Huli wigmen dressed in traditional attire.

by Michael Main

Michael Main Portrait
Michael Main has a PhD in anthropology from the Australian National University. Michael’s PhD research focused on the Huli population in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) highlands and the impact of ExxonMobil’s Papua New Guinea Liquefied Natural Gas project. Michael has a professional background in geology and environmental science, which underpins his interest and work in the anthropology of development and resource extraction.

One of the most difficult ethnographic challenges in Hela Province is the bewildering multitude of ways in which Huli identity is expressed. This is in part due to the broad geographical spread of people who identify as Huli, and the horizontal inequalities that have fanned out across the PNG highlands over the past few decades. But there does exist a primacy of individualism in Huli culture that has deep historical roots. Although I do not consider it possible to categorise or provide definitive statements about any assemblage of traits that are commonly labelled as “culture”, the perception of culture and the self-identification with perceptions of culture remain. For the perceived cultural assemblage that is labelled Huli, its identification is held strongly within a vast field of diversity. Such is the case for both men and women, especially as the gendered prohibitions against certain behaviours are rapidly eroding. In a very real sense, Huliness is the fact of its own construction. In material terms, the construction of a Huli identity is easily categorisable. The famous Huli wig, face painting styles, dances, and various bodily adornments have been given extensive treatment in the literature.1 As Laurence Goldman describes for the relevance of Huli bodily adornment to traditional storytelling, “Decoration is here very much a whole- body renarrativisation of one’s social activity.”2 Crucial to this observation is the primacy of one’s social activity, i.e., the social activity of the individual. The individualisation of appearance is therefore a logical component of personhood. Although the practice of wearing the everyday Huli wig has long since passed, and what is recognised as traditional Huli clothing has become a ceremonial uniform, the subtle and individual expressions of Huliness are a widespread feature of contemporary Huli life.

The existence of a self-consciously Huli ceremonial uniform was a feature of pre- contact Huli life, especially as worn by members of the haroli bachelor cult when they returned to social view after an extended period in isolation. This “emergence” as described by Robert Glasse3 was something akin to a catwalk where the entirety of their performance amounted to being seen and admired. The bachelors constructed themselves as close as possible to a platonic version of Huli ore; perfect human specimens replete with shiny, oiled skin, the most beautiful wigs adorning the gleaming health of a male that has shunned all possible contact with the polluting effects of women. The concept of an idealised Huliness is a theme that still resonates strongly in contemporary Huli life, and does so in equal step with the strength of Huli individualism. In the same chapter Glasse describes Huli as a “complex, mobile society. Individuals have great freedom of choice.”4 In very real ways pre-contact Huli culture had been constructed as an externality; as a self-conscious awareness of the existence of a cultural identity to be adopted and expressed. There is a continuation then with contemporary Huli cultural performance for the admiration of tourists, or ceremonial occasions such as the greeting of visiting politicians. This cultural self- consciousness also creates the space for individualism to flourish, because it is the existence of an idealised form that provides the anchor to which Huli identity is always tethered, regardless of the individual choices that are made. But there is more to Huli individualism than permitted possibility. Individualism is itself a definitive cultural artefact that has profound metaphysical implications.

At Komo I lived with Charles Haluya on a large portion of land with his two wives and three young children, along with several male clansmen who would come and go according to the common Huli practice of multi-residence. Charles slept in the guest house he had built while his two wives lived in bush material houses that he had built for them on opposite ends of the property. The family group practised separated living, which has become unusual for Huli families, although the practice of polygyny has not. Women were not allowed to enter the balamanda (men’s house) and took a wide berth when passing through the property so as not to come too close. The family were also practising Catholics, and Charles’ first wife and their children were closely involved with the nearby Catholic mission. Neither Charles nor his wives were permitted to take communion because of their polygynous arrangement. The land where we lived was not Charles’ clan land; he did not have tene (a direct agnatic connection to the land) or even yamuwini (connection to land via a female ancestor) status on his land (see Chapter 8 for a description of Huli land ownership).5 Instead, Charles had purchased the portion of land, which was called “Napale”, from the tene owner of the land under what would be commonly recognised as a land title arrangement. The land had been professionally surveyed and a copy of the survey plan was pinned to the wall inside the guest house. Charles’ tene land and council ward was located a few kilometres southwest of Komo station. Charles’ life can be described as a bricolage constructed out of the wide variety of choices available to him. A bit of Catholicism, a bit of traditional polygyny, a traditional bush material house, and a high- covenant house,6 western model of land ownership, and the traditional practice of multiple residency with the coming and going of transient residents on his land. The flexibility and range of possible modes of being offered by a Huli ethos of individualism are limitless.

During the first month of my fieldwork Charles took me to visit Hides so that I could take a close look at ExxonMobil’s Hides Gas Conditioning Plant (HGCP). While at Hides we were accosted by a highly agitated man carrying a bachelor wig, who was complaining to Charles in very rapid Huli. It turned out that the man was the leader of a bachelor group and, because Charles had an anthropologist living with him, he demanded that I be taken to inspect his group. The bachelor group was located at Kulu village, a few kilometres northwest from Nogoli. Arrangements were made and I spent a day with the Kulu wigman organisation learning about their bachelor cult tradition and, especially, the intricacies of their adornments. The group was not a haroli bachelor cult as has been described in the literature, but a “wigmen association” that had formed as, more or less, a corporate group. Tourists do not venture to Kulu village, or anywhere other than Ambua Lodge southeast of Tari. These Huli wigmen groups are derived from the haroli tradition, but in a context that is largely removed from the complex web of cosmological and spiritual belief that did previously exist. The eldest member and bachelor leader informed me that I was only the second white man that he had ever met, and that the first was a man named Laurence Goldman, whom he had met during the 1970s.7 The group took particular delight in teaching me how to play the kundu drum, dressing me in a bachelor wig, and having me participate in a mali dance. Later during my fieldwork I witnessed the same thing happening to one of the Dutch Volunteer Services Organisation (VSO) doctors during celebrations in Tari. The young doctor had been given the full Huli treatment replete with paint, leg bands, wig, tanget leaves, etc., but his discomfort at what he perceived for himself to be insensitive cultural appropriation was obvious. It became clear to me, however, that the self-conscious act of cultural appropriation was the whole point of the exercise. Those who dressed me up in Huli garb wanted me to embody and perceive Huli culture from their own point of view. The western experience is ubiquitous, but Huli for the embodied westerner is something unique, and Huli perceive this uniqueness from the westerner’s own point of view. To objectivise Huli culture materially and try it on for size is an authentic act. The material objectivisation of Huli culture is part and parcel of the culture itself. The Kulu wigmen association members had made their own independent choices about which aspects of Huli identity they wanted to adopt.8

In Tari I spent some time interviewing a visitor to our house by the name of Stanley Wai. Wai is the Huli word for warfare and Stanley was named Wai because he was born while his mother was fleeing a major battle. Stanley was trained as a mechanic and had lived and worked in Port Moresby. Stanley had a daughter with his first wife who graduated as an aircraft engineer and was working for Air Niugini before she had a falling out with her boyfriend and committed suicide by overdosing on malaria tablets. After Stanley’s marriage fell apart he returned to Hela and married a younger woman with whom he was living as a yamuwini on his wife’s land, which was located between Komo and Hides. Stanley was unable to find work as a mechanic as the expected jobs that were supposed to have resulted from the business boom of the PNG LNG project had not materialised. They had built a “high covenant” house that was razed to the ground during warfare that involved his wife’s clan. After that Stanley decided that they would build a bush material house and live as his ancestors had done so that a new house could be easily rebuilt should another war break out. Stanley kept his toolbox buried beneath the floor of his house so that he might be able to return to retrieve it should his house get burned down again. So what did Stanley make of his own Huli identity? “Nowadays it’s all in a mess, not intact” was Stanley’s observation of Huli culture. Many men produce wigs, he said, but they are often making wigs out of women’s hair to save them the trouble of having to grow and cut their own hair. Considering the traditional rites involved in growing one’s hair were predicated on avoiding the polluting effects of women, the practice of constructing wigs out of women’s hair is enough to represent the total collapse of any unified Huli cosmological system. In very real ways Huli are free to be tourists within their own cultural heritage. Anything is ripe for reinterpretation and appropriation for the benefit of the individual. This multiplicity of Huli possibilities is having a radical impact on gender relations, even to the extent that women are becoming able to claim legitimate rights to land ownership, which is something previous research on Huli social organisation could never have foreseen.

(An extract from, “Until Hela Becomes a City”, The Western Encounter with Huli Modernity. Michael Main. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Australian National University. Canberra, April, 2020., pp. 138-143.)

  1. See especially Jaap Timmer, “Inclined to be authentic” (MA Thesis, University of Amsterdam, 1993). []
  2. Laurence Goldman, “Decorated Being in Huli.” []
  3. Robert Glasse, “The Huli of the Southern Highlands,” 43 []
  4. Ibid., 29. []
  5. Tene, literally “source” owners of land have primary rights to the land on which they are tene. []
  6. A term for a “non-traditional” house that is “typically a well-finished both inside and out with usually three or more bedrooms and over 90 square meters… in area” James Streuber, “Proper Financing is a Key to Increasing Housing Accessibility in Emerging Economies: The Papua New Guinea Housing Situation”, Cross Currents: Trans-Cultural Architecture, Education, and Urbanism, (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture International Conference, 2000), 111. []
  7. I thank Laurence for the obviously good impression he left of anthropologists in the field, which no doubt assisted my invitation. []
  8. Jaap Timmer (“Inclined to be authentic”, 13-17) struggles with the notion of authenticity in (what was in 1993) contemporary Huli culture, but maintains a focus on one particular form of Huli cultural identity, that of body decoration. For this thesis I am concerned with the diversity of Huli identity in itself. []

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Wonder Why Huli Men Wear Wigs?

Huli wigman wearing mana tene everyday wig.

by Dr. Laurence Goldman

These same antitheses, aspects of the more general man-bird there, pervade accounts of Haroli and the complex ideas concerning the importance of Huli wigs. Despite virtual cessation of these bachelor cults, wigs are still worn by most adult males as part of everyday adornment. They have retained much of their traditional import providing a visual criterion for self-differentiation and definition in opposition to neighboring cultures. This facet is linguistically expressed in those pureremo presented at the beginning of this chapter. Explanations of genesis, rather than continuation, as to why ‘hair’ should be a focus for aesthetic attention must remain conjectural and speculative. Nevertheless, three related observations of language use suggest possible lines of argument.

(1) The semantic and etymological parallels of manda (hair of the head – usually in a particular state) and manda (knowing/understanding) signify, as previously noted, a Samson motif in Huli culture. Adult males could not traditionally marry until they had grown a beard for which daily recitation of gamu was a prerequisite of success.

(2) The term iri is employed for both human hair (manda iri) and bird feathers (Ega iri) underlining perhaps the important value of ‘movement’ in both human and animal domains. Feathers used in decoration must shake (bara) and those which lay to one side (pu pagi) or flock in different directions (ba tara ba tara -ba (hitting) + tara (differently) are considered unaesthetic. This vital sense of movement is similarly expressed in the Dindi Dongoma Gamu presented above by such phrases as “go like the wind against the hair”, “flap your wings like these birds” and the many references to “flight” (yaga cf.Hongo Helo Gamu.)

Manda Hare ‘upturned’ red or black ceremonial wig.

(3) Related to the above two arguments is the possible connection between the statements “I am decorating” and “I am imitating a cassowary”. I have shown in this chapter that such imitative imperatives (i.e. be like a cassowary) are typical concepts used in child-rearing. The association between cassowary and wild/aggression is central to Haroli decoration and other behavioral contexts. Dispute opponents are conceptualized in speech as “cassowaries” (ref.D.2:77-78) and minor sorcery is still practiced to inhibit a protagonist’s speech, action which is expressed as “knotting the hair of a cassowary” (see Chapter 5). This last remark again emphasizes again the relationships that subsist between man – talk – bird.

A complete exposition of Haroli is beyond the scope and concern of this present discussion so that in what follows I have restricted myself to amplifying themes elucidated above. In essence, the cult concerned only bachelors (from about the age of sixteen) who would, for a period of approximately two years or more, seclude themselves in the bush undergoing stringent ritual purification – a cleansing of the body and mind of female pollution. Instruction would be given by elders known as Mambo or Igiri Aba (father of the boys) who would be paid in shell and pig for accepting incoming initiates.

Normally each hameigini would have had at least one Tigi Anda (cult house – ‘forbidden place’) attended by males who were the resident members of the parish. This was not, however, always the case. Many Koma men I interviewed had enrolled as Iba Giya (Haroli novices: the phrase is possibly a compound of Iba (water) + ngiya (given) = purified in the sense of having been “given bespelled water” in Pureni on account of its reputation for producing the finest Haroli. Other Koma men had joined the Tobani cult to be with close friends (igiri yango) during the experience. People who have shared the same Haroli house often refer to themselves as manda mandagi (one hair people; ref.D.9:271). Membership was voluntary and could be renounced at will. Indeed, many males never went through Haroli, while others where expelled after breaching norms pertaining to contact with women. Men who fell into these latter classes appeared not to suffer any permanent social disadvantages.

The graded series of rites and Gamu, often taught and recited collectively, had two main functions: first, purification from contaminating influences; second, promotion of physical growth and beauty. In this latter context, glistening skin (migi mege), tautness of body or hair (payeyo), avoidance of protruding stomach (tini polaki hea) were among the valued states. The communal nature of Haroli was the group recitation of Gamu, and reciprocal aid in decoration. Application of face paint could not be executed by an individual himself, and men shared both ochres, oil and the task of “dressing” others.

Nevertheless, we should note that Haroli was also a socially sanctioned channel for competition to develop a fine ‘Manda (hair-shape). Most informants could recite spells to prolong the sleep of co-initiates that was believed to be detrimental to hair fertility. This same ambivalence between the acknowledged forms of communal reciprocity and individual interests can be shown to typify the domain of speech interaction. There was, then, competition to gain approbation from and audience of both men and women, to be acknowledged as “better than” rather than “the best”.

Excess was always constrained. The process of presentation culminated in infrequent public ‘displays’ – perambulations from the ‘wild’ to ‘domestic’ domains. This division of space is analogous, and is understood to parallel, bird of paradise behavior. The separation of home/nest grounds – anda – and public/display grounds – hama – is manifested in the first text cited in Appendix 5 (Mali Gamu), and in references to the display behavior of the Lawes’ Six-Wired Bird discussed further on.

Manda Tene or ‘ down-turned ‘everyday’ wig

Gradation of Haroli status was marked by the type of hair-shape grown and auxiliary items of adornment. Initially, novices would cultivate Manda Tene (‘source/origin hair’) using only charcoal (symbolizing ‘base/first’) for facial decor, and carrying pan-pipes (Gulu Pobe: signifying ‘playfulness’). When the hair was fully grown, and the requisite ritual stages completed, the same hair would be turned upwards into the Manda Hare (‘red hair-shape’). Bows – danda: connoting manhood/virility/maturity – replaced pan-pipes, use of color was permitted, and Gamu communicated to further enhance beauty. Conceptually, accession to Manda Hare symbolized a status transition from ‘immaturity’ to ‘maturity’, a rite de passage articulated and mediated by decorative icons. Manda were not wigs but ‘styled hair’ which was cut for wigs after renouncement of Haroli membership. The Hare is coloured with red ochre.

The use of black wigs is a modern innovation, and both shape and color may be explained as follows. Manda Hare represented the attainment of strength/potency inherent in the ‘life-blood’ (cf. Haroli origin myth) of the cult. It was an attempt of ritual acquisition of power, a natural property of woman, realized by used of red (daramabi: from darama – blood). It seems to relate back to the ambivalent conceptions of ‘blood’ (cf. Chapter 1) – fertility and death – and explains the utterance of “shame shame” (taga taga) when planting life-symbol plants. Haroli manifested the will of males to negotiate the primordial fecundity of the female. The assumption of cross-sex status is explicit. Young initiates in Ialuba were termed ‘igiri more’ (virgin boys), and ‘more’ is a term use normally only for girls.

The shapes presented by Manda Tene and Manda Hare are in positional opposition as “down-turned” and “up-turned” respectively. It is an opposition linguistically articulated by the term beregeda: to turn around (used also in the myth of death to oppose Mother of Life and Mother of Death). I suggest they represent the “non-display” and “display” forms of feathers in bird of paradise, a visual perception materially encapsulated. Furthermore, I believe we may single out the Superb Bird of Paradise as perhaps central in the imitative process. Several related factors provide varying degrees of validation for my hypothesis:-

(a) feathers that ring the edge of Manda should stand perpendicular to the rim, pointing outwards thus paralleling the “umbrella” fashion of feathers in bird display behavior. This is regarded as the essence of ‘good’ (baya) decoration in the context of Mali dances or previous Haroli presentations.

(b) The Superb crest is positioned centrally on the wigs, or hair creations, facing the front. The forehead is considered the locus of truth in Huli, it is situated ‘between the eyes’ emphasizing the visual natural of veracity. In an analogous fashion to the inversion of hair-shapes, the Superb crest reversed when worn on each Manda respectively. There are then two quite different levels of symbolic proposition.

Decorative Statements

The above iconographical collage intimates a statement of the form: underplay your achievement of ‘power’, restrain excess. This theme can be demonstrated to be culturally reinforced by two further ethnographic exemplifications. (1) The Huli say that when the Lesser Bird of Paradise (ref. Table 3) says “I’m good” then its performance will be bad; the converse is also verbalized. This same concept of excess can be shown, as I later argue, to apply to the sphere of speech interaction. (2) The necessity for modesty, for circumspection at the apogee of achievement is articulated in the following Gamu traditionally recited by Tobani Haroli when placing the Superb crest on Manda Hare only.

Informant: Landa of Tobani

I am shy of seeing men like the sons of the dogs
Wai and Wayeri
(Biango Wai Wayeri igini agagli hondo yurigi haro)
I am shy of seeing men like the sons of dogs
Pela and Pipi

(Pela Pibi la igini agali hondo yurigi haro)
I am shy of seeing men like the sons of the dogs
Ogobi and Agabi

(Ogobi Agabi la igini hondo yurigi haro).

My informant, a previous Mamgo of Tobani Haroli, explained to me that one was ‘shy’ of people when thus decorated like dogs who ‘slink’ away when men approach. This indicates the centrality of “excess” in both verbal and decorative display behavior, a parallel earlier commented upon.

(c) Linguistic evidence similarly emphasizes the fundamental role of the Superb in Huli thought. The species is denoted by the term Yagama, the root of which means “flying” (yaga) – an accentuation of the bird’s value in this ethno-ethology. This same concept of flight suffuses figurative references to children as Superb birds (cf. Appendix 7: verse 3). The import attached to this bird may reflect the fact that they constitute the most numerous of species of the family Paradisaeidae in Huli.

What appears to emerge from the above data is the manner in which decoration, like Gamu, is a form of symbol manipulation. I have set out in figure 6 a schema of those salient factors entailed by status transitions associated with Manda in Haroli.

Figure 6: Status Transitions

Manda Tene ——————————–> Manda Hare
pan-pipes (Gulu pobe) ——————–> bows (danda)
charcoal (ira pungua)———————-> red/yellow ochres/Tigasso Tree Oil
decoration Gamu not said —————-> decoration Gamu given
prohibited entry to Tigi Anda ————-> permitted entry to Tigi Anda-
when wearing brown feathers of the immauture cassowary
(Honagaga ———————————> talking to public prohibited
when wearing black feathers of a mature cassowary
(Yara Mindi) ———————————> talking to public permitted

The Huli thus conceptualize a homologous relation between developmental stages of man and cassowary by attainment of ‘speech’ and ‘adornment’ with specific feathers and bows. Importantly, red wigs, drums and cassowary feathers are removed from inside the house when cooking pig – actions symbolizing the avoidance of polluting ‘wild’ with ‘domestic’. These hierarchical facets of Tene and Hare are reflected in behavioral contexts outside of Haroli. The Manda Tene wigs (made after termination of Haroli membership) are “everyday” apparel, and when worn in Mali dance formations must take ‘second’ place to Hare wearers. In contrast, Manda Hare wigs are normally worn only on display/ceremonial occasions and ‘front’ phalanxes of Mali dancers. These behavioral observations intimate transitions along semantic dimensions of private/public, non-display/display paralleling the manner in which male Bird of Paradise ‘confront’ female birds. This is not theoretical abstraction but indigenous statement embodied in the following data.

Informant: Landa of Tobani

Text: Tagira Pialu Gamu – spell recited when coming out of Haroli into public view.

Like the black Lawes’ six-wired I am going
(Kandi yali mindini ale ale)
Like the brown Lawes’ Bird of Paradise I am going
(Kandi yali hone ale ale)
I am going to the cleared dancing ground at Igi
(Igi hama i mero)
I am going to the cleared dancing ground at Babagi
(Babagi hama i mero)
I am going to the cleared dancing ground at Gauwi
(Gauwi hama i mero)
I am going to the cleared dancing ground at Gambolo
(Gambolo hama i mero)
I am going to the cleared dancing ground at Nere
(Nere hama i mero)
I am going to the cleared dancing ground at Nerele
(Nerele hama i mero)

The Haroli initiate in the above Gamu explicitly identifies his public appearance with the movement of Lawes’ Six-Wired Bird onto the display ground (hama). The decorative features of Manda Hare itself (particularly shape), use of Lawes’ feathers (ref. Table 3 below) all express the invariant “umbrella fashion” in which male Birds of Paradise present their feathers to the females in display behavior.

This same idea of birds flocking to dance areas can be found in the Mali Gamu text cited in Appendix 5. The performer is identified with the Lesser bird while his performance is metaphorically conceived as “fruit” of various trees which are now ready for plucking. The audience game to the dance ground like other birds (mainly Lorikeet and Parotia types) to “pick” the dance, giving their approbation and admiration. In perspective, Haroli represents an exemplification and perpetuation of concepts relevant at all stages of Huli life-cycles. Transitions from immaturity to maturity, from ‘play’ to ‘assertion’ were symbolized both non-verbally – by replacement of pan-pipes with bows, of charcoal with red/yellow ochres – and verbally by acquisition of Gamu and permission to ‘talk’ to outsiders.

The differentiation of Manda was a decorative marking of these transitions in a ritual context, the meaning of which was retained ‘outside’ of the cult by separation of decorative contexts. Tene are ‘everyday” wigs, and Hare are ‘ceremonial’ wigs, these forms of non-verbal interaction expressing the display/non-display divisions of Haroli. These cultural forms of individual integrity and assertion serve as criteria for differentiating and defining the Huli from neighboring societies. They are expressed in formalized speech genres such as the pureremo (refer to the beginning of this chapter) and Damba Bi (ref. Appendix 9:49-64) cited herein. The centrality of ‘hair’ – in both child-rearing and Haroli – represents what we may call the Samson motif, pointing to the possible etymological relations between Manda (hair) and manda (knowledge). The equivalence is further incorporated in such genres as Wali O (death chants) in which women implore the dead “not to let your hair go bad” (Appendices 8:1:1-5:2; 8-11), urging a return of the spirit by entreating clouds to “bring the cut hair” (Appendix 8:2:8-11). Death is figuratively talked of as states of “cut hair”; similarly, departure from Haroli was initiated by a “cutting of hair” which was then utilized to make wigs. The kind of textual cross-references given here provide important insights into the way in which the motif of Man – Talk – Bird permeated cultural thought and action.

This discussion has highlighted the kinds of parallels, developed more fully in Chapter 4, that subsist between verbal and non-verbal confrontations and presentations of person. In this regard, applications of feathers and applications of talk are mutually interchangeable symbolic actions. The decorative codes are set, and circumscribe ‘creativity’. On the ‘inside’ (i.e. within Haroli) a man is primarily concerned with ‘development’, achievement of Hare status – to be like a ‘mature cassowary’. He may interact with ‘outsiders’ only when wearing the appropriate feathers. Once membership of Haroli has been terminated, the Manda forms are retained as markers of the ‘everyday’ and ‘epideictic’ contexts respectively; the cassowary feathers are now classed as ‘everyday’ apparel. The state of maturity has been attained, and the appropriate statements made. The decorative repertoire is now increased on the ‘outside’ (i.e., within the community), and the mundane cassowary feathers stand in opposition to Raggiana and Lesser feathers used primarily in display occasions.

The color symbolism of black charcoal/Manda Tene, and red and yellow/Manda Hare, that typified Haroli, assumes a new interpretation. There is then a continuity of semantic dimensions between Haroli and ‘outside’ domains, dimensions which contrast display/non-display occasions, and private/public zones. An an ideological level, the attainment of Manda (hair) is an acquisition of manda (knowledge). The predominant facet of the propositions made is that of symbolic inversion. In this context we might perhaps interpret the fundamental polarity of Manda Tene (base or origin/black) and Manda Hare (red/blood) as a manifestation of male/female opposition. The implicit duality of agnation and consanguinity is restated, but their dominance connotations are ritually inverted. Manda Hare is an explicit male recognition of the primordial fecundity of woman/blood, realized through symbolic manipulation of body and hair. Where we can elicit similar applications of these above dimensions, it may be that sets of homologous relationships are indigenously stated. The argument developed throughout the following chapters is that such a relationship obtains between domains of talk and decoration.

Chapter three is thus an attempt to progress from decorative evaluations to a detailed consideration of speech assessment. It considers stylistic facets, rather than thematic perspectives, of disputes presented in the body of this thesis. It represents an endeavor, for the Huli, to show not only that “it is important, for men, say, to be good at a certain way of speaking…(but) what would consist of an instance of activity in question, or what being good at it would be like”(Hymes 1971:71).

Haroli use of the Birds Of Paradise feathers
(An extract from Talk Never Dies: An Analysis of Disputes Among the Huli. A thesis submitted by Laurence R. Goldman for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University College, London. February, 1982., p. 126-138.)

Western Modernity Had Already Been Said

Portrait of a Huli child holding a balloon.
Michael Main Portrait
Michael Main has a PhD in anthropology from the Australian National University. Michael’s PhD research focused on the Huli population in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) highlands and the impact of ExxonMobil’s Papua New Guinea Liquefied Natural Gas project. Michael has a professional background in geology and environmental science, which underpins his interest and work in the anthropology of development and resource extraction.

by Michael Main

The first encounter that Europeans had with Huli people resulted in the now well- known description contained in the account of the Fox brothers that Huli were “inclined to be cheeky.” 1 To be fair, four years after the Fox brothers’ encounter, John Black wrote that the nearby Ipili were “very truculent and cheeky.”2 This disposition I think may better be glossed as one of supreme confidence. For Huli, the external material world did not possess cognition or intent. In the realm of the material (that is, apart from the immaterial world of dama and the like) agentive cognition was a uniquely human feature. The material existed for possession by Huli people. The attitude to new materialities was highlighted to me in an anecdote told by Wilma Norman during her visit to the ECPNG mission at Mananda (see note 22).

Old Grey used to come in, he was living next door. He’d come in and we had this little bush house and we had a couple of curtains over our shelves and he’d come in with this little bamboo thing and he’d lift up the curtains to show everyone what was going on, and you know he knew everything about everything. And then we had a short-wave radio and it came on and he jumped to the ceiling and shot out. The next day he came in and explained how it worked.

This provides an interesting comparison with Hides’ anecdote about his initial contact with Huli and their refusal of his gifts of steel axes, knives and cloth.3 Interviewed in 1985, a Huli named Telenge Yenape who was a participant in that encounter provided insight into their cautious response.4 The unfamiliarity with the objects, which they perceived to be the objects of spirits, meant that they were fearful that the objects might cause them harm. In particular, the agali haguene (‘head man’, see Chapter 8 for detail on the contemporary context of agali haguene), whom Hides’ party had named “Besoso”, had decided on that response, one which he required his men to follow. The encounter highlights the historical contingency of such moments. The personality of one man and his individual decisions prevented the axes, knives and a mirror from becoming part of a social encounter. The perception of the visitors as dama spirits and the accompanying fear, however, was commonly shared, even if the response to new materials was not. Telenge later found a spade, which he threw into the river out of fear, but another man who found a bush knife “who traded it for pigs.”5 When the Normans first walked into the Mananda valley in 1962, many of the locals were having their first encounter with what they perceived to be dama.

Wilmer Norman: “… when we first came down our white skins they thought we were ghosts.”
Alf Norman: “The women ran away.”

W: “They did they dropped everything and went screaming off into the bush when they first saw us…Dama, dama! But they seemed quite curious.”

The agali haguene who gave his land to the Normans for their mission, and who thought to explain to them how their short-wave radio worked, provides an insight into not simply the incorporation of new materialities into social networks, but the possession and ownership of function and provenance, to which Huli were entitled. Once initial perceptions of supernatural malevolence had dissolved, the new materialities were permitted incorporation into the Huli material world, the objects of which were most definitely owned. In many cases Huli incorporated these new materialities via reinterpretation of well-known proverbial sayings, which is a genre of Huli speech referred to as bi mabura, meaning “go around talk”.6 Huli proverbs are numerous and ubiquitous and often deeply ambiguous and mysterious. The proverbs also seem to be of uncertain origin, although when I enquired I was told that they had long ago been “released from the Kebeanda” by ritual leaders who undergo mysterious deliberations while performing various rites. Whatever their origin, I was taught to speak several proverbial forms of speech that had been interpreted as prophecies of the development and modernity that was to come. The interpretation of these prophecies that I provide are of course contemporary. However, the reinterpretation of proverbs and other forms of speech to encompass and possess the new materialities of Western influence is not at all recent. In this way the materially new is made to become part of Huli history, and encompassment within history is the method by which anything is owned.

New concepts of space

liri hama, landari hama, gawini hama, gambolo hama, lali hama.

Hama, the Huli word for area or designated space, is prefixed with various place names. Some of the same place names appear in a gamu spell recorded by Goldman7 called Tagira pialu that was performed by haroli bachelor cult members when putting themselves out for public display. Gambolo hama i mero, “I am going to the cleared dancing ground at Gambolo”. The contemporary meaning given to this set of recited open space names relates to the different types of space that arose during the post- contact era. Huli had never before experienced broad roads, or large cleared areas for government stations, runways, or lay down areas for equipment. In a landscape where every piece of occupied land was demarcated in some way, the new land uses represented a deep, structural change as the new demarcations were blind to traditional boundaries. This speech form, although not originally meant as a proverb, continues to be re-evaluated in response to the intense construction period of the PNG LNG project, in terms of “sites”. According to Michael Ango:

Liri hama – preferred site Landari hama – clearance site Gawini hama – construction site
Gambolo hama – proposed construction site
Lali – completed construction site

In this and other ways the material impact of the PNG LNG project, and of industrial development more broadly, is believed by Ango to have been prophesied by the holders of ritual knowledge.

New ways of seeing

Te mugula te gala
Eyes close eyes open

Te mugula te gala liri hama, landari hama, gawini hama, gambolo hama, lali hama.

At each new space you are going to close your eyes, then open them, then close them, then open them. This is taken to represent fast modes of transport that take you to new places very quickly. People have individual interpretations of the meaning of these prophecies. Michael Ango explained:

So open your and close your eyes, it means someone is giving you a lift. And then you go to the other location where you have never seen you will see them. Where you never see you will see them. So open and close eyes is the truck. The buses, the trucks, the vehicles. So like one whole day we can cover Hagen today. So the locations you have never seen, you have never seen the sights, you have never seen the locations, you have never seen the beautiful houses. You’re going to close your eyes and open again, you’re going to close eyes and open again. And that is the vehicle truck. The truck makes people open their eyes and close their eyes means they inside they are closed, when they are out they see different things where they never expected. So this was a prophecy.

This prophecy can also be interpreted to indicate rapid changes taking place in a single location over time. Joseph Abuli explained:

So I predict it this way. When he said open your eyes and close eyes. I see on the first place I see something new and then from there start another thing new. And then I see another thing new. And that place is changing.

Such an interpretation may as well be translated as “all that is solid melts into air.”

New forms of communication

ega bipiawi bi yalu ibira yagola bi halaga bi yalu taibiriago halaga

Bipiawi bird talk comes and carries the omen words

The bipiawi bird is a mythological bird that is part of a group of mythical bird names commonly used in stories.8 Bird names are often used rhetorically in stories that tell of an omen bird, or for example in the phrase ega Bibiya Bauwaya bi hadarebe? Which translates as “are you untying the talk of this Bibiya Bauwaya bird?” The Bibiya Bauwaya bird [unidentified] is known to be very talkative and this idiom is used to criticise a person who is talking too much.9 Bird names are commonly deployed in Huli rhetoric, and there are several birds considered to be very talkative.

MA: One of the prophesy words for our fathers has predicted in the kebeanda and we waited and now given to us and we now recall that it has been fulfilled, and it is practised, and it has happened – is the telephone. Communications. The communication is the telephone, the means of communication, any other means of communication as in telephone, radio, MTV, newspaper, Post Courier, TNT, American newsletter, Australian newsletter. All these are visions from our fathers. They call them ega bipiawi
JA: Ega is a bird and the name of that bird is bipiawi. Will bring the news. The responsibility of that bird its word is to bring the news in and bring the news out. That is namely ega bipiawi.

Bird talk has traditionally been a very important concept for Huli and is often interpreted to carry great meaning and significance.10 The early administration soon introduced a mail service, and newspapers were delivered as part of the regular air service. The belief in omen birds bringing information from afar has been interpreted to have been a foretelling of new and swift forms of communication being introduced with the capacity to bring in news from far away places.

Changing gender relations

Wali ma danda beregeda hene
Women before bow turned have

Women originally turned the bow. This bi mabura was recorded by Goldman as wali danda maga beregeda (women bow turned) where he revealed its meaning to be related to the belief in “the mythological primacy of woman who had to teach men to put the bow-string on the proper side…”.11 When women’s opinions were dismissed, this proverb was used to reinforce the right for women to express their opinions. But for me it was the interpretation that has been turned around.

JA: … just a little illustration. Okay, the man trying to put up his bow when he put the rope from here and this end. Cane rope. To pull the cane up this way and [attach to the top]. Later the arrow go to shoot on the animal or other things. But the bow, when he try to put up this rope, it breaks down and then hard to maintain this one, so while men are confused in his mind and sitting there the woman got up and said, ‘man you try and turn around this way and then put up this way.’ [i.e. he was trying to string his bow on the wrong side]. And that’s what the woman told the man. So that’s the parabolic words that will be released by the woman or… And this is a parable and these are prophetic words. So that parable fulfil which is really happening now.

This prophecy can be compared to an anecdote told to me by a friend in Tari, James Komengi, during an interview about tribal fighting. During an argument over land at Koroba, the Duna wife of one of the Huli men involved intervened and grabbed her husband’s home-made shotgun. At that point the argument over land was forgotten and switched to the issue of women holding guns. The men took horror at this vision of the end of the world, as had been prophesied by their forefathers. That this proverb has been divorced from its original meaning reveals a great deal about the availability of cultural resources that are detached from their origins and ready to be applied in novel ways. Novelty, originality and creativity themselves did not arise as a result of western influence and Huli have had an abundance of discursive resources to redefine and apply to the new.

Generational changes

Hale ne tapa ne hale na hole piria lene
Thirteen generations ear don’t have sit down uttered

The thirteenth generation won’t listen when you tell them to sit down.

MA: Hale ne tape is kids after 13 generation. Hale ne tapa is 13 generation will not obey the laws given by their father and mother. So actual that had happened, it is now practising. Beyond me are practicing. Like father and mother used to discipline us saying, ‘where are you going?’ This is no longer exist. ‘What are you doing?’ This is no longer exist. ‘Why are you away from the house for maybe a week? Where have you been, what are you doing?’ And my father in time of him we used to be questionable. This is not done today. This is partly ignorance. We never smoked drugs. The people are smoking drugs. The girls are not allowed to go in the disco. In the taverns, in the clubs. They have never known that. They don’t entertain in the sexual provided rooms. It’s not public to them, that’s a privacy with them hide them away. But they go do it in public. Photographing.
JA: Where did this axe come from? We don’t know. But our ancestors, our fathers they now wait… Like the stones that we have the liru kui, ni habane12 and these things, that’s the thing which they crack the wheat, the corn or whatever you call it. The wheats. When this thing came over to our land the Hela here they now each generation which been came here. Especially we are the Duguba or Huli people living here. They are now the generation. So the first generation takes place, the second place is this man, the third place is this man, the fourth is, the fifth and maybe there are sixth and they release this word out. And seven will come, eight will come, nine, ten eleven will come. Twelve will come and go but thirteen the words are doing that on that generation. They will [come] the final time. You will see different things. Different events will appear on that time. And the different thing which they have mentioned on that time it’s appeared now, it’s. That we can see. All this thirteen generation we see this gas is coming out from our land and it’s going out. Those are the changes we see. On this thirteenth generations we see the wrong things which our sons and daughters doing they’re turning themselves you see. And the man killing his brother and the man is killing his wife. Now the wife is killing her husband or brother or second wife these things happen critical things that is happening around in the community. That is a fulfilment of the prophecy of our father. And we believe this way it’s really happened.

Joseph’s cryptic explanation of this proverb is crucial. He is comparing an earlier phase of newly introduced materials, when stone axes and other stone artefacts first arrived, to the later phase of new materialities when western modernity arrived. This interpretation is cognisant of Huli notions of an historical moment following the introduction of sweet potato and the raising of large numbers of pigs when people became “modern humans”.13 Although this particular form of historical knowledge seems to have largely been forgotten, there is consistency in the belief in a time of the introduction of stone implements, which are now widely believed to have been introduced from Israel, where they were used to harvest wheat. Joseph claims that the proverb was released during the sixth generation, and the current thirteenth generation is experiencing the changes as predicted. This speaks to an historical consciousness and a notion of social change that has been a feature of Huli culture for many generations.

Life becomes easier

ayage kuaminini gelebeharibi
Palm bark moving Easily move along the bark of the palm

JA: That means you don’t hurt yourself while you are walking on this. You just freely you go. It’s very comfortable.
MA: Comfortable moving. Comfortable moving.

JA: Like you see on their times they were fighting with the evil spirits and these things, cutting their eels and lakes and hands and clean the pigs and giving to the devils and these things. So far many things we had been done on our times. But there is a time coming just like that ayage kuaminini gelebeharibi. Means that time you will not remember what is really happening now. On our time here. Our fathers have said. You will never remember. Because you see something new and it’s very comfortable to you. So that time you will forget everything and then you will just eat everywhere, sleep everywhere, walk everywhere. You lost yourself.

This proverb is similar to the English expression “smooth sailing”. Western modernity has brought the promise of relief from manual labour, the drudgery of making gardens, raising pigs, and living in bush material homes. Travel is easier and nobody needs to be concerned about dama spirits and ritual sacrifice.

Many of the proverbs are Delphic in nature and give me reason to question the psychological state of those who released them, if in fact such a process did take place.14

The proverbs are double-edged; they simultaneously speak of material betterment and warn of moral decline. This is consistent with traditional, and now largely forgotten, Huli cosmological concerns with bringing about the next mbingi event, and the (not forgotten) belief in entropic decline of the moral and physical world. The warnings of moral decline relate to the breakdown of social structures: “You lost yourself”, compared to the observation given to me by a friend in Tari that Huli society is “not intact”; loss of knowledge, of mana, of there being a logical superstructure to social conduct that holds any prospect of a good life together.

The shock of the new administration was absorbed by the depth and flexibility of Huli historical understandings about themselves, and this process is ongoing, especially in light of the PNG LNG project (see Chapter 8). Huli confidence was based on an understanding of themselves as supreme holders of mana and historical knowledge, not only of themselves, but of all their known neighbours. Anything new must logically have been part of the Huli telos, and Huli possession of the new was thus an entitled right.

(An extract from, “Until Hela Becomes a City”, The Western Encounter with Huli Modernity. Michael Main. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Australian National University. Canberra, April, 2020., pp. 89-101.)

  1. Bryant Allen and Stephen Frankel, “Across the Tari Furoro,” in Like People You See in a Dream: First Contact in Six Papuan Societies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 98. []
  2. Alex Golub, “Making the Ipili Feasible: Imagining Local and Global Actors at the Porgera Gold Mine, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea” (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 2006), 34. []
  3. Jack Hides, Papuan Wonderland (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1973 [1936]), 82-85. []
  4. Bryant Allen and Stephen Frankel, “Across the Tari Furoro,” in Like People You See in a Dream: First Contact in Six Papuan Societies, 105. []
  5. Ibid., 102. []
  6. 31 Laurence Goldman, “Talk Never Dies: an analysis of disputes among the Huli,” 143. []
  7. Ibid., 134. []
  8. Laurence Goldman, pers. comm. []
  9. Laurence Goldman, “Huli Proverbs, Expressions and Sayings,” (Unpublished manuscript for ‘Regional Myths in Southern Highlands’ Conference, ANU, September 1994). []
  10. Laruence Goldman, “Talk Never Dies: an analysis of disputes among the Huli,” 330. []
  11. Laruence Goldman, Talk Never Dies: The Language of Huli Disputes, 232. []
  12. Ritual stones. Liru = “stone” kui = “bone/real”. Liru kui include a wide variety of stones. Ni habene
    = “sun’s egg” and refers to shiny, spherical stones that were highly regarded and thought to be very powerful. See Chris Ballard, “The Death of a Great Land: Ritual, History and Subsistence Revolution in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.” Vol 2, p. 35
  13. Ibid., Vol. 1, 112. []
  14. I was told by Michael Ango of a type of plant known as habe habe, which translates as “live forever”. I never saw this plant but was told that it is small and grows in the forest. Snakes are said to eat this leaf and that is why they don’t die, rather they shed their skin and keep on living. According to Michael, chewing the habe habe leaf results in a changed psychological state, altering one’s concept of time and giving the consumer great energy. Eating this leaf is said to make a long, arduous journey much shorter. Michael also said that most people would not be aware of this leaf, and that it was information he had learned from his father. If this plant does exist, then it is possible that it had a role in secretive ceremonies held in the major kebeandas and had an hallucinogenic influence on the composition of proverbs. But this is pure speculation. []

Transformative Powers

A red bird of paradise.

by Ron Meshanko

The Creation myth reveals that pigs, possums and birds issued from Honabe’s menstrual discharge. It also shows the primeval presence of fish, which, as explained in the Ni and Hana myth, were created from Hana’s genitalia. We have previously seen that the three forms of animal life that flowed from Honabe’s menstrual discharge reveal the creative powers of that supernaturally charged element. This article will describe the importance of these animals, their symbolic association with other symbols, and important mythemes.

The Huli distinguish over twenty-five species of birds, many of which provide plumes for bodily ornamentation. The bird of paradise plumes, which adorn the top of ceremonial wigs, are the most prized of all the feathers. However the bird of paradise did not exist piganengi (from the beginning of time) as it was created from a frog. (See the Legend of the Bird of Paradise.)

The legend reveals the transformative power of animals. They have gamu power to change from one form of existence to another. This transformational power is also depicted in the Haroli myth wherein the young girl, Padume, changes into a snake, lizard, tree and finally back into a woman again. This concept is important for our study for Honabe’s primeval menstrual blood most likely underwent the same manner of transformation to create not only animal life, but bows and arrows, hills, trees, fire and water as well. The birds and possums that re-created the human species after the flood also underwent a similar transformation. This is apparent in the Origins of Man myth wherein Tia Angibuna (mother possum) marries a man and gives birth to the first two Huli men after the flood. Tia Angibuna had transformed herself into a woman in order to conceive and bear the first humans.

This transformational power is also evident in Huli gamu spells that emphasize transference of bird qualities to humans:

“O go like the wild cassowary bird,

go like the wild dog,

go like the wild dog.

I call upon the Raggiani bird for their speech,

Give the child the gift of fluent speech.

I call upon the Raggiani bird for flight,

give the child the strength to run strong.”

The desired qualities of the birds, pigs and dogs are magically transferred to the child in order to bring about a transformation in the child. Transformational power is also evident in many other Huli gamu rites previously mentioned.

The legend of the bird of paradise also reveals the presence of the dema concept which is a type of transformative power. The dema is a life form which is sacrificed, often of its own will, to give the abundance of life to humans. The legend shows the friendly frog offering himself unto death in order to transform the boy into a handsome man, and create the highly valued birds of paradise and his bride. The dema concept is also found in the Haroli myth and the story of Baya Baya.

The bodily parts of Baya Baya were buried throughout the Huli lands. His tongue was buried at Daberanda gebeanda near Kupari and his head was buried at Bepenete. Some of the Huli believe that Baya Baya is a type of Christ figure. Indeed, the former gebeali at the Daberada site calls the tongue of Baya Baya the tongue of Christ. The Huli people see him as Christ. He reminds the people of Jesus’ death and redemption, of achieving something good through first killing it”. The Creation myth contains the rationale for this concept for the primordial flood destroyed all life and paved the way for a new creation. Thus, the story of Baya Baya, as well as the legend of the bird of paradise reveal that sacrificial death has life-giving transformational power. The same theme is found in the Haroli myth wherein Padume’s blood is shed to produce the sacred bog iris plant which bears her name and also, the bamboo tubes that give health and fertility to initiates.

This brief excursus has shown that birds, and all animal life, have transformational powers which are used to benefit human beings. The Creation myth, while not explicitly stating the concept, implies that Honabe’s menstrual blood underwent a similar transformation to create birds, and other animal forms. Birds also underwent transformation to create the first humans after the flood, the ancestors of the Huli people. Finally, we have seen that birds have desirable qualities which humans transfer to themselves through gamu rites. The Huli desire to transform themselves into full human beings with the help of the transformational help of birds, pigs and possums.


The Huli classify more than six different species of possums which are used as a head-dress and food for elderly men. We have already seen that a possum transformed itself into a woman to conceive and bear the first Huli after the flood. The importance of possums is also seen in the Kelote dindi gamu rite wherein possums are buried in the depe and halepe houses during ritual enactments of the Creation myth. The tree-climbing possums are also believed to show the way to dalugeli (a Huli version of heaven) thus signifying their sacred character.

(Continue to Pigs, Possums and Fish in Huli Culture)

Transformations in Huli Ritual & Society

Two ancestral Huli skulls at a grave box.

by Dr. Chris Ballard, Australian National University

(An extract from The Death of a Great Land: Ritual, History and Subsistence Revolution in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea; Australian National University, Canberra, 1995). pp. 237 – 258.)

Dr. Chris Ballard, ANU
Dr. Chris Ballard is an Associate Professor at Australian National University. He is Senior Fellow of the School of Culture, History & Language, School of Culture, History & Language.

His current interests revolve around indigenous Melanesian historicities – their transformation through cross-cultural encounters; their representation through various media, including film and fiction; and their articulation with contemporary challenges such as land reform, large natural resource projects, and cultural heritage management planning. He is also engaged, together with Bronwen Douglas, in an ARC Discovery Project on “European Naturalists and the Constitution of Human Difference in Oceania”. Publications under preparation include an edited collection on the history of racial science in Oceania, and a monograph on violence and first contact in the New Guinea Highlands.

I briefly outline in this section the possibility that ritual, as the set of practices which most clearly addresses and articulates the cosmological framework of shared meanings that constitute Huli culture, offers a powerful lens through which to discern the changing structure of the relationship between Huli and their environment.

Perhaps the most obvious and immediate links between ritual and production are pig herds. Although there is some suggestion that other media of exchange such as possums and tree wallabies were formerly an appropriate sacrifice in the most ancient rituals, all of the rituals still being performed in the middle of this century required pigs, or more accuratley pork, in varying quantities.1 Pig fat and pig blood, in particular, were employed as the substances establishing or renewing the ties of exchange between supplicant humans and ancestral or other dama spirits; but it is the history of changes in the movement of the remaining pork produced through this sacrificial process that is of particular interest to this analysis.

It should be no surprise, given the regionally atypical forms of ritual leadership and the degree of elaboration evident in Huli cosmology, to find that the history of Huli ritual is extremely complex. Rather than sketch the full extent of that history, insofar as it is known, I seek to contrast two major sets of ritual forms, the ancient gebe (“ancestor”) and dindi gamu (“earth spell”) and the more recent tege pulu2, as a means of tracing the broad historical trajectory of change in the relationship between ritual and production; in addressing this specific aspect of Huli ritual, description of the rituals here is limited largely to the issues of leadership and the deployment of pigs and pork.3

Gebe and dindi gamu

The related gebe and dindi gamu rituals are undoubtedly ancient, at least within the temporal reckoning of Huli historicity.4 The constitution of these rituals is entwined with that of the landscape and the emergence of the earliest ancestral dama in the region, and their most immediate purposes were the restoration of the fortunes and fertility of the land and of people in the face of the tendency in both towards entropy (B2.5 and Chapter B5). Both gebe and dindi gamu rituals were still current in the Tari region during the early 1970s but, under pressure from the various missions and due to wholesale conversion to Christianity of the bulk of the Huli population since the 1950s, neither ritual has since been performed.

Gebe performances can be regarded as the minimal components of the much larger dindi gamu rituals. Gebe was performed at fixed sites, the gebeanda residences of former ancestors, both human and dama. The nature of gebe rituals varied considerably from clan to clan, with each performing lineage transmitting its own traditions of practice from generation to generation. Generally, however, gebe rituals involved the sacrifice of a small number of pigs, the blood and fat from which would be poured over stones or other features associated with particular male and female ancestors in order to attract their favour. Gebeali, specific individuals from the families or lineages within which traditions of ritual performance were maintained, would undertake the performance either in their own individual interest, or at the behest of others, who would then supply the necessary pigs and a payment in the form of cowrie shells. Attendance of these rituals at gebeanda ritual sites was restricted largely to senior men related to the lineage owning the gebeanda, to the extent that ritual sponsors from other lineages were often not permitted to observe performances.

Dindi gamu was a complex of rituals which effectively played out the logic of the smaller, local gebe rituals on a far larger stage, with many other elements incorporated within each performance. Performances of dindi gamu at the major gebeanda ritual centres, or dindi pongone gebeanda (Table B4, Figure B10), addressed fertility on a regional or universal scale. As with gebe, the details of dindi gamu performances varied from gebeanda to gebeanda, but certain common themes appear to have been established through a process of regional linkage; indeed, there appears to have been a historical extension of the regional influence of dindi gamu to non-Huli neighbours along, and probably in support of, lines of regional trade centred upon the Tari region (Ballard 1994).

Leadership in gebe and dindi gamu rituals was thus descent-based, with performances held at specific gebeanda locations and orchestrated by individuals from a limited set of prescribed lineages. The spells (gamu) and knowledge (mana) required for performance were transacted between generations, often with payment involved, but not beyond a closely bounded circle of kin. Effectively, the gebe and dindi gamu rituals were controlled by a small elite; there is considerable genealogical evidence to suggest that gebeali families from the major dindi pongone gebeanda such as Gelote, Bebenite, Tundaga and Bebealia Puni intermarried extensively.5

The numbers of pigs involved and the frequency with which different gebe and dindi gamu rituals were performed are difficult to establish with any certainty, but some impression of the scale of pig production required for these rituals can nevertheless be gained. Gebe rituals typically involved between one and no more than three pigs, referred to collectively as gebe nogo. In sponsored performances, these would be supplied to the gebeali or gebe gamuyi (“gebe spell-holder”) by the gebe anduane sponsor. One pig was always consecrated to the relevant gebe dama spirit being supplicated, with the other two sacrificed for the dama Hana Wali and for the liru ritual stones.

The circulation of pigs at dindi gamu performances was more complex. The performing gebeali lineage or lineages would acquire and provide a single “sacred” pig, known at Gelote as iba tiri nogo and at Bebenite as nogo yabe; in both cases, there were specific requirements about the size, type and colour of the pig and its source. These “sacred” pigs were then killed and cooked within the gebeanda, with half being thrown to the iba tiri spirits in the Girabo and Dagia rivers and the other half cut into small portions for the dindi bayabaya rite; these portions were then distributed to the different swamps in the region and buried to replenish the fertile iba substance of the land (Chapter B5).

The gebe nogo contributions of sponsoring clans at dindi gamu rituals (known at Bebenite as burugu abi nogo) typically consisted of between 15 and 25 pigs for each performance. These would also be killed in the gebeanda, and their flesh mixed and cooked with that of the iba tiri nogo or nogo yabe which would impart some of its qualities to the flesh of the “secular” pigs. Small cuts of this pork would be offered to ancestral dama spirits related to the gebeali clans, but the bulk of the meat was then consumed by the gebeali and their families, both inside and outside the gebeanda.

Gebe and dindi gamu rituals were not performed regularly but were initiated as the perceived need arose in response to food shortages, unaccountable illnesses or deaths, or general ill fortune in such matters as war. On the basis of estimates of the years in which dindi gamu was performed at Gelote and Bebenite, it is possible to suggest that the major dindi gamu rituals were undertaken as often as every 5 to 10 years, on average. Smaller gebe rituals would have been performed much more regularly at the minor gebeanda sites, but the overall impression gained from the numbers of pigs involved at these performances suggests that the scale of production required to support gebe and dindi gamu rituals was not great. This conclusion is supported by the contrasting impression of the deployment of pigs in the more recent tege pulu ritual to.6, but eyewitness descriptions published in two popular books on travel in the Highlands give some sense of proceedings in the ritual (Gaisseau 1957, Bjerre 1964). ))

Tege pulu

Tege pulu (generally referred to in abbreviated form as tege) was the most enduring of a large number of experiments in ritual launched by Huli, during the period from the late 19th century up until contact, in response to the perceived failure of dindi gamu and other rituals such as yabo and gomia to maintain the fertility of the land and of people.7 The evidence of land degradation in the form of declining crop yields on the poorer soils, the advent of large-scale warfare and an apparent increase in both epidemics and famines are collectively described in terms of the emergence of a host of new, unrelated and unremittingly malevolent dama spirits (Chapter BS, Frankel1986). In effect, tege replaced gebe in prominence on a local scale when the origins and effects of this “epidemic” of misfortune could no longer be ascribed to gebe ancestors and were sought instead amongst new, unrelated dama spirits. The emergence of tege did not result in the abandonment of gebe and dindi gamu performances, but rather augmented them and, in so doing, effected something of a revolution in Huli society.

Tege was a remarkable amalgam of materials, rites and dances from different sources, reassembled to form a novel ritual. Tege performances incorporated rites that were both ancient, such as homa haguene, the sacrifice for and repainting of ancestral skulls, and others that were entirely new, such as guruma igiri, a series of rites of passage for boys and young men. The origins of tege are fairly clearly ascribed to Dagabua clan at the Gelote dindi pongone gebeanda, where the gebeali Yaliduma­ Wabira is said to have inadvertently released the epidemic of malevolent dama spirits. Hoyamo clan, afflicted by these dama, were the first to pay for or sponsor a performance of tege, which was performed for them by Dagabua in Dagabua parish; Maiya-Tawa of Hubi clan then sponsored a second performance, as tege tene (“the source of the tege”) or tege anduane (“the owner [literally: “breast-giver”] of the tege”), in Hubi parish for the death of a kinsman. There is exceptional concordance amongst the estimates for the ages of these and other individuals said to have been alive as adults when the dama emerged and tege was initiated, and it is possible to assign these events fairly firmly to the period between ?1870 AD and ?1885 AD.

From the Haeapugua basin, tege spread rapidly to most of the other Huli basins, reaching Mogoropugua in about ?1910 AD; the services of tege ritual specialists from Mogoropugua were then acquired by Duna-speakers of the Upper Tumbudu valley, where tege appears to have been adopted as the Duna kiria ritual (Modjeska 1991:245f.). Along the outer margins of Huli territory, debate over whether or not to adopt tege had varying results: HuH-speakers of the Komo basin enthusiastically took up tege (where it was recorded by a number of patrol officers in the 1950s); there was a single performance of tege in the Lebani basin when, in the late 1940s, Lebani residents “bought” tege from Mogoropugua and performed it in an apparently successful attempt to stem the loss of life ascribed to the depredations of dama; but in the Benalia valley and amongst the scattered Huli communities along the southern slopes of Mt Gereba, tege was decisively rejected.8 Although Benalia residents frequently attended performances of tege held elsewhere, they decided, as Habo Pebe (Hobi tene) revealingly phrased it in 1990, that they preferred to continue fighting rather than adopt tege and the truces it entailed. The last tege performances appear to have taken place in the mid-1960s, after which pressure from the various missions resulted in its total abandonment.

Unlike gebe and dindi gamu, the performance of tege appears to have been remarkably homogeneous across its full geographical extent. The same reasons given for the performance of tege (war, famine, unaccountable death, illness and suicide) are widely cited. The primary goal of tege was to identify correctly through dream, and then seek to appease through performance, the responsible dama. This dama, which could be either unrelated or ancestral, was the focus of tege sacrifices, together with other principal members of the Huli pantheon, including Ni (the sun), Iba Tiri and Dama Dindi Tene or Dindi Ainya. A standard sequence of rites, performed at irregular intervals over a period of years, was universally observed: the initial himugu and deba rites were followed by the ega rite and culminated in the full performance of tege pulu.9

Tege pulu performances typically took place in gardens within the parish where the dama was held to have been resident; significantly, tege was not performed within the major gebeanda centres. Over a period of four days and under terms of truce between any warring groups, numerous rites were conducted within a fenced enclosure to which no women were admitted. Women, however, were permitted to camp just beyond the perimeter for the duration of the ritual, and most men were freely admitted to the enclosure, practices which stand in strong contrast to the secrecy and limits on access associated with the gebe and dindi gamu rituals. Unmarried women and married men also met at daweanda courtship ceremonies, though the buildings for these were constructed beyond the tege perimeter fence.

As an experiment with ritual, tege was also an experiment in social order. Leadership in the tege ritual sequence constituted a significant departure from the forms of leadership described for gebe and dindi gamu. Inplace of the narrowly prescribed and essentially hereditary offices of the older rituals, tege leadership consisted of a shallow hierarchy with a multiplicity of offices and roles. A limited number of men known as liruali (“liru ritual stone-men”) were said to have held a complete grasp of the requisite mana and gamu for tege.10 These liruali operated as instructors for the actual officiants in tege, the uriali, of whom between one and four were typically present for a tege performance. Gamu spells and mana knowledge were exchanged in payment between liruali and uriali; with sufficient experience and knowledge, uriali would ultimately perform as liruali in their own right.11 Significantly, there appears to have been no kinship requirement between liruali and uriali, though performing uriali at a specific tege were conventionally drawn in even numbers from tene and yamuwini kin within the performing parish; this freedom of transaction of tege knowledge presumably accounts for the exceptional uniformity of tege performance across Huli territory. Under instruction from the liruali and uriali, a large number of men and boys acted in a wide range of specified roles both prior to and throughout the four days of the tege performance; indeed, most of the large number of men attending each tege would have been acting in at least one of these roles. Women were also accorded named roles, as the mothers of the guruma igiri initiates and as nogo ainya (“pig mothers”), the providers of many of the pigs killed during the ritual.

If tege served to expand dramatically the pool of potential officiants, who were no longer drawn solely from genealogically specified lineages, it also widened the net for potential sponsors for ritual performance. As a ritual performed largely in the (male) public eye, the prestige of sponsorship accrued to a much greater degree to the tege anduane sponsor than was the case for gebe anduane sponsors; within the local area around a tege ritual, the performance was generally described as “X’s tege” and through successive sponsorship, X gained renown as an agali homogo, a rich man capable of marshalling the efforts of others in the production of wealth. A brief review of the movements of pigs and pork associated with tege reinforces the impression of a transformation in the role of the sponsor, including the notable emergence in tege of women as ritual sponsors, albeit under the auspices and name of a male relative.

All exchanges of pigs in tege took the form of pork; it was apparently axiomatic for all Huli ritual that pork, rather than live pigs, be the medium of transaction. But competitive exchange need not require live pigs and a highly significant element of tege was precisely its role as a vehicle for competitive exchange between groups led by tege sponsors.12

Detailed reconstruction of payments made at eight tege sponsored or received by Tani Lebe subclan at Haeapugua between 1951 and 1954 suggests that an average of 72 pigs were killed at each tege (ranging between a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 120). Not all of these belonged to the tege anduane; instead, he solicited contributions from his kin, affines and parish coresidents, forming as it were a tege project group (B4.5). The tege anduane himself typically contributed between 10 and 20 pigs, usually representing the largest single contribution and thus assuring that the tege was sponsored under his name. Of the total number of pigs assembled for each tege, approximately one quarter was given in payment to the officiating liruali and uriali, a second quarter was given to the host lineage by the tege anduane and his sponsoring lineage, and the remainder were provided by each lineage for their own consumption or redistribution. The overall volume of pigs required for tege cycles is, again, difficult to calculate with much confidence. Involvement by Tani Lebe in eight tege over four years (of which they sponsored five) required an estimated 303 pigs from Lebe, or 76 pigs each year. Lebe are only one of nine lineages of comparable size in the Hewago clan or subclan of the Tani superclan (Appendix B6: Gen.3); as many as 600 or 700 pigs may thus have been committed annually to tege by Tani Hewago and in addition to this must be reckoned the usual flow of pigs in payment for brideprice and other forms of compensation.

The element of competition in tege derived from the assumption that sponsorship by lineage A of a tege performed by lineage B would be reciprocated with an equal or larger number of pigs in a second tege in which the roles of sponsor and officiant were reveresed; from such evidence as I have, it appears that increased returns were in fact very rare and that equivalent reciprocity was the effective rule. The competitive “edge” in this system of apparently direct reciprocity stemmed instead from the strategic timing of sponsorship; as former sponsors explained to me, the key to “winning” at tege, or gaining the prestige of the indebtedness of one’s hosts, was to muster one’s resources in secret and spring a sponsorship upon the host lineage when they were least equipped to respond quickly with a return tege.

Obviously, there was a complex web of individual debt creation and settlement at play under the general rubric of tege exchanges, and I do not intend here to trace the full significance for Huli social structure of the directions in which these payments flowed.13 Instead the point that needs to be made for my argument is that tege represented an occasion for pig exchange on a scale unprecedented in Huli history. Further, it was an explicitly ritual occasion, insofar as the pigs were exchanged as pork, in contrast to the practice of compensation payments such as brideprice or compensation after war where the bulk of the transaction was, and still is, conducted with live pigs (Table B21).


The contrast set up here between gebe/dindi gamu and tege allows us to perceive a rough trajectory in the transformation of both leadership and the organization and form of consumption of pig production over the broad period of the last two centuries. Although all three of the “secular” leadership types listed in B4.5 (homogo, wai biaga, bi laga) are deemed to be ancient, it is possible to propose that there was a general shift during this period in the balance of prestige associated with different forms of leadership.

Thus types of leadership such as the clan headman (agali haguene) and ancestral ritual leader (gebeali) which were founded upon descent-based forms of knowledge, such as clan origins (dindi malu), genealogies (malu) and the spells and knowledge associated with gebe and dindi gamu rituals, declined in significance, insofar as that can be gauged by their ability to marshal the labour of others in the form of pigs. In their place, but not to the point of their exclusion or extinction, types of leadership which drew their status from generally transactable knowledge (liruali and uriali in the tege ritual) and a degree of renown achieved through the ability to marshal labour (such as homogo in pig transactions or wai biaga in warfare and its attendant compensations) assumed a new prominence. Implicit in this transformation and in the increase in the commitment of pigs to tege rituals, is a significant increase in the demand for and production of pigs. Equipped with this insight, it is possible to return to the problem of explaining wetland reclamation at Haeapugua with a fresh alternative with which to account for both the impetus behind wetland reclamation and the historic significance of sweet potato for the Huli.

  1. Possums were still employed in more recent rituals, such as the opening sequences of tege pulu (described below); but, like the reenactment of the gardening technology of the earliest ancestress and the consumption of lowland sago in the inner sanctum at the Gelote ritual site (Section B4.2), the use of possums is a conscious invocation of a deeper past. []
  2. Despite numerous enquiries, no gloss was offered for the term tege pulu, other than that pulu is the call made during the opening stages of the ceremony; a remote possibility is that the term tege is cognate with the term for the ceremonial exchanges of the central and eastern Enga, tee (Feil1984) []
  3. 7. In conjunction with my general research into Huli oral history, the history of Huli ritual was documented in considerable detail; the accounts of dindi gamu and tege pulu provided here are considerably abridged, but draw on this extensive body of documentation. []
  4. Here I am forced to contradict Glasse’s (1965:46) assertion that dindi gamu was adopted from the Duguba early this century; in this he appears to conflate elements of a single ritual performance of the dindi bayabaya rite at Bebenite with the larger dindi gamu ritual. []
  5. With so small a ritual elite, the risk of knowledge loss was ever-present; though a single gebeali generally presided over ritual performances at each gebeanda, other agnates within his lineage and even certain of his aba kin collectively retained a full knowledge of the requisite mana and gamu. Despite this strategy, the dysentery epidemic of the 1940s devastated many of the gebeali families – a blow which may have contributed to the speed of the collapse of dindi gamu following administrative and missionary contact in the 1950s. []
  6. here is no thorough ethnographic analysis of tege available in published form (brief references to tege are made by Glasse (1968), Frankel (1986) and Goldman (1983 []
  7. I have briefly described elsewhere a number of the other ritual experiments and considered the adoption of Christianity by Huli as the most recent in this sequence of experiments (Ballard 1992b). []
  8. One of the earliest written accounts of tege, by Patrol Officer C.E.T.Terrell in 1953, also referred to the Benalia area as a ‘noteworthy exception’ to the universal practice of tege amongst Huli {Terrell 1953). []
  9. The ega and himugu rites which preceded tege appear to have functioned largely as a process of divination. They were not widely attended and the pigs provided by the sponsor were typically three or less in number. []
  10. 14. The majority of these liruali appear to have been based in the central Tari and Haeapugua basins:
    Glasse (1965) has suggested that as many as 12/iruali directed proceedings at a single tege in the Tari basin, and I have documented and confirmed through different accounts the names of 26 different liruali who co-ordinated tege performances in the Haeapugua basin; but Terrell (1953) recorded that only two liruali were known in the entire lower Tagali valley and Komo basin area, and liruali were never resident in the Lebani basin. []
  11. 15. A standard payment made to a liruali by an uriali in exchange for tege knowledge consisted of 60 (“four fifteens”) strings of cowrie shell (dange hende). []
  12. An absence of competitive or cyclical exchange ceremonies amongst Huli had previously been asserted by ethnographers of the Huli (Goldman 1981b:61; Frankel1986:44) and has passed into the regional literature (e.g. Feill987:240), but the scope proposed here for competitive (albeit equivalent) and cyclical exchange in tege has since been confirmed by L.Goldman (pers.comm. 1993) []
  13. Perhaps the most significant observation to be made in this respect is that tege competition was conducted largely between lineages standing in relationship as aha to one another (Chapter B3) []