Types of Huli Rituals

by Ron Meshanko

Any one or a combination of the three forms of gamu behavior (verbal expression, ritual gestures and oblations) are performed during the various types of Huli rituals. The Huli classify their gamu rites into five different types:

  • Sorcery (gamu bia) 1
  • Healing (agali gamu)
  • Divination (tadu bia)
  • Initiation (gurumaigiti and Haroli gamu)
  • Fertility (dindi gamu)

Two other types of ritual, protection and production gamu, are also performed by the Huli, although they do not classify them as specific types of rituals.

Sorcery 2 is the willful manipulation of supernatural forces or powers to harm a person(s) or their possessions. 3 The Huli do not have generic classifications for the different kinds of sorcery. However, a simple classification of sorcery based on “means to end relationship” clarifies the manner in which sorcery is believed to be efficacious.

The first class of sorcery consists of those kinds of sorcery that have a direct or mechanical effect on the victim (linki, hambu, and nugbi gamu). In hambu gama, a man breaks a stick pointed in the direction of his enemies to directly break the bones of the victim.

The second class of sorcery consists of those kinds of sorcery that have an indirect effect on the victim which is mediated by a ghost or deity (tera and mbi bia ha gamu). Men indirectly cause the death or sickness of an adversary by calling down the wrath of one of the nine major deities upon him in tera gamu or ritual cursing. The men sacrifice a pig and present it to the deities in a ritual house as they chant the curses. The deities, grateful for the oblation, then attack the victim causing sickness and/or death.

Healing gamu consists of those forms of behavior performed by a healer who chants spells and uses specified ritual matter to bring about the healing of a sick person. 4 Agali gamu is a prime example of healing gamu. The cure for poison, consists of the sacrifice of a pig, ritual bathing with the pig’s blood and medicinal leaves, and the eating of the pork with taro and bog iris leaves.

Divination gamu (tadua bia)is all those forms of ritual behavior performed by diviners that attempt to determine the cause of a recent event and predict future events through the use of specific ritual matter and spells. 5 Female diviners divine positive or negative answers to questions posed by a client who brings a string bag containing an article formerly associated with a dead person. The article (hair, clothing, necklace, etc. attracts the ghost of to the string bag and imbues it with gamu power. The animated string bag sways to the left for negative answers and to the right for positive answers in response to the client’s questions.

Fertility gamu are any forms of gamu behavior performed to increase the fertility of a specific part of the environment. 6 The following things are made fertile through the performance of fertility rituals:

  • Gardens (mabu gamu)
  • Women (ndintingi gamu)
  • Children (waneingin gamu
  • Men (Haroli gamu)
  • Pigs (kimbu gamu)
  • Water (tiri yagua)

Fertility rituals, the predominate type of Huli gamu behavior, are performed through ritual digging of gardens, bathing with dew, anointing of sacred stones and people, burying sacred stones, chanting of spells, and the presentation of offerings and sacrifices in the various induvial rites. A major fertility rite, dindi gamu, will be described later on this page.

Initiation gamu is a type of fertility gamu that aims to increase the strength and physical development of young males through the manipulation and control of supernatural forces, especially the powers of the bog iris plant and menstrual bamboo tubes. Initiation rites (see Initiation page) also instruct the young men in Huli myths, lore, and traditions and prepare them for battle. There are two distinct types of initiation rites: urumaigiti and haroli gamu. The former is performed in the Tege house during the Tege rites while the latter is performed by bachelors in the bachelor cult forest during a two-year novitiate.

Protection gamu are sets of ritual behavioral forms which are performed to protect a man from his enemy, be it another man, deity, or ghost; and from other types of gamu undertaken to cause harm. The gumia dance is performed to scare away harmful dama. Manago hale gamu is practiced by a man to repel the powerful and harmful emanations from toro stones which might be aimed in his direction by his foe. In this rite, a man coats sticks purchased from the Duna people with pigs blood and places the sticks at the four corners of his house and in his garden to ward off the toro force. 7

Production gamu are those sets of ritual forms which are carried out to ensure the proper production of material objects. Men burn the plumes of the blue bird of paradise in a fire which they used to hollow out wood to make their drums. The burnt plumes transfer the loud and penetrating voice of the bird to the drum which is used in ritual dances. 8

  1. Robert Glasse reported on Ritual Cursing, which I assume is a form of sorcery. See: Robert Glasse, Huli of Papua, p. 106. []
  2. See: https://huliculture.com/2022/05/23/huli-customary-beliefs-and-tribal-laws-about-witches-and-witch-spirits/ []
  3. See: R. Glasse, Huli of Papua, pp. 24, 53, 57-60, 68, 79, 97, 102, 104-106. []
  4. See: S. Frankel, “I am a Dying Man”, pp. 102-103, 107; and Australian National Film-makers, Voices in the Forest. []
  5. See: R. Glasse, Huli of Papua, pp. 79, 102, 128; and “The Huli”, pp. 39-40; and J. Parratt, Papuan Beliefs, p. 44 []
  6. See: R. Glasse “The Huli”, pp. 45-46; L. Goldman, “Kelote,” pp. 14-18; and Australian National Film-makers, Voices in the Forest. []
  7. R. Glasse, “The Huli”, p. 42. []
  8. Australian National Filmmakers, Voices in the Forest.[]