by Laurence R. Goldman

Minor garden magic is a sphere where observations can be made of the process of symbol substitution and equivalence – the fertility of one object expressed in terms of the productiveness of another object – that pervades conceptualizations about important foodstuffs. To elucidate this point I turn again to Gamu 1 which, as a central feature of Huli notions of action and achievement, provides an unparalleled cultural window allowing access to the following types of statement:

  1. Planting sweet potato(hina):(Informant:Anya;Tobani)
    Hona Ni Hona Hana la mo tangaro
    I’m causing the Dama Ni and Hana to have intercourse
  2. Planting taro(ma):(Informant Mirila aba;Tobani)
    Hari Abagoni Nuli Hiwa habane wero
    On Mt. Abago I’m putting the seeds of the sago
  3. To increase size and number of bananas (Hai Tiu
    Wanelabo wane andu mogobia logolabaro / Iba Teria
    Yagira la angeneni Ib a Tiri wi logolabaro / Iba Tiri
    wi hubua bero
    I’m breaking the nipples of Dama Wanelabo’s daughters /
    on the banks of Teria and Yagira rivers I’m
    stretching the penis of Iba Tiri/I’m wrapping
    the penis of Iba Tiri (cf.Appendix 10:Bi Te)
  4. Spells for cutting and squeezing sago (hiwa):
    Aluibi ibane pingidu pea pingidu
    pea haro
    I’m squeezing the semen of the birds Aluibi and Kole
    Aluibi habane togoda pea haro / Alu kole habane togoda
    pea haro / Guruabagua habane togoda pea haro
    I’m breaking(hatching) the eggs of the Aluibi bird /
    I’m breaking the eggs of the Kole bird / I’m breaking
    the eggs of the crocodile

References in texts 1 and 3 to the Dama Ni, Hana and Iba Tiri illustrate my previous remarks that the fertility of these original sexual unions provide a rich source or metaphorical abstract Action. In addition to the progenitorial aspects of Iba Tiri adumbrated in the first part of the chapter, the health of pigs’ hair and fruit of the fig tree after drought are attributed to this Dama. These positive aspects of Iba Tiri contrast strikingly with associations of disorder and threat described in Chapter three. The fecund implications of penis (wi), semen (ibane) and breast-milk are variously invoked in the above texts and significantly each food May itself he a symbol in the context of other foods (as for example sago (hiwa) is in text 2). This is important for understanding aspects of ‘talk about talk’ where taro, pandanus nuts, sweet-potato and banana are all used themselves in idiomatic expressions and proverbs symbolizing equivalent fruition between the domain of agriculture and ‘talk’. The conceived parallels between vegetable growth and reproduction in ‘birds’ contained in text 4, introduces a prevalent symbolic motif in Huli culture and one that appears to occur in many other Highland societies – the interrelationship between man and bird.

Infertility (tahua – deserted) is a major cause for anxiety and divorce in Huli. Failure to have children or indeed inability to increase size or number of pigs is attributed by men to women. Spells to counteract this state in females invariably list bird names with the qualifying phrases “habane garo payaro” (I’m closing the eggs inside you), “habane wi wayaro” (I’m planting the eggs inside you) and “habane togoda wero” (I’m hatching and placing the eggs there). Aspects of fecundity in one domain are invoked as a template for reproduction in the human sphere. Pre-natal rites consist, for the woman, of regular self- recitation of two Gamu: (1) wane-igini gamu (specific form) to make the child birth quick; and (2) hagua beregeda gamu (literally ‘turning the child’s head’). Both these would be transmitted to a daughter by her mother or close female relative, though occasionally they may be bought with pig or shell money (dange) from another female.

Wane-igini Gamu:(Informant:Anya ainya;Tobani)
Gondo piago/ganga piago / ade piago/beregoda piago/
guriya pangane gambe elo wini / ha pogo pogo / h a ria
pogo pogo/ala pogo pogo.
Like the gondo plant(Commelina) shoot up/like the
ganga plant (Elatostema blechnoides) shoot up/like
this mushroom shoot up/like this species of mushroom
shoot up/like the ground cuscus which moves and bends
the pitpit/on this track jump / quickly jump out

The above text embodies a slightly different configuration of notions of ‘growth’ perceived as common to human, agricultural and animal spheres. The pregnant woman attempts to achieve a short and quick labour by appealing to the manner in which plants “shoot”. Vegetable life, as bird behaviour in the above cited texts, represents a pool of attributes, a source of symbol and metaphor selectively abstracted and adapted for different discourse contexts to infuse human activities with valued properties. Gamu embody symbolic statements of equivalence and homology which underpin the imitative imperative – “be like x!” The desired states are promoted and achieved by correct performance of the appropriate speech act. This emphasises once again the medial function of ‘talk’ between man and successful outcomes of action.

The gestation time is perceived as eight months, counted from the first missed menstrual period. In Huli thought the number eight similarly constitutes a time duration (usually days or months) when the effects of any magico-religious activity reveal themselves. Furthermore, this same number stands in a symbolic relation to the numeral four as male and female respectively. This complementary opposition of eight:male:fruition and four:female:sterility is embodied in various cultural beliefs and rites. Ma Hiraya (child fertility ritual described below) was previously performed on the eighth day following birth for a boy, and on the fourth day for a girl; men protected themselves from the dangers of menstrual contamination for four days (ref.Chapter 1), a similar duration as the catastrophic repercussions of Bingi (fall-outs of volcanic dust, cf.Glasse 1965:45-46). This numerical symbolism expresses directly twin aspects of female sexuality dealt with before – the concepts of fecundity and death. On the seventh month of pregnancy a pig is sacrificed for Kebali known as Nogo Ngui Kebe (on the nose of Dama Kebali’ – to recall the going of this spirit so that the child will ‘go out’ from the woman in a trouble-free delivery). During this period men are prohibited from entering sacred places or indeed from performing rites associated with Dama for fear of endangering their prospective child. Most of the potent sorcery forms like Hambu and dangerous Gamu like Kebe\Gamu (associated with Kebe Anda) were practised only by unmarried men previously. Following birth the placenta (nu-tu) “umbrella bag’) and part of the umbilical cord (lumbi – long (lu) + one (mbi)) are planted in a pandanus nut tree to ensure promotion of ‘growth’. The fecund associations of pandanus-nut trees (anga) relates directly to observations made in the first chapter, and may perhaps be explained by the greater dietary significance of this food previous to contact.

On the morning of the fourth or eighth day after birth, depending on the sex of the child, both parents traverse Kebe Haria (tracks along which Kebali is believed to have gone, see Map 3) strewing leaves from the Balimu tree and reciting a spell given below. The rite is known as Balimu Pudaga (‘cutting of Balimu’) This tree, like the hoop-pine ( Guraya) is believed to have initially marked the spot where this Dama first entered Huli land) or Habua Pu. It represents an invocation and recreation on the social level of ancestral reproduction and progenitorial fertility. This is an association, as earlier remarked upon, which applies to the three Dama Ni, Kebali and Iba Tiri.

Balimu Pudaga Gamu: (Informant: I collected many accounts in the Koroba area of which the following is an invariant rendition.) 3
Bebali Puni Bebe Yame poro / Habolima poro / Biango hiwi
poro / Wabia gabua poro / Dudu ndu poro /N ogo taro poro /
Dali pari poro / Wa puya poro / IGIRI YAGUA DANDA DANDA,
Like the cassowary (two-wattled:C. casuarius) in Bebali
Puni (Dugube), go/like the dwarf cassowary (Habolima is
a kai term for the generally used word ‘yari’ ), go / like
the wild dog, go / like the wild pig from Wabia (Huli), go /
like the wild dog, go / like the wild pig, go / like these

The above text provides a level of insight not available to research that relies solely on observation and question answer formats. The Huli do not verbalize in conversation the kind of philosophical statements about their culture embodied in these type of speech forms. Thematically, the parents attempt to infuse into the child properties associated with the above animals. The characteristics of strength, freedom and aggression are all valued facets of the realm of the ‘wild’, contrasting sharply with the ‘domesticated’ domain. The inclusion of the Dugube place name recalls the notion of quintessential aggression as externalised to ‘others’; the most potent forms of sorcery in Huli issue from Duna and Dugube. Wabia valley is similarly regarded as a centre for wild pigs and various birds of paradise on account of its rich fauna and low altitude. This semantic opposition of wild / domestic, inherent in the above text, typifies the distinction between Dama and Man allowing us to observe in praxis the conceptual integration of religious, natural (vegetable and animal) and human realms. The final statement of the Gamu presents the relative values of male and female children in the culture. Boys represent ‘bows'(danda), a symbol of help in conflicts and thus ultimately ‘talk’ (cf. Dawe verse 2: Appendix 1 where ‘bow’ is figuratively used for ‘song’). This is culturally reinforced in references to boys of marriageable age as Danda Homa(‘one bow’), while in Haroli accession to the high status of Manda Hare (‘red wig’) was marked by replacement of pan-pipes (Gulu Pobe) with the macho symbol ‘bow’ as articles of adornment (see plates 3 and 4). In opposition, girls signify incoming bride-price pigs (damba) – they are outgoing members of the hameigini perpetuated by males. The formulation is an apotheosis of inter-sex evaluation. Stylistically, repetition of concepts, phrases and terms like ‘poro’ function as melodic and mnemonic indicators important to spell retention in Huli. These are enhanced by the technique of incorporating assonance as displayed by the opposing terms danda and damba in the coda of the Gamu. This is a predominant aesthetic feature of many speech genres and, in addition to reduplication, alliteration and use of Kai (eulogistic second terms), constitute the canons of ‘good’ speech in Huli society. Precisely the same motifs appear in another rite called Ma Hiriya (‘burning of the Taro’) performed on the same day as the previously described ritual. The general aim is to instill ‘strength’ into the infant causing it to be independent and able to assert itself.
The following items are collected and then burnt in a small fire: taro (ma), part of the central column of the bower of a Macgregor’s Bowerbird (Amblyornis macgregoriae:hombedagua hale (‘the torch of the Macgregor bird’)), twigs from a Lai tree (rodnaea viscosa,fam.sapindaceae), leaves of a tree (sp.Dimorphanthera.fam. Ericaceae), Gedere (green vegetable plant) and the Baralamba plant. The rationale for using these particular things is explained as follows. Taro represents ancestral food and signifies strength and assertion as in the period (previously described) Ma Naga (Taro time) 4 The food is lightly burnt and then scraped by the ritual practitioner over the infant while reciting Gamu. For Huli, Macgregor’s Bowerbird manifests ‘industry’, a general business (evident from the elaborate display bower and column) which is invoked to make the child independent and able to walk around ( anda and a bira). The Poro tree provides a glue used to stick cuscus skins to drums, the idea here being that the talk should ‘adhere’ to the child. Wood from the Lai tree is used in house construction and symbolises ‘strength’ as it does in the Ndi Tingi Gamu cited in the first chapter. The complexity of the non-verbal component of such rites parallels the verbal acts, revealing not a unified theme but a configuration and conglomeration of different but related qualities abstracted from observation and interaction with the environment. The implicit reference to ancestral behavior is reinforced by inclusion of Baralamba, a plant conceived to have issued from the bloom of Hana (cf.text of Iba Tiri’s speech in Ch.1). During the ritual, the expert beats the string of a bow with an arrow while uttering:

Walu mone pururu/Dangi mone pururu/Diya mone pururu
laro/Tabu mone pururu laro / Danda mone pururu laro / Ni
mone pururu laro

The first two terms are all types of wasp (mone) which variously inhabit and frequent mud (walu), grass (dangi), bush (tabu), Areca palm tree (danda) and sunny (ni) places. Pururu laro is a performative meaning ‘I am making it swell up’ – the wasp is an aesthetic symbol (further discussed in Chapter 3) and valued for its rotundity and freedom of flight. Other versions of the same spell I collected repeat the term “te” (clump, grove) as in hi te (banana grove) or du te (sugar-cane clumps) to infuse qualities of abundance and physical growth. A variation of the same theme is evident in the second spell employed in this ceremony:

Scraping of the Taro: (Informant:Hunguru;Koma)
Urubugele bi mero / Urubuhegele bi mero / Bai Mope bi mero/
Bai hinini bi mero / Kilnpe gege bi mero / Kilape hongode
gege bi mero

The initial terms are all names and kai (alternative eulogistic vocabulary) for birds of the Lorikeet family, the final clause of each phrase carrying the meaning of “I am getting the talk of these birds” (bi mero). The association made here between talk and strength is but one more aspect of the man/ bird analogy which figures prominently in the analysis of speech idioms undertaken in Chapter three. The responsibility for executing these rites resides with the immediate parents of the child(cf.D.2:149-150) and especially the father. Indeed, all of the above conceptualizations are eloquently embodied in an unusual and spontaneous Damba Bi (transcribed in Appendix 4) I recorded in which Ma Hiriya is signified by the father’s presentation of Baralamba plant and Macregor’s nest (Lines 29-31), while child fertility is represented by vegetable matter( pandanus, mushrooms – Lines 41-43) and the important Superb bird of Paradise. The same speech also separates the ‘reproductive’ role of women (Lines 5-16) from the ‘instructional / educational’ contribution of fatherhood (Lines 32-33). In view of the above data Glasse’s observation that “no ceremonies mark birth”(1968:40) seems somewhat wide of the mark. With the increased activity and influence of mission teaching over the last two decades the majority of these rites are no longer widely practiced. In Ialuba, this gradual cessation of traditional ceremony has not drastically altered beliefs about Dama, and both the ‘new medicine’ and ‘old Mana’ co-exist together. On account of this extremely short duration(approximately 15 years) of mission contact in this area, the complex of concepts and language surrounding child-rearing are still current and justify this presentation. What emerges is the manner in which these rites are conceived as a ‘sequenced’ structure displaying a remarkable continuity of ideas that are perpetuated in such cultural institutions as Haroli (male bachelor cult) and Wali Dagia (bridal rites). I propose in the remainder of this chapter to continue discussion of child-rearing ceremonies as an embodiment of interrelations between man:talk:bird. This provides a thematic link to the next chapter where analysis of speech styles reveals a similar incorporation of the above motif. At some stage during the early life of the child, and usually following some major illness, part of the infant’s umbilical cord would be buried in mud as part of the rite variously called Nogo Wandia, Tambugua Wandia, Nogo Galo / Anguatole. Mud is an important fecund symbol in Huli (cf. occurrence “in Ndi Tingi Gamu, Ch.1), and is frequently applied in healing rites still practiced today. This rite is yet another example of the suffusion of social action by invocations of mythical fertility.
Figure 5 below should be seen as an extension of those rituals contained in Figure 4 out from the culture-wide level to the individual level.

Huli myth and ritual - Laurence Goldma

This is emphasized in the Gamu used the first line of which reads: Agapia/wali odame lodame la / odowame lodowame la. (Informant:Ola;Egele) – from Lake Kopiago / these two ladies/ these two ladies (i.e. believed to have come to Huli with Nogo ParaTambugua). Land disputes are one context where the implications of this ritual, particularly the relation between land and umbilical cord, are referred to in both a real and figurative sense. Such a formulation is used by Helago in D.2:95 and embodied in such statements as “ibu lumbi hora hene ibu mabu ngagoni”(his land is where his umbilical cord lies).

When the child is able to stand by itself a small apron (mandibu) of banana leaves is made for it by the mother, and the appropriate spell – Mandibu Gamu – is blown onto the finished article. Bananas(hai) have the same associations of fecundity as taro, pandanus, sago and sweet potato, a clustered repertoire of agrarian symbols for regrowth that are also expressed in proverbs. It is important to stress that, unlike many other Highland systems, no form of maternal / paternal payments or exchange is involved in these rituals which are the sole province of the parents. This applies equally to the hair-cutting rite Mbalupa (term for small tuft of hair on children’s head) normally performed for a child under six. The head is shaved with a bamboo sliver (daba) and a small round or horizontal ridge of hair is left covering the place from where the spirit (dinini:di(flying)+ni(noun specifier) is held to depart at death. Though divorced from its previous ritual context, this practice is still continued. In essence it is a pre-figurement of the Samson (i.e . hair, strength, vital force) 5 theme embodied so definitively in Haroli, the cut hair being kept safe in the eaves of a house or placed in banana / pandanus trees for reasons outlined before. Both of the above ceremonies are part of Wane Igini Mana, as are the two rites described below. Their common aim is achievement of health, growth and strength, a pursuit in which the role of the mother is predominant. The male child is able to initiate self-fulfillment of these attributes only after severance of contact and dependence on females. The texts cited below illustrate again the importance of child ‘independence’ figuratively expressed as flight (yaga), a central concept of Huli decoration.

Informant: Kaubua a inya; Koma

Text: Dindi Dongoma Gamu
-White clay would previously have been applied to a child’s body by its mother, and the following spell recited to increase strength (hongo).

Ubiya igini / Abuage igini / Yayu igini / Yaliawe igini / Hidu
igini / Egane igini / Ega Minana igini / Wabuale igini / Yayu
Yamama ya pudu pudu / gibane iriri / gindibane iriri / ulini
iriri / gulini iriri / bane iriri / babagane iriri / harane iriri/
tani iriri / mabuni iriri / lamane iriri / wabula tiwi irane ale /
wabula gewa irane ale / Pipi Ayege irane ale / lu wuale ale pupu /
hulu wayege irini yaga yaga / duliya irini helo / bauwi irini
helowabula tiwi iri minaro / wabula gewa iri minaro / Pipi Ayege
iri minaro / ibane nguai nguai / indibane nguai nguai / dulini
nguai nguai/harane nguai nguai / lamane nguai nguai / tani nguai
nguai / mabuni nguai nguai / ya daga daga / tia daga daga / pu da ga

Son of the Raggiana Bird of Paradise / Son of the Sulphur
Crested Cockatoo / Son of the Yayu bird / Son of the Yaliawe
bird / Son of the Hidu bird / Son of the Egane bird / Son of the
Minana bird / Son of the Papuan Hornbill / flap your wings like
these birds / fingernails, grow up / toenails grow up/ from the
bottom grow up/ ribs grow up / on the thigh grow upon the wings
grow up on the sides grow up/ on the cassowary’s hair grow
up/ on the cassowary’s claws grow up / from where the roots
go in grow up/ like the stems of these canes / like the stems
of the Areca tree / go like the wind against the hair of these
trees / on the hair of the Wayege plant fly around / like the
hair on the Duliya possum, grow / like the hair on the Bauwi
plant, grow / I am getting the hair of these cane plants / I
am getting the hair of the Areca palm / let the nails meet /
let the toe nails join / let the knee-bones meet / let the wings
meet / let the roots meet/let the hair from the cassowary’s
shoulder meet / let the claws of the cassowary meet / lift up
lift up/ reach up reach up/go up

Informant: Anya ainya: Toban

Text: Hongo helo Gamu – ‘To make strong’
The mother would spit into her hands (the spit ‘carrying’ the words) and proceed to rub and press together the child’s body. Many of the initial terms and phrases were the same as the
above with the addition of such terms as dai(make hard), pururu (swell up) and di (fly around). The final line was as follows:

Yagibi/Yagigi / Yamama/ Ya pudu pudu / Ya banga banga
Fly/Fly / Fly/flap your wings / flutter your wings

In many of the spell recitations I recorded women would first attempt to gain the correct pitch before starting, and often gave the rendition a metre that seemed to aid recall of content. Despite such idiosyncrasies of delivery, thematically Gamu species display a high degree of homogeneity. The paired associations of hair / strength, cassowary / aggression and bird flight / independence are invariant components. Not until the first child was strong enough would the parents contemplate a second birth.

(An extract from Talk Never Dies: An Analysis of Disputes Among the Huli. A thesis submitted by Laurence R. Goldman for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University College, London. February, 1982., p. 116-125.)

  1. Huli Gamu appear (though I must admit to some skepticism on this point) to differ from the Duna equivalent gau, which Modjeska notes are “poetical abracadabra of nonsense syllables completely untranslatable”(1977:163 []
  2. This is reminiscent of the occurrences of ‘mushroom” in the text cited in Appendix 8:1:50;8:3:53-61. []
  3. of Kebe Haria names) directly reflects the above rite in the Koroba area. In Tari rotten wood (Bai Goba) replaces the Balimu leaves. []
  4. For a slightly different association of Taro compare Appendix 8:3:175-188 for the notion of “bitter taste”. []
  5. This equation is linguistically reflected. The nature of tone/stress relation and genesis in Huli is a matter of considerable conjecture among researchers. In my opinion, Huli tones (like the Zapoteco) do not carry significant semantic importance they do not totally alter meaning: mali (dance):mali(death platform); yari(cassowaryJ:yari(decorate);U(shout):U (song;wandia(women’s house):wandia(avoid);manda(hair shave :manda knowledge. Thus the sample pair manda:manda does provide diagnostic evidence for the manifest semantic parallels -the Samson motif – made in the contexts of child-rearing and Haroli. One is reminded here of the Mayan pair moctal: ‘to be crippled’ and moctal: ‘to double oneself up’. []