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.

by Dr. Chris Ballard

No single Huli term exists that encompasses all animals. As with crops, an important distinction is made by Huli between wild (gabua) and domesticated animals; the latter are often but not exclusively designated by the prefix nogo, which is also the specific term for the pig. Like crop plants, the major animal species domesticated prior to contact have wild counterparts: the domesticated pig (nogo) is distinguished from wild or feral pigs (nogo gabua), the domesticated dog (biango) from wild dogs (biango dudu) and tame cassowaries (biyu) from wild (yari). This distinction between wild and domesticated amongst fauna assumes the significance of distinctions amongst crops founded on historical precedence, though the explicit association between wild animals and dama on one hand and domesticated animals and humans on the other is also effectively an historical division. Dama angi, the time of the dama, was also a time before pigs; cuscus and possums (tia), in particular, are referred to as dama nogo (“pigs of the spirits”) and many former rites required an opening sacrifice of a possum to attract the attention of dama (see Dl.3).

Appendix B8 lists some of the local fauna known to Huli people. 1 While cuscus, possum and various rat species are still widely available, together with feral pigs, the larger wild fauna species in the vicinity of the major basin floors were already severely depleted prior to contact and the introduction of shotguns, and they appear to have constituted an insignificant proportion of the diet of most Huli other than those fringe communities with access to less disturbed forest areas. What knowledge Huli have of the larger vertebrate fauna derives from hunting and trading trips on the margins of Huli territory. Tree kangaroos (tia andaya; Dendrolagus sp.), which used to figure prominently in dindi gamu ritual, are still obtained through contacts to the south. Large Southern Cassowaries (yami; Casuaris casuaris) are also occasionally traded into the central basins from the southern lowlands and are reared, but not bred, around houses (Reid 1981/82). Long-beaked echidnas (dindi borage; bruijni) are occasionally caught in the alpine grassland areas of Ambua and the E Mama valley, but have not been seen wild in the vicinity of the Haeapugua basin in living memory.

The local avifauna are also depleted within the central basins, though a considerable range of species is still to be found in the surrounding hills (C. and D.Frith 1992) and more than 200 bird species have been identified in the Tari region as a whole (those identified by Huli terms are listed in Appendix B9). Within the central basins smaller birds are hunted by boys, and ducks are occasionally taken from the lakes and rivers. Larger pythons (puya) are caught on the forested ridges around the basins, but their consumption is said to be a practice adopted only recently from the lowland Duguba and there is some ambivalence about the handling of snakes generally, possibly reflecting the cosmological significance of pythons described in B2.6. 2

Although Cantonese carp (Cyprinus )and rainbow trout (Salmo gardneri) are now found in the lakes and rivers of the Tari region, these were all introduced during an intensive stocking program between 1964 and 1973 (West and Glucksman 1976). Only a single species of small fish, the twinspot goby, Glossogobius sp. (G.Allen 1991:184-5), is claimed to have been local in origin and is now distinguished from the introduced fish (honebi wena) as huli wena. Crayfish, frogs, tadpoles and eels were all available prior to contact and continue to form a minor part of the diet of women and younger children. Eels (ibia: Anguilla ?marmorata; G.Allen pers.comm.) were formerly restricted to the Tima, Alua, Debi and Lower Tagali rivers, all iba tole, or stony rivers, and were not found in the swamp at Haeapugua. Domesticated pigs, sheep, goats, cattle and chickens, together with store-bought tinned meat, are currently the major sources of protein for most Huli living in the central basins. Goats are relatively scarce, being restricted largely to members of the Seventh Day Adventist missions. Cattle and sheep were introduced in the 1960s by the Department of Agriculture to those communities with access to larger cleared areas of potential pasture such as the basin floor swamps of Haeapugua and Mogoropugua, but their ownership appears to be heavily concentrated in the hands of a few individuals; as a consequence, and because they are relatively difficult to transport or secrete, cattle in particular have often been an early target in the recent spate of clan wars, a factor likely to discourage any future cattle projects in the region. Chicken-raising has been particularly successful and is seen as a dependable short-term means of raising finance; at Dobani parish, in 1991, three different groups were raising chickens (ega masin; “machine chickens”) flown into Tari as day-old chicks.

Of these various domesticates, only pigs and cassowaries were available before contact in the Tari region, and the latter in apparently insignificant numbers. As the enduring principal medium of exchange, pigs are definitive of Huli sociality, both in terms of the structure of that sociality and in the way that Huli talk of the historical development of socialised beings. The scope for domestication of pigs, which is not to be found in any other of the larger pre-contact fauna, perhaps accounts for the significance of pig-taming as a feature of myths about the early socialisation of “wild” humans, and even as a metaphor for the “tethering” of women by men and the “domestication” of Huli by the colonial administration. 3 There are no common myths that account for the origins of pigs, but a clear association between the introduction of sweet potato, the development of ditched gardens and intensive pig husbandry emerges in many narratives. While there were pigs present during the time of taro (ma naga), it was only when people received sweet potato and emerged as fully socialized humans, that different breeds of pig are said to have been introduced from neighbouring groups and husbanded in a recognizably “modem” manner.

Narrative B7 identifies these breeds and their sources. People at this time were recognizably “human”: men are said to have been carrying bows, and women making skirts; pigs were being tended and ditches dug. Yet the new breeds of pig are explicitly associated with the spread of new forms of exchange, such as bridewealth and the tege ritual (D 1.3) and the outward migration from the central Tari and Haeapugua basins of Huli groups. If we reflect back upon the narrative process of “recognition” of sweet potato through use of a “correct” or modem garden technique described in the previous section (B4.3), this historic introduction of new breeds of pigs might also be interpreted not so much as the novel presence of different breeds, as the adoption or development of novel techniques of pig husbandry. Following the permanent establishment in 1952 of an administration presence at Tari, a further wave of new breeds was introduced; the first of these, nogo gebe (“kiap [colonial officer] pig”), was remarkable for being considerably larger than local breeds, by comparison with which the former also appeared almost hairless. Successive post-contact introductions by government agencies and missions have seen a rapid loss of the characteristic features of the pre-contact breeds, remembered by Alan Sinclair (17.8.91, Interview Notes), one of the earliest missionaries at Tari, as uniformly small, “runty” pigs with straight tails, long snouts and sharply tapering rears. 4 Indeed, these features are now considered characteristic of nogo gabua, the wild pigs of the forest. It is tempting to see these earlier breeds as the hybrid Sus celebensis I Sus scrofa vittatus form identified by Groves in his revision of regional pig phylogeny (1983), with the later introductions increasingly breeding out the celebensis characteristics. The difference size between pre-and post-contact pig strains has been further exaggerated by the introduction from the late 1950s of a new earthworm species, corethrurus (kau ngoe) (Rose and Wood 1980); unlike the indigenous earthworms, these are highly attractive to pigs and have radically transformed both the weight-gain capacity of pigs (Rose and Williams 1983/84) and the nature of forage routines (see B4.5). Whatever the taxonomic status of the different pre-contact breeds of pig, these dramatic changes in pig form and size, evident to Huli as well as foreign observers, must be taken into account in modelling pre-contact pig husbandry.

Domesticated pigs, and not game, are thus the main source of protein from fauna for Huli. As we shall see in B4.5, the emphasis in Huli subsistence on agriculture rather than hunting or gathering is also compounded by the fodder requirements of these domestic pig herds.

(Reprinted with permission of Dr. Chris Ballard. The Death of A Great Land: Ritual, History and Subsistence Revolution in Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of The Australian National University, Canberra, January 1995. pp. 90-93).

(Picture courtesy of Eric Lafforgue)

  1. This list draws extensively on the work of Peter Dwyer (1990, 1992) among HuH-speakers of the Komo area and neighbouring Etoro-speakers. []
  2. Again reflecting their ritual associations, pythons are commonly identified either with the unfamiliar lowland forests or high alpine areas, though they are apparently rare at higher altitudes (Pybus 1974). []
  3. Frankel (1985:159) cites a Huli man declaring that ‘We tether a pig with a rope, but women we tether with children’; in the context of colonial contact: ‘In the same way that we tamed wild pigs with the smell of sweet potato rubbed into our armpits… the whites who came tempted and tamed us with red paint and shells’ (Elera Alendo, 1991, Interview Notes). []
  4. A similar process has seen the replacement of pre-contact dog breeds (biango) with introduced breeds (honebi biango: “white people’s dog”): ‘Now they are another kind. The old dogs have all gone and there are only honebi biango here’ (Mabira Walahuli, 23.10.92, 92/1B:250-276). []

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