Huli Initiation Rites

by Ron Meshanko

The Huli initiation rite consists of two stages which a boy, age eight to adult, must pass through twice before he is considered a full member of male society. The first stage, which teaches a boy to fear the advances and allurements of women, occurs after midnight on the third day of the sequence.

Instructions on the significance of the rites are given by two uriali ritual leaders who preside at the ceremonies. Twelve ritual assistants (liduali) complete the tasks ordered by the uriali. Two bamboo tubes, painted with red ochre, are then placed on the fire by a ritual assistant. When these explode the deity is believed to be present and the ritual drama begins. Ten men dressed as women enter the hut and circle around the fire ten times, making advances to the initiates who are supposed to resist them. Two of the masqueraders then produce two, large, wooden penises which they expose to the gathered assembly. Any response to these womanly advances by the initiates is followed by punishment and jeering humiliations. A boy who successfully completes this stage of rejecting female advances is permitted to carry the black palm bow and may enter the second stage of the initiation rite at the next Tege ceremony. 1

Tege Pulu Initiation House, 1955.
Boys inside a Tege Pulu house in 1955.

The second stage occurs on the first night of the sequence after the pig sacrifices to deities and ancestral spirits, 2 ritual exchanges of food, and the Tege Pulu dance which occur throughout the day. This stage emphasizes the strength and endurance of males during times of hostility and conflict, two highly respected values for Huli males.

Another rite that occurs on the second day of the ritual sequence also emphasizes strength, endurance, male hostility and conflict. 3 Then, an hour before dawn all the men go outside to participate in ritual violence. Each man accuses another, except his father and paternal uncles, of past grievances and lashes him on the back with a birch switch. He, in turn, has the right to reciprocate. The event usually ends up in a free-for-all lashing which terminates when one of the uriali hears the cry of the urrungane bird. The uriali shouts the war cry which signals the men to begin the victory war cry as they circle the Tege house.

Man seated inside the Tege Pulu initiation house. 1955.
Inside Tege Pulu initiation house, 1955.

The initiates are humiliated and frightened throughout the night until the second hour before dawn when the real terror begins. First stage initiates run quickly through the hot coals in the long fire pit while the Liduali beat them with birch switches. To successfully complete the rite the boy must run the entire length of the coals and bend low to pass through the small doorway to the anteroom where the initiated men are seated and waiting. If a boy passes through the coals twice and stands among the initiated men, he is considered to be a full member of Huli male society. 4

Tege Kuruanda Initiation Ceremony Building

Tege Kuruanda Initiation House by Damien Arabagali
1) Liru anda 2) Kuruanda 3) Ede Anda. Exact use is not known. However, most likely, the long fire pit would have been in the Kuranda. The initiated elder with liru stones will be seated in the Liru anda. Unknown use for Ede Anda. By Damien Arabagali 5

  1. For a detailed description of the many variations of the Tege Pulu rituals, see: Ballard, Chris. “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. 241-245. []
  2. In tege, separate sacrifices were made to the ancestors, whose skulls were decorated with paint, and to the dama, some of which were represented by spirit stones. See: Stephen Frankel. The Huli response to illness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986., p. 152. []
  3. The Ten Golden Rules of Huli living are presented sometime during the day before a ritual beating occurs. See Liddle, Kay. Into the Heart of Papua New Guinea (p. 263). Kay Liddle Trust / Castle Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  4. For a detailed description of the initiation process, see: Liddle, Kay. Into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Kay Liddle Trust / Castle Publishing, p. 258-262. []
  5. (Drawing from Datagaliwabe Was Working Among The Huli. Damien Arabagali. Treid Pacific (PNG) Ltd. 1999. pp. 26.) []