Damian Arabagali Portrait
Damien Arabagali

by Damien Arabagali


The Huli had a body of secret knowledge about the world, about God and about the powers in the world therefore they were able to confirm the message the missionaries brought, even though the missionaries did not know about this. The points of similarity between traditional Huli beliefs and Christianity include:

(a) The Huli lived in a world of spirits. Some were hostile to them while others were their helpers. Some of their helpers lived in a home in the sky.

(b) Like the Christian message about Christ, the Huli knew about a man named Bayabaya, who was killed in a way similar to Christ.

(c) The Huli knew that the world would end. There were prophets living among the people, who foretold the coming bad times (see Appendix 2 on Huli eschatology).

Through a consideration of these points of similarity and other pre-Christian secret knowledge, among the Hulis, one is challenged to change his or her assessment of paganism. To provide a proper orientation to such a more positive view, let us began quoting some principles from the scripture

Humanity is made in the image of God.

This phrase from Genesis 1:27 may sound simple, but for a living person, the fact of being an image of God has very deep meaning. It does not mean that our face legs and hands are like God. Being God’s image means more: there is a likeness to God in humans in ways that we very often cannot see. It is in our thinking and activity. It is deeper than we can fathom. Even ‘as a child is usually seen as an image of the parents so are all people images of God. God has made humans, as religious beings very different from animals. This is shown in our external activities. We can simply say that natural religion is foreseen and willed by God in his salvation plan.

Paganism then must no longer be seen as the work of the devil. It is not evil in itself, to be destroyed root and branch. It carries out a function intended by God. It is an ante­ chamber to the church, a church by analogy, a religious space in which the one and only God dwells and works the salvation which he prepared in Jesus Christ, for all mankind(sic).

Jesus Christ would never have become human if there was no need to be a bright light to show the whole picture of humanity as an image of God. Still it was this light that was already among my people. God had sent rays of His light to various prophets and wise people among the Huli people. He gave them a revelation, which was providential.

Jesus The Way, The Truth and The Life

It is my primary conviction that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life (John 14-5-7} Jesus is the model we must imitate. He is the mediator through whom all human must pass to go to the Father in heaven. He is not only the road or the channel through which life and truth came to us; he is the source of our supernatural life. He is the vine and we are the branches (John.15: 1-11). Just as a branch removed from the vine does not have life so will it be for those who are not joined to Christ.

He is the way to lead us on the right path destined for humanity, suppose we come to a new area and we ask for directions to go to a place, and someone gives only a verbal description of the landmark. The chances are that we could easily get lost along the way. But if a person tells us to follow him, that person becomes the way and we cannot get lost. That person does not tell us about the way. He is the way. Jesus has become our way to the Father.

If someone says 111 am the Truth”, that means the truth is embodied in him. Moral truth can only be effective in action. You cannot be an effective teacher about the beauty of love, if you are full of bitterness and hatred. An adulterer cannot be an effective teacher about purity. The same applies to arrogant people. They can never be effective teachers about humility. Jesus was the only one who was able to speak the truth in all circumstances. He is the truth.

There is a clear difference between a dead and living person. But the terms “1ife” and “death” can be used to refer to living persons as well. A person can be physically alive and still be dead. We can be agents of death and life. We can give life to others by our acceptance and love of them. Jesus was able to do that. He showed people that life is worth living. His love for them gave them life. Jesus was life giving. He is life itself. It is from Jesus, the way, the truth and the life that this book begins.

We must keep in mind that God’s self-manifestation began with the Jewish nation and its people, as it is recorded in the Old Testament. This self-manifestation of God became in Jesus the final, definite, eschatological and historical manifestation. Other nations do not share this in a strict sense. Still, this does not mean that God does not speak through the wisdom, religious ceremonies, sayings, institutions and symbols of other cultural group in this case the Huli people, since they are not related to the people of Jesus historically” Other people have something of the central mystery of the God man. They reveal some aspects of that mystery. In fact, the Bible is not the complete report of God’s’ action and self-manifestation. The ways and the sayings of other people also help us to broaden our view of God, and it is important to listen to God speaking through others who are meaningful to us, just as the teaching of St Augustine or the poems of St John of the Cross. We discern in them the work of grace or the Spirit.
This will enlarge our horizons and enable us to see our ancient beliefs in a new light. It will challenge us to enter into a dialogue with others and to commit ourselves to a joint project of building a new humanity. It is a Christian duty to discover Gods work among the people one is serving. In particular, it is the task of all missionaries to build on what God has already done among the people. They should follow the example of Paul who referred to the unknown God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 17:23- 31; also Romans 15:6).

The God Datagaliwabe

The idea of God was not new to the Huli people. It was part of their secret knowledge. They knew that there was a house in the sky where the creator lived. Many people also lived there. The people were aware of a God who was above them and was watching over them. The understanding of God, who is an infinite spirit beyond our full understanding, can be only reached through God’s initiative. This is where the understanding of the presence of the light among the Huli people comes in, They found God through discovering themselves. It was through discovering their own limitations that they saw that there has to be someone who is unlimited, who is infinite, who created them. “Anyone who does not know God is simply foolish. Such people look at the good things around them and still fail to see the living God. They have studied the things he made, but they have not recognized the one who made them” (Wisdom 13: 1).

God is one who transcends all the good that humans can do; God is above that. God is also immanent in humanity as in all things. He is integral to humanity. It was St Augustine who came to this understanding when he said, “God, you are closer to me than I am to myself”.

What I write about my people’s concept of the pre-Christian God is not my invention. It comes from interviewing very old Huli men, some of whom still believe in this God. They have not become Christians. For them, the knowledge of Datagaliwabe is a most precious and sacred secret. From the interviews quoted below, it seems that the high God of the Huli, who is call’ed Datagaliwabe, is the one true God

Huli ideas about Datagaliwabe are very similar to the Biblical God, even though their characteristics do not match perfectly Datagaliwabe is the highest One. He is the God of the Huli. He is present everywhere. He can see everyone. He is very just. He is above others and cannot be manipulated. No one can buy his favour. He sees through everyone. Datagaliwabe is identified with the sun. The sun is used as a symbol of Datagaliwabe.

He also has characteristics similar to the big eagles. He punishes and shortens the life span of evil doers.. Datagaliwabe is a God that all respect. He helps and protects the people. He warns the people of enemies. If an “aah” sound is heard in the early morning, that is Datagaliwabe warning you of enemy warriors coming to kill you.

Some Testimonies

Tali Allan Ango Kulina comes from the Perapuli clan of Koroba. He said:

What I am going to tell you is what I heard from Au Kurupa, a very old and wise man who shared this knowledge with some other old men. I was a young boy then, so they told me to leave the house. I _went outside, and walked away for a distance, and then retraced my steps and hid myself near the house and heard all that Au Kurupa told the other old men. I heard Au Kurupa say, “There is a hole in the clouds. Datagaliwabe is up there. When the world becomes bad, when the land becomes infertile and people do not follow his commands, two hands of Datagaliwabe will come down and pick two of each kind, male and female. He will take two of each type of creature, including humans, and take them back into the clouds. You will see only the hands and face. The whole body will be hidden. He will take two of each kind of plant, tree, animal, insect, reptile, worm, bird and everything edible and inedible. Then Datagaliwabe will send fertile land from the clouds and cover everything. He will put back on earth all that he took up and life will begin again.

Allan concluded by telling me that this Datagaliwabe was the God who Fr Belai and all the other priests told us about. “Belai” is name the people used for Fr Berard Tomassetti, O.F.M. Cap., who was the first Catholic priest for many Huli people.
Yalirima Gole and Tai are two leaders who belong to the Huli priestly clan, the Takapua clan, who live near Kelote. I interviewed them on the night of 5 August 1984. They did not want others to know about it. Neither man has been baptized. Gole began:

Datagaliwabe is on the roof of all houses, looking down on us. Therefore, do not take things from one side of the room and put it on the other side. Datagaliwabe does not like it. Do not steal from others; Datagaliwabe will kill you and you will die young. Do not sleep with someone’s wife or ladies other than your own wife. Do not sit with pig meat in your bag while in a house. You will surely die. Do not lie, do not be a deceiver or a false witness. Do not judge, condemn or look down on people.Yalirima Gole concluded by saying that he had heard Belai talk about God and Jesus. For him, Fr Berard Tomassetti was talking about Datagaliwabe.

Tai agreed with everything Hiliwa Parakua of the Kikita clan at Tari is the oldest living Huli with a clear mind. He belongs to the United Church, and he had this to say about Datagaliwabe:

Datagaliwabe does not like a person who eats pig meat somewhere and does not bring any for the people in the house where he sleeps. Datagaliwabe will make short the life of a fornicator, an adulterer, a thief, a person who talks in order to steal other people’s property, a person with two mouths and a twisted tongue. He does not like a liar and a false witness. Datagaliwabe is the same as God.

Datagaliwabe was someone real to Hiliwa Parakua. It was good and honourable to be in Datagaliwabe’s favour.

Before Augustine Agilo was a traditional priest (gebe ali), but now he is an outstanding
church committee member at Kupari Catholic church. He used to refer to Datagaliwabe as “the One”. This is what he had to say about the traditional supreme God:

“Datagaliwabe is the highest. Our God’s names are similar to that of the Trinity. Datagaliwabe is the owner of pigs, food, boys and girls. Datagaliwabe is our helper, He is our protector. He knows about our hidden sins. Datagaliwabe will kill you if you do not speak honestly and plead guilty. If you do a wrong thing, you must confess it so that Datagaliwabe will not kill you. Datagaliwabe sees everything. Never fornicate or commit adultery. Do not fight over other people’s land. Do not be a deceiver or a person who makes two people enemies. Do not criticize and look down on people. Do not do all this because Datagaliwabe, Hana Ni Yasu, is looking at you (ni means “sun” and yasu is one of the names of God.). Stay on your land. Be with your own wife. Be a man of joy and laughter. Datagaliwabe will give you a long life. I am convinced that Datagaliwabe was the God who Apa Belai told us about”.

Elizabeth Lai is one of the Huli women I interviewed in August 1985. She is a Christian and belongs to the Kikita clan. This is what she had to say about Datagaliwabe:

“I have heard my father and mother tell me about Datagaliwabe when I was a child. My mother told me that Datagaliwabe sees everything we do. Do not steal, do not tell a lie. We felt that Datagaliwabe was always watching us. Now I see that Datagaliwabe was the God our priests told us about in church”.

Some anthropologist, such as Glasse, have shown an interest in the traditional religion of the Huli. Glasse states that no ritual was performed for Datagaliwabe and no prayers were said to obtain His good will. I agree with him but not completely because there were some indirect prayers and acts of reverence. I make this judgment based on the testimony of Augustine Agilo of Kupari. Agilo was a chief priest (gebe ali}. In the prayers given at the sacred cave (gebe anda), Datagaliwabe’s name was called first. Augustine also said that many eagles would come and sit on the roof of the tower to the sky (oko anda} to signal the presence of Datagaliwabe. I do not think Datagaliwabe was worshipped at Daperinite, near Kupari (this is explained in detail in Chapter 3 of this book).

Frankel gives a more complete description of Datagaliwabe. He agrees with Glasse but goes further to identify Datagaliwabe with the Christian God. He reached this conclusion after talking with educated Huli Christians. He also interviewed me about the concept of Datagaliwabe when he was doing his research among my people.

(Extract from Datagaliwabe Was Working Among The Huli. Damien Arabagali. Treid Pacific (PNG) Ltd. 1999. pp. 27-32.)

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