Huli Ritual Sites

by Ron Meshanko

All of these types of gamu: production, protection, initiation, fertility, divination, healing and sorcery, are either performed by individuals or by groups of persons 1 Corporate ritual acts are performed by a nuclear family, clan units, clans or clan associations. 2 The Huli also execute fertility rites with clans of different cultures as in the Kelote dindi gamu rites. The individual or corporate performances of the various rites shown on the previous pages are usually concerned with the general well-being of the community, while individual rites have a more limited goal. However, any individually performed ritual affects the entire community for it entails the support of a deity as well as the well-being of a particular community member. This is especially evident in the timu gamu or arrow sorcery which guides be-spelled arrows to their mark, the enemy of the community; and in tera gamu (ritual cursing) which invokes the deities to strike and opponent and propitiates the deities as well.

Many gamu rites 3 , both individual and corporate, are only performed at sacred ritual grounds or in ritual houses. The presence of Ni, Kepei, Hana and other major deities dwell in ritual houses and sacred grounds throughout the Huli, while minor deities only dwell in one locality. The deities are invoked in the ritual houses through spells and, for example, their presence is manifested by the bursting of red painted bamboo tubes which were placed in the fire by a ritual specialist. After the ritual has been performed the deity leaves the house. Strands of cane are then fastened across the door of the house to indicate that the deity has departed and should not come back until he is summoned again. The presence of Helahuli is manifested by a gentle wind at the mouth of his “cave house.” The ritual specialist attracts the deity by the aroma of pork which he carries on a decorated stick. Helahuli returns to his abode deep under the earth after the ritual specialist has communicated with him and the rites have been performed.

The major deities sojourned throughout the Huli territory when they lived on the earth. 4 The roads they travelled and the places where they rested are considered sacred spaces and protected grounds. Men may not cut trees or cultivate the earth in these forested places. Women are forbidden to enter them. One example of these sacred sites is Ni hariga (sun god + road), a belt of virgin forest near Tari, which is believed to be part of the road where the god Ni journeyed across the land. These roads are collectively called habuabu hariga and keba hariga. The meaning of habuabu hariga, “road one does not share,” indicates the protected status of the grounds. The meaning of keba hariga has many meanings and contexts all of which help elaborate the Huli concept of sacred.

Nama keba (digging + stick) refers to a digging stick which is used in preparing gardens and constructing ditches around gardens, graves and ritual sites. The ditches prevent pigs and humans from entering private property. Keba may refer to a particular place that has been set aside for a specific purposes which only the authorized may enter. Keba also means angry. A dama keba is an angry female ghost or deity who has been offended by a ritual or social transgression. Keba could possibly refer to the anger of deities directed towards women and pigs who enter a sacred space. Keba Hagama (private + open space) refers to special space separated from other spaces where only the authorized may enter without fear of angering the gods. Keba hagama usually refers to an open space compound where rituals and sacrifices are performed. Keba anda is the generic form for a ritual house. Keba anda and keba hagama are “sacred” spaces set aside for ritual purposes and are open only to authorized persons (ritual specialist and men.)

The Huli used to have many different types of ritual houses. Ogo anda, Baragendole anda, and Hanawali anda were conical, forty feet high sacred spaces with a firepit inside. Gelage anda or kelelakianda were peculiar looking roofless houses with only one central post on which pig sacrifices where hung in honor of Hana and Helahuli. Depe anda and halibu anda were houses found only at the Kelote ritual grounds near Burani. They were built on the lines of rest houses and contained thirteen and fourteen rooms respectively. Men placed varies species of trees, plants, possums, tree grubs, cassowary bird and other items in these rooms during dini gamu rites. Kuruanda and liruanda were ritual houses found at Kelote and all other major ritual sites throughout the Huli lands. The liruanda was constructed along the lines of the Tege initiation house. Sacred stones where venerated at these houses. The exact nature and functions of the kuruanda and liruanda are not known.

Gebeanda are forest ritual sites found at Kelote, Lebani, Dalu Bepenete, Bepali Buni were most of these houses were constructed. The central feature of the gebeanda is a cave or hole in the ground in which the great deity Helahuli lives. The gebeanda will be discussed later on the Kelote Sacred Ritual Grounds page.

Huli Sacred Geography by Chris Ballard 5


Dindi Pongone Gebeanda in Huli territory 6

SiteLocationClan Owner
IrariPureniDabu, Wida
KelotePureni Dagabua
BebeniteTari BasinYangali
GaraleandaTari BasinGigira
DabereandaTari BasinHondobe
Iba GunuKorobaBaru, Wandu and Gaiyalu
  1. See: R. Glasse, “The Huli”, pp. 47-49; and Huli of Papua, pp. 84-85.[]
  2. “These “corporate” gamu are now known only by a scattered and rapidly diminishing number of former ritual specialists who possess and formerly performed these garnu on behalf of groups of people, ranging from individual families to sub-clans, clans and phratries.” Chris Ballard. The Death of a Great Land: Ritual, History and Subsistence Revolution in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of The Australian National University, Canberra, January 1995. p. 141. []
  3. See: Benjamin Gayalu, “The Gebeanda: A Sacred Cave Ritual”, in Powers, Plumes and Piglets ed. Norman Habel, (S. Ausralia: Flinders University Press, (1979), pp. 19-24; L. Goldman, “Kelote”, pp. 14-18. []
  4. For a detailed presentation on Huli sacred geography, see: Stephen Frankel. The Huli response to illness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986., p. 16. []
  5. Ballard, Chris. “The Centre Cannot Hold. Trade Networks and Sacred Geography in the Papua New Guinea Highlands”. Archaeology in Oceania , Oct., 1994, Vol. 29, No. 3, Social Landscapes (Oct., 1994) []
  6. Chris Ballard. The Death of a Great Land. A thesis submitted for the degree Doctor of Philosophy, Australian National University, Canberra, January 1995. tables B.6. []