Huli Education

by Ron Meshanko

Huli Wigmen with their children. Photo by Michael Main.

The separation of sexes and male anxiety about menstrual pollution is also expressed in the ‘traditional education’ of Huli boys 1 which has been considerably altered by the influence of Europeans and other Melanesian cultures. A boy lives with his mother until he is seven or eight years old when he moves into a boy’s house or that of his father. His father shows him the gardens, trees and groves that his ancestors planted and have tended over many generations, and explains to him his ancestral rights. At age twelve or thirteen the boy enters a more intense period of informal education from his father and other males. He is instructed in the traditional beliefs about growth and the need to avoid women to achieve a good skin.

The boy begins the formal care of his hair and tends to the development of his body. Each day before dawn he goes to the forest to wash his hair and body with dew while reciting spells. He also begins to tease his hair to form the manda tene or everyday wig. He is no longer permitted to mingle with women, to eat food cooked by them, or to enter their houses. The boy is taught to fear menstrual blood, women, and coitus without the necessary ritual preparations only available to married men. He also cultivates his own gardens, which have been given to him by his father and maternal grandfather. He learns marksmanship skills with the bow and arrow by hunting possums and birds.

The formal education process commences with the Tege rites 2 and the Haroli bachelor cult school. 3 The tege initiation rites instruct the boy in fertility beliefs and ancestral rites and duties, imbue in him a fear of women and menstrual contamination and emphasize masculine strength and endurance. The rites take place in a specially constructed sixty foot house with skillon roof. A twenty-five foot long fire pit separates the interior of the house into two equal parts. An anteroom with a very low doorway is found at the shortest end of the house. Actual initiation rites are precluded by six months of preparation: pigs are sacrificed to Ni, Korimogo, and other deities; the Teba rite is performed to remove the cataracts from the eyes of ancestral spirits, and sacrificial offerings are given to ancestral spirits and deities during the Himuku rites

  1. See: R. Glasse, “The Huli”, pp. 39, 49, 51-52, 66, 78, 92.[]
  2. See: Ibid., pp. 107-108; R. Allen, Male Cults, pp. 50-51; Masyln Williams, Stone Age Island, (London: Collins, (1964) pp. 312-314; Colin Simpson, Plumes and Arrows, (Brisbane:Watson, Ferguenson and Co., (1962), p. 392. Also based on information received from Damien Arabagali in personal correspondence, November, 1984, and personal notes of Berard Tomassetti dated 1955. []
  3. See: S. Frankel, “I am a Dying Man”, pp. 99-100; R. Glasse, “The Huli”, p. 43 and Huli of Papua, pp. 42, 64, 112-113; Gabriel Lomas and P. Kavanaugh, Amongst the Huli, Australian National Film-makers, 1978, (film). []