by Dr. Laurence Goldman

I return now to the paradox earlier stated of veiled and straight speech, and how these are part of the internal configuration of concepts as to how disputes should be settled. The problem is explained by the fact that Huli contextualise the use of covert speech. Implicit in the classification of discourse genres is a structuring of those occasions when ‘veiled’ talk is appropriate and inappropriate; areas of discretionary use of particular speech patterns are prescribed and limited. The Huli classification system I set out in Table 5, the terms connoting a co-occurrent cluster of features pertaining to style, content, mode of delivery and tempo. The phrases are defined by a high degree of lexical predictability and abandonment of creativity which Bloch (1975) noted was typical of formalised oratory. It is evident from an examination of Table 5 that where yobage(veiled talk) occurs as a defining characteristic of a speech genre, the discourse form itself is very specifically bound in terms of the contextual determination of use. The genres Dawe, Damba Bi and Wali O pertain to occasions – of display, performance and pose. In situations where the settlement of a conflict is enjoined, there occurs explicit attestation that one should talk “straight” and “open”, and not in yobage or “hidden talk”.

Rhetoric and oratory thus represent an ego-centred ‘display’ of language perceived as counter-productive in phases of conflict resolution in which the sharing of talk is possible only when speech is not veiled. As modes of artistic expression, both verbal (talk) and non-verbal (decoration) ‘display’ are constrained by concepts of ‘excess’. The Huli understand the contextual circumscription of speech genres and the resultant perceptions of speech aberrations are manifested in verbal techniques of ‘disapproval’. Both talk (bi) and decoration (yari) are modal aspects of a continuum which defines limits of display/non-display and assertion/excess. Those terms listed in Table 5 can thus equally be utilised as labels for discourse with derogatory implications. Yobage, for example, expresses veiled intention or statements as in Damba Bi or Dawe. These are socially sanctioned uses. The term may, however, be employed with the import of disapprobation for talk that is misleading or oblique (ref.D.9:72-73;147-148), or as an injunction to others to speak “openly”(ref.D.7:93-94;D.9:48; 91-92;97-98;380-381). Where discourse is seen as a facsimile of some speech form, then these features of ‘theatricality, of over one talk are shown by the use of innuendo, sarcasm and terminology to be inappropriate. Reference may be made to my earlier remarks concerning the occurrence of the _terms Malu and Mana by Helago in D.2(4;163; D.9:192-193).

Participants who attempt to dominate proceedings with long monologues are censured with the phrase Damba bi larebe? -“Are you making Damba bi,?”. The implication is that the speech is inappropriate in the context, and the monologue a form of discourse over which the speaker has no control (ref .D.5:157-159). Once again, any talk that is held to “shout down”(reflected semantically in Damba bi) may be labelled with this term as a form of reprimand (ref.D.10:282-283). Talk that demonstrates ‘excess’ or lack of restraint, can similarly be Dawe(ref.D.4:712-713;bracketed lines after 1163)- a veritable “song and dance” 1 of the matter. Whether this analysis of classification terminology in use, and negative evaluation, applies to other Highland systems is questionable. It does, however, point to areas for future research and cross-cultural comparison in what still remains a neglected area of investigation. The above observations reveal the degree to which breach of ‘speech norms’ in disputes can result in verbal censure. Where this delict is regarded as having serious consequences, compensation may be demanded as in D.10 discussed in Chapter 5. There is in the Huli schema of speech acts an implicit concept of “infelicities”(Austin 1962:136) – the various factors of speaker, situation and performance which render discourse “unhappy”(ko).

TABLE 5: Huli Classification of Speech Genres


Predictable word order, structure and content/use of alternative vocabulary sets/represents standard formulations of norms and cultural truths pertaining to political, religious and kinship domains/occurs in disputes or oral transmission of knowledge/ non-specific in terms of user determination/ref.Chapters 1, 2 and 3.


(Talk(bi)+close down(damba) -content is not standardized allowing for creative use of tropes/restricted to use in conflict or compensation situations/delivered in fast, loud rhythmical fashion/accompanied by characteristic turning of head to mark completion of each phrase/use of kai(eulogistic terms) and yobage/oratorical form known and used normally by headmen and sub-clan leaders only/ref.Appendix 4 and 9.


Recitation of clan mythology and genealogy/deliberate and slow delivery/only headman may use it in public/never said out of context of land disputes/ref.D.1.


Spells, both secular and religious/learned verbal formulae utilizing kai/often sung/constructed of juxtaposed phrases similar to Pureremo/never said out of the context of a particular ritual performance/ref. Chapters 1, 2 and 5; Appendix 5.


Folk stories/varying length/listeners may punctuate the end of a section by voicing ‘e'(yes) only when delivery is in a song-style/usually told at night by men or women.


Stories, myths, oral history/can be sung as above/may include use of Kai/ref. Chapters 1 and 2; Appendix 3.


Generic term used for many individually named sub-species of song and ritual chants: a) Dawe -courting songs, use of kai or yobage/predictable word order/first line may be sung by the song-leader/two forms noted (1) U wai-fighting with songs to attract women, one group insulting another group of singers/(2) Wali ibilo – to make the female come quickly. Traditionally, only married men allowed into the Dawe house/held only at night ref.Appendix 7. b) Gereye – associated with Dugube usesd in Dindi Pongo. Often called Hewabi Bi. c) Bilagu – part of the sequence of rites to ward-off ancestral spirits/consists of a long recitation of land names/performed traditionally for several hours during the night ref. Appendix 5. d) Peda – another term for the Huli Mali dance. No words used here.


Women’s wailing/a pronounced use of kau and yobage/may be a monologue or simultaneous chant of ‘O’/can be used as a veiled form of accusation where another group is held responsible for death/sometimes precedes actual death/ref. Appendix 8.

I shall briefly digress here to examine contextualisation and excess in the tangentially related domain of adult joking and teasing behaviour. The following corpus of jocular formulations are standardised verbal reactions, or responses, to states of deprivation or intemperance. The former is assessed as maternal neglect, while the latter is attributed to “excessive” behaviour with “dangerous outsiders” -Duna and Dugube. These situational validations are controlled insults, permitted teasing which allows for both humour and reference to the ‘familiar’, mutually acknowledged social ideals. This process of assimilation
to what ”everyone knows” is discussed for the context of disputes in the next chapter. In this regard the following data should be seen as one illuminating manifestation of contextualisation procedures in Huli discourse.

Male to Male
(a) Did you hide the tongs to masturbate your penis? : wi gidule pero mo do haribe? (Used only in situations where a person can’t find the tongs to remove food from the ashes. It is also an oblique reference to the origin story about tongs used by a woman to masturbate her husband’s penis).

(b) Have you eaten a Dugube ‘woman’s vagina’ and you are standing there/Have you eaten what the Dugube woman crossed over? : Du ube wali kalaba nene o hi u hau n ebe? Dugube wali galo nenebe? Spoken to a person who stands or sits in the smoke. It implies that the man’s mind is confused by female contamination, especially potent because she is Dugube. It offers a reason why the man should sit in such an uncomfortable place).

(c) Have you eaten the fruit like the Malibu bird and you are getting diarrhoea -? : Malibu dumbi li nenego naga ti pole biyane bedebe? (A response to another person who sits still and makes no answer).

(d) Have you been out hunting with an Obena woman for possum and you have used all your smoke? : Obena wali haru howa tia kaba tombe lalu henebe? (This is used in situations where another person asks for smoke leaves (mundu:nicotiana tabacum, fam,solanaceae). Obena women are believed, unlike Huli women, to continually smoke).

(e) You have come to my ass like the butterfly before the excreta has come : ti na dedo ore yabunini pongonia biraribe. (Said to a person who asks for smoke while a man is still lighting it. A similar variant can be used in a dispute to force another speaker to wait his turn to speak; ref.D.9:217-219).

(f) You have smoked so much your nose is broken : ngui polo piyane nenebe? (Used as 9.(d) where a person continually asks for smoke. Interestingly, the conception of the the broken nose relates to the important place this anatomical part has in insult forms discussed in this chapter).

Male -Male/Male – Female/Female -Female
(g) Is your mother caught in my cassowary trap? : i ainya i yari kono ha denebe? (Said to a person who asks for sweet-potato).

(h) Has your mother been feeding twelve pigs and finished her sweet-potato? : i ainya nogo goleni homberia bari binibe? (Standard response to requests for sweet-potato.)

(i) Has your mother jumped onto the pigs’ fence and sat there? Ainya nogo ; oleni iraga ho berenebe? (Used as in (g) and (h) above. )

However, not all joke forms deal with occurrences of excellent derivation, though they still retain the high degree of situational circumscription displayed by the above; For example, (a) looking at girls will give you
pimples : wandari dengui hfindaya honiyagua mamu dolebira (more of an adage than a strict form of tabirene (joke); (b) burning fungus of a branch will make your moustache grow quickly : iralu delari yagua hamburi habale ibulebira; (c) a person with a bad string-apron has got a big penis : dambale ko ha wi biagome hidu nga (this is reminiscent of the proverb 8 (a) cited above).

Returning again to the main line of argument that I am pursuing, it seems significant that yobage is noticeably absent from the definitional criteria of the speech genre pureremo. This indicates a perception of the differences between aesthetic devices such as reduplication, word elaboration, vocabulary change, assonance and alliteration, and the indirect referential aspects of yobage and bi mabura. The instrumental nature of pureremo speech in the expression of cultural norms or truths . during disputes(e.g.D.1:51?-517;D.9:187-189 -) renders the inclusion of yobage inappropriate. To illustrate the structural complexity of this speech form, and how pureremo nevertheless manifest indigenous understandings of poetic potentiality and creative use of aesthetic form, I shall briefly discuss the following four examples. The
first two may occur in disputes while the latter forms relate to conceptions of time and folk characters. They are considerably more complex than the pureremo texts discussed thus far, but in style and delivery they retain the mnemonic functions I contend are central to transmission of knowledge in Huli society. On account of their structure they permit a degree of predictability, of familiar recognition and comprehension that facilitates retention. The first pureremo is invariably voiced in cases of illicit sexual intercourse (ref.D.7:51-54;184-186): Hina mb!ra; Hende mende; Tauwa ebone One, you can look after pigs now and pay the bride-price later; two,you can hand over the bride-price now; three, you can pay the compensation pigs to the kin of the girl. The standard presentation of norm is built up of assonance
and alliteration(underlined) between the words juxtaposed with the terms mbira(one), mende(two) and tebone(three). Use of this rhetorical form shows familiarity and control of Mana.

The next example states the sanctions involved when a person breaches norms regarding the stipulated time when intercourse should take place. The first four days of a month are not included as this is ideally the time of menstruation, and intercourse is therefore prohibited. The basic morphs of the counting system are given first, followed by the terms for the respective days, and lastly by the sanctions attendant on the breach of the norm prohibiting intercourse on these days.

Number morph and sanction phrases by Laurence Goldman

Intercourse should ideally begin on the twelfth day of the month and continue for four days. There is no etymological identification of the number-morphs with the meanings of the initial words of the sanction phrase. With regard to structure, each statement is constituted by the recognition of phonemic similarities in the prohibitive words, an aesthetic device consistent with the instrumental and emphatic functions pureremo perform in dispute contexts. With regard to metre, day terms are verbalised first, followed by a short pause, and then a heavily stressed enunciation of initial words in the sanction phrase.
Precisely this structure inheres in the example below expressing “time”(literally ~ -moon / month) by reference to and personification of the moon’s behaviour:

Moon stages by Laurence Goldman
(*10 = The number morphs of 13/14 / 15 also signify ears / eyes / nose respectively. In dogs, these parts are believed to be formed at birth on these specific days.)

These formulations are constructed from perceived sequenced phonic comparisons between day terms (on the right) and other verbs/nouns(on the left) which apart from this bear no etymological relation to each other. These aesthetic manipulations are used also to convey character descriptions in Bi Te (folk stories; cf.Table 5) of “heroes”. There is a sense of anticipation in children as they await the familiar standardised formulation of Baya Horo (Huli ‘bogey-man’) knowing the chronicle of events will proceed
to deal with themes of death and cannibalism. The following text may be compared with that cited earlier for Iba Tiri, another recurrent hero-figure in Bi Te.

Sick effects by Laurence Goldman

No relation between the appositional terms exists other than phonemic(underlined) similarities. It is, as I have stated previously, a manifestation of the understanding and use of poetic potential in Huli language.

  1. This is the literal translation of Dawe(see Table 5) and, in this context, parallels our own use of this idiom. []

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