A look at their Traditional Heritage and Modern Christianity

Yalirima Damien Tipawi Arabagali
Damien Arabagali

by Yalirima Damien Tipawi Arabagali

To really understand this book, we need to know something about the people. we need to know where they came from and the way they live. It is also important to present some information about the people who have done research among the Huli and give a brief account of the history of Christianity among the Huli.

Ethnography of the Huli

I will try to give a short and simple ethnography of the Huli people. I will give some general information about the material environment and their social and artistic lives. The Huli are one of the biggest cultural groups in Papua New Guinea, and they live in four sub districts in the western part of the Southern Highlands Province: Koroba, Kopiago,Tari Pori, Komo, Hulia and Margarima. The terrain, weather and people are similar to other Highlands provinces.

Material Environment

The Huli area lies in the basin formed by the Tagari River. Its elevation is between 4,500 and 6,000 feet above sea level. The area is full of small hills and valleys but there are also some high ridges that reach about 8,000 feet. The southern, northern and western edges of the region are covered by thick rainforest.

The climate is temperate. The sun is very hot during the day and rainfalls very heavily in the evenings. The nights and early mornings are very cold, about 200 to 300 Fahrenheit. All the people are subsistence farmers, and sweet potato is the staple food. People also grow yams, taro, bananas, beans and sugar cane.

Social Life

There is a clear division between Huli men and women. Men and women live in separate houses, and contact between them is, very limited. They only talk to one another when they have something important to share. This separation between men and women starts at an early age. A Huli boy leaves his mother’s home at about seven years of age when he starts to become independent. He has to get a lot of training and instruction before he can become a married man. First he has to be initiated and then he can choose to become a haroli or “bachelor”. Before marriage, a Huli girl spends most of her life with her mother, learning the role of women. She learns how to look after pigs and children, and how to make gardens.

The roles of men and women are very clear. Some men and women have special roles in Huli society, and some women have special authority and chant the kiaputuku or “mourning songs”. There are also particular women who prepare young women for marriage. Other women hold important positions. Some are rich, while others are great speakers. But in general, women have lower status than men. The big man system among the Huli is different from other areas of Melanesia. One does not become a big man through inheritance, but rather through individual initiative. Sacred knowledge also makes a big man. If you can pay for such knowledge, you can become a big man or agali haguane (literally “man head” or “head man”). A person from a special family would be a mana yi (literally “ways carry”) or holder of knowledge. Such a person would possess the tindi pogene. Tindi mean soil or land, or earth, and pogene means “knot”. ‘Thus, tindi pogene means “knowledge of earth knot”.

The tribe that has this very important knowledge is the Kialialu tribe which lives in Komo. The knowledge is very important for the whole Huli population.

Every tribe had a haroli tigi. Haroli or ipa kiya is the name of the bachelors and the sacred plant that bachelor sees in the tigi. Tigi literally means “cut in two” or restricted area which refers to the jungle that is fenced in for bachelorhood training. The men who had all the knowledge about this were called igiri aba daloali which means “fruitless man”.

A woman who has no children is a dalowali (dalo means “barren” and wali mean “women”). My people had a set of traditional laws, and each tribe had its own judges to defend them. If the laws were broken, the leaders would settle the dispute. Each clan took care of its own disputes; The penalties were set by the people in the past. Most disputes among the people were solved by compensation.

If a dispute involved many tribes, the leaders of the major tribes would try to solve it. Pukulape Taligo was one of great leaders in Koroba. People listened to him when he talked. He was known for running between tribes who were about to shoot arrows at each other and breaking their bows and arrows. Each tribe had someone who was a talker and spoke on behalf of the whole tribe. Another person would have many pigs and shell money and he would lead the clan in matters of exchange. The other important person in a tribe was the fight leader who knew tactics and led the tribe in battle. These were the people who had very important roles in Huli society.

Huli Warfare

The environment the Huli lived in was quite hostile. People’s lives were always in danger when they travelled outside their tribal area. Tribal warfare was very common. A small argument could lead to an exchange of arrows, and even families would fight one another. A big, fight involved many warriors, the tribes who came to help in a tribal fight divided evenly. They would put a certain mark on their faces to recognize each other in battle and would try to kill the others rather than their own tribesmen. Tribal wars sometimes went for months. As soon as a fight broke out, all the women and children, along with their pigs, would move to friendly tribes. Only the men would remain and fight. They would build a huge fort with a wide ditch all around it.

The fort is called a waipapeanda or “fight fence house”. The ditch, which went all around the fort, was very wide at the top and very narrow at the bottom and was designed to trap those who fell into it. The ditch is called wai kana or “fight ditch” (wai means “fight and kana means “ditch”).

When a man was killed or wounded in a war, it was not the enemy who gave compensation. Instead, the wai tene or “fight instigator”, the family or person for whom he fought, gave the compensation. Payback was very common and feuds would often go on for life. The enemy tribe would get their supporters together at a time when they thought that their enemies had forgotten about the war and chase them out of their lands. They burned houses and killed anyone in sight. You had to run away and leave your land if you could not fight back. Those who were chased away made new friends and sometimes came back and chased their enemies away and resettled on their old land.

That was the main reason why each tribesman was responsible for being on guard, and this was a reason why men slept in one house. The Huli would call on dama or “dangerous spirits” to kill their enemies for them. If the enemy saw that a certain woman was giving birth to many sons, the enemy would try to destroy the marriage. Men did not marry when they were young because unmarried men provided security. They were fearless fighters because they did not have a family to worry about.

Every death had to be avenged, and men would spend months in hiding to carry out payback killings. The close relatives of the person killed in battle would never come home without killing some of the enemy. Fight tactics involved dividing the men into three groups, with two groups dividing and moving on either side of the main group. The centre group then drew the enemy into the trap, and the two flanking groups moved in and killed everyone.

The main weapons for the Huli men were bows and arrows. They also had spears (yandare), stone axes (ayu), and the axe dagger (ayu nogoba). The last item was made from a cassowary leg bone and was used for fighting in close-quarters. Women also had a flat club shaped like a canoe paddle which was their only weapon. It was often carried during ceremonies or public gatherings and celebrations. It was called Ayage nama.

Huli men tried to avoid a conflict at all costs. But when they were pushed too far, a tribal fight was the means of defending the tribe and family name. In times of peace, people would spend their time in other creative activities.

Huli Artistic Life

The Huli take pride in their day to day dress, and they usually wash and dress up every morning. Men’s dress consists of a wig, arm bands, leg bands, necklaces and ropes around the waist to hold their apron and the leaves covering their buttocks. Women wear grass skirts and carry a bi/um over their head. Both men and women spend much of their spare, time making items of traditional dress.

Men and women also make traditional things to get extra money. Men make string bags, arm bands, leg bands, waist bands, bows and arrows and daggers, while women make their own arm bands, grass skirts and string bags for themselves and their children. They are always doing something in their free time. Huli women in particular are always seen working. The only time they stop working is when they are asleep.

The arts and crafts of the Huli are unique. They make wigs, arm bands, leg, bands and string bags and carve human figures. Only specialists make wigs. The wigs are made by teasing and matting human hair using a sharp pointed stick. Full-size human figures were carved for use in the haroli camp. The statue was used to confuse the new trainees for the bachelorhood.

Huli people also take great care in painting their faces which is a time consuming exercise. Men also paint their fences, coffins, the skulls of their priests, liruali (sacred stone man) and their own faces at times of singsings. They get their paints from the soil and from bush plants and use the following colours: black, yellow, red, orange, pink, blue, white, purple and grey.

The most common musical instruments used by the Huli are drums, pan pipes, Jew’s harp, and the kaawa, which is played by strumming two strings that are tied as bow strings, These instruments were used to play poetic songs.

Mali bagua is a big singsing in the Huli. Mali bagua comes from mali which means “dance for enjoyment” and bagua which means oil or the oil container made of pumpkins”. This dance is done by men facing each other, ten to fifteen on each side. Men with “v” shaped wigs lead the dance, and the girls dance separately. Two to four girls usually dance together. Both men and women dance to the drum beats, and it looks good to see everyone moving in unison with the beat of the drums.

So you see, the Huli are a very hard working people. There is never a minute wasted in unproductive activity. It was to this environment that the first white people and the Christian missionaries: came. The Huli people today are living a slightly different way of life, but they still have their traditional ways of doing things. Their natural environment is slowly changing, and their social and artistic life is changing. I will not write about these changes now. What I have written is enough to give an idea about the life of the Huli people.