Damian Arabagali wearing a manda hare or bachelor's ceremonial wig
Damien Arabagali

by Damien Arabagali

Huli people were aware of what it means to be a good and honourable person. Their behaviour was governed by a set of norms that were set by their society.

This behaviour was controlled and watched by Datagaliwabe. There was proper behaviour for married people and especially for the bachelors who participated in the haroli institution. And when worship was conducted in the traditional sacred places (gebe anda) all the Huli people had to change their ways of behaviour. But there were other occasions as, well when the Huli had to act in certain ways.

General Moral Laws

The Huli child was taught the general moral laws at an early age, because failure to obey them resulted in death. Datagaliwabe enforced all these laws which were taught by the parents. Further corrections were made during an initiation ceremony (tege). The basic commandments of the Huli were:

  1. Do not be a deceiver
  2. Do not lie
  3. Help the weak and the helpless.
  4. Do not be false witness.
  5. Always tell the truth.
  6. Do not fornicate.
  7. Do not commit adultery.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not be a slanderer.
  10. Do not make two innocent people enemies.
  11. Listen to your parents.
  12. Do not eat by yourself; be a sharer.
  13. Do not be an angry person.

If the Huli followed the above commandments, they would live to a ripe old age. If the Huli person was challenged by the community to speak the truth, he or she must speak the truth. If the truth was not spoken, that person would die. Datagaliwabe would kill the liar. If a person repented and confessed his or her offence in public, Datagaliwabe usually gave back his or her life.

The Huli feel very deeply the evil their ancestors had done by killing the innocent young man, Baya baya. As a result of this evil deed, fear, shame and pain came into the Huli land. The whole of Hela has been repenting what happened so that the mother of Baya baya would take back her curse on Huli people. The theme for the gebe anda worship at Pepenete and Daperinite has changed to asking for forgiveness from Baya baya’s mother.

The Huli believe that sin is an offence against society and against Datagaliwabe. All sins have to be mentioned to the older men of the tribe so that one would not die. If a person fornicates or commits adultery or steals someone’s property, that person has to declare it in order to escape death. When the sin is declared, the tribal leaders will go about settling and resolving it. If not, the tribe too will be destroyed for failing to give justice.

The Huli have a strong code of conduct. In fact most of their commandments or moral laws are identical to the Christian commandments. This was one of the reasons why many Huli people easily became Christians. The Huli moral laws guided them to be good in the eyes of the One they worshipped.

Later in this chapter, we will dwell on the special life of Huli bachelors. Even as they had their own rules, so too were there specific instructions for married people. The Huli husband and wife were instructed very thoroughly before marriage and at marriage. It would appear, however, that the list of moral guidelines referred to above allows us once more to affirm that in many instances the traditional ways were no hindrance to the acceptance of Christianity. In fact, traditional morality prepared the way for Christian morality.

Huli Worship

The experience of the sacred is linked with being human, as a creature created in the image of God.

Worshipping God is the first step of the soul attaining rest in God. If he (sic) does not worship he (sic) is restless. If he (sic) worship’s God he (sic) finds rest in Him. That is the basis of all sound religion.

The Huli people were very religious people. Each family had a place for worshipping the deities. These included the highest God, the ancestral spirits and dangerous spirits (dama).

The highest form of worship was addressed to the one God. This worship was performed at a holy place called gebe anda. This worship, which was the most sacred because the One worshipped was the absolute God, involved the whole Hela region. Everyone was involved. Augustine Agile spoke to me about the One. He had a very strong belief that the One was God. He also added that in his father’s time, some people tried to confuse and change the worship of the One into a worship of dama. This was in fulfilment of the prophecy;

The evil spirits (dama) of the Obene, Duna and Duguba will take over your sacrifice pits in your gebe anda.

The worship was sacred, and the dangerous spirits (dama) had to be kept out at all costs. An extra form of worship was made on the road to the gebe anda in an effort to stop evil spirits from entering the enclosure. The gebe anda ceremonies, which were organized by the priestly tribe, were performed at twenty to thirty year intervals and were performed on behalf of the whole Hela population.

The Place of Worship (gebe anda)

Kebe Anda by Arabagali
Gebe anda cave and ritual houses

Gebe anda is the term used to describe the most holy place where worship on behalf of the Hela population was conducted. All the major sacred sites of worship in the Hela region are connected with a network of underground tunnels. Whenever a sacrifice was made in any one place, the smoke came out in the other gebe anda as well. The Obene, Duna and Duguba cultural groups thus joined in with each other’s worship in their own sacred places.

The gebe anda areas are usually filled with klinki pines. Many plants that are not seen elsewhere are planted there. Most of the gebe anda have a sacred cave, sometime with a house over it. There are also several other houses in the enclosure. One is called agadia; this was the house where men slept. There is another house called wadia; this was the house where’ women slept. There is a third house call hina anda; this house was used to store food. There is also a fourth house called ira anda; this was the house where the first fire was made. The fifth house was the house where the servants used to sleep. The main house was the gebe anda. In the center of all these houses was the house of oko anda. The worship was done in these two houses, the gebe anda and the oko anda, plus the cave.

The oko anda is built with a pointed top and is very tall. It is eight stories high. The most sacred objects are kept in this house. Some of these objects have never been seen before. (In Daperinite’s oko anda, they have been keeping some European hair, rosary beads without a cross and a piece of steel). Each gebe anda has a most sacred area, the entrance to which is restricted to the priest (gebe ali). In the doorway of the sacred room is a hole or pit for cooking pig meat. Only one gebe ali went into the most sacred room. The gebe anda areas were often filled with a mysterious presence of someone very powerful.

The One showed itself in the form of a soft wind, or birds sitting on top of the oko anda. The gebe anda was highly restricted. There were very strong penalties for those who broke the rules. No people or pigs were allowed to enter the sacred area. Any animal that went into the gebe anda area would be killed. People who got into the area had to pay quickly or else the One would kill them. Each gebe anda had a sub-clan that is its guardian. They provided the priestly service, and the priests had the full responsibility of performing the ceremonies and setting the time. The Kelote kete anda Daperite and Pepenete gebe andas arc in the Huli area. Worship in these places belongs to the whole Hela population. The gebe anda at Daperinite was used to worship Datagaliwabe. All the sons of Hela, the representatives of the four cultural groups, would come together for that. There was a certain route of entry for each group and each group had an area where they could kill their pigs (make their sacrifices) and perform their, dances.

The Traditional Priesthood (gebe ali)

The gebe ali were specially chosen men from the priestly clan who worshipped the One on behalf of all the descendants of Hela. Not everyone could become a priest. A certain sub-clan of the priestly clan alone could qualify. However a Huli priest was not similar to a Levite priest in the Israelite religion. The gebe ali were mediators who held great responsibility. The fate of the Hela population depended on them. They were highly respected men. Prior to the worship, and sometimes afterwards, they had to abstain from eating sweet potato, having sex, and seeing their families. The gebe ali were very special because they had experienced the powerful One, and as a result were filled with his power. After death, their skulls were collected and decorated regularly, because their skulls had the power of the One who was worshipped.

Anyone who offended the gebe ali had to pay very dearly. If they didn’t, the, people would kill them. There were usually four men selected to be mediators at the worship of the One. Of the four, only one would go into the holy room and speak to the One. The other three would collect the offerings made by leaders of the four cultural groups. The head gebe ali was the one who knew all the prayers (kamu). He was the one who did the worshipping in the presence of the One.

The gebe ali had to be men who were outstanding in following all the traditional laws. It was very rare to see a gebe ali accused of anything. He had limited contact with other people because his presence could endanger other people’s lives. The head gebe ali had a daily responsibility to see that the gebe anda was clean at all times. The was done to please the One. Augustine Agilo was a head gebe ali of the Deperinite gebe anda. He told me that the Kupari (Catholic) Church is a gebe anda. He said:

We worshipped Datagaliwabe in the gebe anda. Now were are worshipping God in the Church. There is no real difference, only different places and different names.

After hearing from others, I too concluded that the one true God worshipped today was worshipped before by the Huli.

Forms of Worship

The right time for worship was decided by The priestly tribe. They would take the initiative and inform the entire Hela population of the need to worship the One. This was done when the following things happened:

i. A very big prolonged tribal war involving hundreds of warriors in which many were killed. The theme of worship would be a request for peace and reconciliation.

ii. When a big natural catastrophe, such as an earthquake, occurred and the lives of the Hela people were at stake.

iii. The One was also worshipped in times of famine, droughts and epidemics of disease causing death. The One was worshipped when the land became infertile, and when there was a decrease in the population. The request of forgiveness for what they did to Bayabaya was also included. In other words, the highest One was only worshipped when the life of the whole Hela population was threatened.

When a decision was reached for worshipping the One, messengers were sent throughout the Hela region to invite people and to collect their offerings. Councillor Yalitima Tuali of the Takapua clan told me in August 1984 how he, the guardian of the Kelote gebe anda, travelled all over the Hela region to collect gifts in preparation of the last big ceremony held at his sacred place at Kelote, to request divine protection from the earthquake experienced in the area in 1960.

The time for the day of worship was set by putting frog eggs in a long wooden dish filled with water. When the first frogs croaked, a call was sent throughout the Hela region that the worship would start. The whole population, abstained from eating certain foods and stopped crossing rivers because they were forbidden to wet their feet.

If the worship was done at Pepenete, the Huli people put ripe bananas and bamboo pipes for smoking with tobacco on the places, where Bayabaya and his mother Tiripi had rested on their journey to Pepenete. Everyone spoke a new language, called Tua llili. This language was taught and spoken at the time of worship.

The ceremony began with a pig kill. All of the people and leaders of the combined cultural groups of Obene, Duna, Duguba and Huli gathered together. The various leaders of each cultural group brought gifts and lay them before the head of the priestly tribe, and the members of the priestly tribe performed the Komia dance. This dance started outside where all the people were gathered and then moved into the gebe anda. Only the members of the priestly tribe went inside the gebe anda. These people took the pigs offered and killed them at the various houses. During the afternoon, the gebe ali alone went into the sacred room. Two gebe ali would be left on guard while the other two went into the sacred room. Only one, who knew all the prayers, went in and talked with the One. The other gebe ali was left outside, near the door.

He waited at the spot where they had cooked the pig for the One, The leading gebe ali went into the oko anda and put the people’s petition before the One. The priest brought some special meat inside the oko anda, and burned it.

The gebe ali said this prayer before he opened the door:

Yasu, may your teeth be tamed Yasu, may your tongue be tamed Yasu, may your heart be tamed

Yasu ne, tabotabo Yasu hege tabotabo Yasu pu tabotabo

Oh DatagaliwabeDatagaliwaabe o
Oh! Sky BeingDaluya Ali o
Oh! Eagle of the SkyYaliawe o
Oh! YasuYasu o
Eagle NeneEgo Nene
Eagle HituEgo hitu
My father KuluI apa Kuluo
My father WapiniI apa Wapini
My father KurapoI apa Kurapa
My father KerapoI apa Kerapo
My father HinituI apa Hinitu
My father KaliI apa koli
My father PepoI apa Pepo
My father KauI apa Kou
My father PukulapeI apa Pukulape
My father KaveI apa Kave
My father KanimuI apa Kanimu
My father KokomaI apa Kokomo
My father WamuI apa Wamu
We are opening the doorPaga dukua haramago

(Please note: the names of ancestors in the prayer were filled in by myself. Augustine Agile told me that he had to call fourteen names of past Hela ancestors.) The door was not opened with the hands but with flying fox claws after the prayer was said and the door was closed from the inside with the claws. From inside the sacred cave, the gebe ali decorated the rock joints and the posts of’ the oko anda with oil and red paint. He then burned the pig meat. As the pig meat burned, he would say these prayers:

It was known that when the One was worshipped, many eagles would come and sit on top of the oko anda. This was said to be the sign of the presence of Datagaliwabe or the One. If the worship was done in the cave, a mysterious wind would fill the cave to indicate the presence of the One.

When the worship was completed, the gebe ali returned to where the rest of the men were and stayed with them inside the gebe anda area for three more days. The rest of the people left after the pig kill. The priestly tribe’s men stayed with the gebe ali and continued to sacrifice the piglets offered to the One. This finished on the fourth day when the gebe ali painted themselves with charcoal and red paint, oiled their bodies and danced. They started the dance from the inside of the gebe anda and came out and danced around the gebe anda. Thus the worship was concluded.

The gebe ali still had to abstain from certain foods, from contact with people and from sex for a couple of months. The leading gebe ali returned home and planted a certain tanget called tange which was known as the time keeper. The prayers were answered when the tanget began to grow. Most of the ex-gebe afi told me that the One never failed them and that he always answered their prayers.

Give us boys, give us girlslgiri giabe, wandari giabe
Give us sweet potato, give us pigsHina giabe, nogo giabe
Give us peopleWali agali giabe
Let there be no fightingWai no ipilape
Do not send hungerHina kari no ipilape
Do not send earthquakesTumbitumbi no ipilape
Do not make people disappearWali agili mo erepa no hope

The details given above about the forms of worship derive from my interviews with some traditional Huli priests. These worship ceremonies have not been described before. They differ greatly from the rites and rituals brought by the missionaries. The secrecy which surrounded these traditional ceremonies kept them hidden from outsiders. But they demonstrate the Huli sense of what proper worship was, and, this sense too was conducive to accepting the new ritual acts which were part and parcel of the missionary endeavour. For this reason Augustine Agilo could say:

“The (Catholic) church at Kupari Tari, is a gebe anda. There is no real difference, only different places and names.”

(Extract from Datagaliwabe Was Working Among The Huli. Damien Arabagali. Treid Pacific (PNG) Ltd. 1999. pp. 73-76.)