.

  7. Hi Alana,

    On the topic of finding more information on the actual portraits and whether or not they caused controversy within the media, I suggest you would be better off contacting Stephen Dupont himself via his webiste as he was the one who took these photos.

    My personal opinion regarding the matter is that Dupont’s portraits were taken for the benefit of the expatriate or the non-Papua New Guinean. It was to put a face on the faceless raskols – to reveal them to the world.

    His photos have merely captured what we already know – raskols are just normal people trying to make ends meet in an antagonistic urban environment with limited opportunities. Yes, there are moral issues to what they do, I have no argument there.

    Perhaps their involvement in illegal activities is a reflection of an inept PNG Government failing in its responsibility to develop our human capital and to provide opportunities for the people.

    At the end of the day, maybe his photos have ‘made a difference’ to public opinion by showing us that raskols are people like you and I.


  8. Truth is a double edged sword and one that needs to be wielded with precision, timing and caution but above all, with compassion and integrity. A skill that I have been known to lack from time to time. But there is hope! Highlands living has become my teacher in the subtle art and almost a science of human interaction.


    PS. Great to have you back old mate!
    PS. Great to have you back old mate!

  9. Apologies for the double PS – just a wee hiccup… hiccuuup…

  10. I’ve always understood the term raskol to refer to any class of criminal in PNG.

  11. This is great stuff…please send me updates.

  12. Em giaman hia. He set them up to take photos to make himself famous

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