by Betty Gabriel Wakia
SINCE the beginning of Hela history, Huli people have lived in close contact with animals, usually as farmers and hunters, and have developed myths and legends about them. All kinds of creatures play important roles in Huli mythology. In some Huli legends, animals perform heroic acts as mediators between heaven and earth. They may also be the source of the wisdom and power of a shaman.
Animals often have a dual quality in Huli mythology, being helpful to humans or harmful or sometimes both. They provide people with food, but at the same time, they can be dangerous. As sources and symbols, Huli myths and legends of animals represent the mystery and power of the natural world, which can create or destroy. Dogs were important to the Huli people. It is said Huli men and dogs worked together to hunt for survival.
The mossy, wet-cloud forest of Hela holds an ancient secret. A seldom seen, fiercely predatory type of wild dingo called biango dudu or hiyawi. Not a lot is known about this dog, popularly known as the New Guinea singing dog because multiple individuals may howl in chorus. The Huli biango dudu is a slim dog mostly living in the high mountains. They often burst out howling during the morning and evening and each has its own unique voice. They use their tuneful howling to communicate with other dogs.
In those times of old, many Huli people would capture biango dudu male puppies and raise them as hunting dogs. They were highly valued by Huli hunters in those times. The biango dudu’s feet are extremely agile and able to grasp objects. They climb and jump like a cat and ascend any tree large enough to hold their weight if they spot prey. They also have great joint elasticity, especially in the neck and spine, and good rotation of the hip joint.
In appearance, biango dudu have wide faces and golden brown fur with patches of white on chest, paws and the tip of their tails. Compared to domestic dogs of the same size, biango dudu have shorter legs, flexible joints and paws that rotate further than those of the domestic dog. This legend illustrates the bravery of Hela and the dog Peli and also the importance of dogs as informer.
There were two dama (Satans), Dabera Lira and Dabera Ali, living at Guluanda. We don’t know where they came from but one of them wanted to kill and eat the people. One night, biango Peli met a dama and asked, “Where are you going?” “I’m going to kill and eat all the people,” the dama said. “All right”, said Peli, “I’ll show you where the people are if you can count all my hairs before daylight”. So the dama started counting and when it had finished, Peli said: “Now you must count all the dust.” When it had finished that, Peli said, “Now you must count all the trees.” When it had counted all the trees, Peli said, “Now you count all the water.” But the dama said, “You can’t count water; mindiya, kindiya, goregira, koregira,” (which were nonsense words) and went off in a huff.
Hela tried to chase the dama, but couldn’t catch it. They went on and on until night fell. The dama came to a big tree and stopped beside it. Hela came to the same tree and slept on the other side, but neither knew the other was there. Hela went back in the morning and the dama went away. Dog Peli in this legend was biango dudu, how brave and heroic was biango dudu at that time.
A certain track throughout the Huli area, known as habua hariga (the greedy road), passed from Bebenete to Guluanda, was avoided by women with children younger than four months. This path was said to have been taken by the snake and dog in early times; they were good friends in those days. The dog could curl up but the snake could only stretch out in a straight line. So the snake said to the dog, “Give me your magic to bend.” So then it could bend and roll into a coil. So the snake gave the dog the magic to blow ash off sweet potato so that dogs can think of food.
The biango dudu live happily and take advantage of any meal that comes their way. They eat birds, rodents, cassowaries and as well as small or medium sized marsupials. They have no problem with taking the catch if Huli hunters don’t check their traps often enough. They have also been known to occasionally eat fruit.
In present Huli culture, biango dudu are sometimes kept as guard dogs but are generally neglected and left to scavenge for food. Their population fluctuates because they are destroyed when they compete with pigs for food. After white contact, they were also killed off in preference for the supposedly more ferocious European dog used by other Papua New Guineans. But Huli biango dudu remain unique because of their beautiful singing. In the middle of the rainforest, they sing their hearts out making the Huli wonder why they are crying. Today, they are one of the most endangered species in Hela Province.