by Ron Meshanko

Ni habane and Liru ali by Michael Main
A Liru Ali (sacred stone ritual specialist) revealing two round black liru (sacred stones) called Ni habane – ‘eggs of Ni’. 1

Ni, the son of the goddess Honabe, is the very powerful Huli sun god. The Huli refer to themselves as Ni Honowini, literally, children of the sun, Ni. 2 This title is based on the variant of the creation myth 3 wherein Ni seduces the wife of his brother Hela, which results in the birth of the Huli people. One missionary reports that the Huli people were created from the union of Ni and Hana. 4 This missionary and others 5 refer to Ni as the creator, perhaps referring to his siring of the Huli people.

The sacrifice of a pig to Ni during marriage instructions and upon the conception of a child alludes to the “children of Ni” theme. The sacrifices compel Ni to bless the marriage so that the union will be fruitful and produce more children of Ni. The sacrifice of pigs to Ni during the Tege and Haroli initiation rites strengthen the young children of Ni by increasing their fertility and establishing them as functional males in the community. The initiates are recreated as “new men” when the sun (Ni) rises only after entering into the darkness of the womb and death an hour or two before dawn through fire-walking rites (Tege) and baptismal immersions (Haroli). “This makes man, in a sense the son of the Supreme Being; more precisely, he becomes so anew as a result of his ritual death from which he rises identified with the sun” as a child of Ni. 6

The importance of Ni is also seen in the round black stones mentioned in the myth. These stones, which are sacred to the Huli, are called Ni habane (the eggs of Ni). They are imbued with supernatural power and are used in fertility rites. They are also planted in gardens to make them fertile with the help of the fecundating power of Ni.

The role of Ni as Father of the Huli people and fecundator of the earth reveals the solarization of the supreme being, Datagaliwabe – a process which we will discuss later. Datagaliwabe’s attributes (creator) were transformed to the sun god, Ni, resulting in an amalgamation of the Supreme Being with the Sun God. 7 A similar process occurred with the Demiurge Honabe and her offspring, notably Hana, which eventually ended in the gradual replacement of Datagaliwabe. Each of these creator deities (Honabe = Earth, Hana = Moon, Ni = Sun) claim some function related to man’s creation for the natural spheres they symbolize are primordial sources from which humans get their life and being. Ni is a creator deity who rejuvenates the fertility of the earth and increases the abundance of life for his children (Ni honowini). 8

(Photo courtesy of PNG Tourism Promotion Authority)

  1. Certainly the date of their (liru stones) production within or transfer into the Tari region exceeds the reach of Huli history, as Huli deny their status as human artefacts and have no sense of the presumed prior functions of such artefacts as mortars and pestles; in fact mortars (as ni tangi: “hats of the sun”) are linked not to pestles but rather to naturally occurring rounded cobbles (ni habane: “eggs of the sun”) traded from the Kopiago region. (An extract from The Death of a Great Land: Ritual, History and Subsistence Revolution in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea; Australian National University, Canberra, 1995). []
  2. “…The sun (god), Ni, who enters the earth each night at Mt Mbiduba, to the west of the Lebani basin, and returns under the ground along the route of dindi pongone, to surface each morning in the east behind Ambua.” 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. 144. []
  3. R. Glasse, “The Huli”, pp. 33-34 []
  4. Papuan Letters, Volume 6, p. 22. []
  5. C. Simpson, Plumes, pp. 392-393 []
  6. M. Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religions (New York,: New American Library, 1958), p. 135. []
  7. Ibid., p. 128 []
  8. See: Stephen Frankel. The Huli response to illness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986., p. 151. []