by Laurence R. Goldman

The previous discussion has perhaps illustrated the extent to which sorcery, for the Huli, represents a repertoire of self-help mechanisms, some of which, like Hubi Bi, aim to ‘tame'( mo dambole) an ‘ aggressor’. It is not my considered opinion that the Huli were, or are, a ‘sorcery-conscious’ society, and the forms listed in Table 7 are regarded as legitimate modes of redress, punitive or retributive, following on particular types of delict. Sorcery accusations are not common and, as can be seen from Tables 10 and 15, I came across only one incidence of such a claim which was proffered as an explanation of two deaths some 25 years previous to my fieldwork. Thus, notwithstanding the considerable social change that has occurred, I did not gain the impression that sorcery was of great social-control value, and there was certainly no systematic routing out of sorcerers, or divination processes aimed at ‘identification’ of sorcerers.

Given these factors, and the ‘covert’ veil which shrouds any public discussion of sorcery, I was unable to collate or present any reliable and quantitative statistical material which might be related to data presented in Appendix 6. Explanations for death and illness depend on a range of factors, and unless an individual has specific reasons for attributing illness to sorcery, such as a recently committed theft, Dama, both in the traditional and modern contexts, are more likely to be cited as causal agents. On account of the multiple explanations that can be given for any death informant accounts were contradictory as to the incidence of sorcery-caused illnesses in the past, but overall these were very few. Indeed, there were never any local practitioners of Puri or Toro in Ialuba, and as far as I could determine, these had never been resorted to. In the face of this lacunae of statistical data, I focus in the following discussion on the semantic aspects of ‘sorcery’ as a homogeneous set of statements concerned with the ‘imposition of negative states’, and as a field of metaphor that relates to concepts of ‘dispute’. The ethnography of sorcery that I present is thus to a large extent ‘retrospective’, and only Hubi Bi and Dangi Pongo were still practised in Ialuba in 1978. Nevertheless, we may observe from Table 7 the extent to which the semantics of sorcery and poisoning correspond to the negative imagery employed in insults, lies find other censorial speech forms. That is, we may examine the system as an integrated and consistent pattern of ‘belief’, a conceptual system that is concerned with the expression and imposition of ‘negative’ attributes.

While the analytical value of the inferences made is somewhat depleted by lack of actual cases, the data (taxonomy and informant accounts) are sufficient to indicate levels of significance. In addition to the forms given in Table 7, other sorcery practices exist, many of which invoke specific Dama, but I have not included these esoteric forms as they do not fall within the more common categories presented. Any analysis of Gamu in Huli inevitably confronts the problem of idiosyncratic types that resist taxonomic definition. This deviancy is recognised by the Huli who explain such forms as simply “his Mana”, truth is relative to individual knowledge and practice. It is in the nature of the concept Mana to embrace both the familiar and unfamiliar, and to allow for statements of integrity at both the cultural and personal levels. We may observe from Table 7 the degree to which Gamu is an essential feature of these behavioural categories. It is a prerequisite for “successful outcome” and yet success or failure is not solely dependent on Gamu. The Huli do not entertain the idea that Gamu can be non-efficacious, the ‘word’ is inviolable. There is no measurement of one person’s Gamu against another in terms of relative potency. Failure is always attributed to an infelicity in the performance rules. The act is vitiated by miserections – the speaker ‘muffs’ his lines or recites phrases in the wrong order; the performance is interrupted by adverse omens (discussed later) or ‘neutralising’ Gamu are employed by opponents. The distinction between content/form and ‘performance’ is sacrosant; the verbal formula simply ‘is’, evaluations of true / false effective / ineffective are irrelevant types of assessment. Whatever domain of behaviour one investigates in Huli, the verbal component mediates between actor and outcome.

The field is defined by the appropriate Gamu species in the same manner as the Gamu themselves express and invoke the relevant symbols that obtain in that situation. Given this perspective, no apologia for the many Gamu texts included herein has been offered; they provide a rich source of cultural statement, of indigenous symbolic proposition. It is important, as I have tried to argue, to reach beyond this and to understand that the statement format is determined by a keen sense of poetic potentiality (perhaps with latent mnemonic functions), and that central oppositions like Damba (bride-price:girl) and Danda (bows:boys) reflect an application of aesthetic norm.

How then, was choice determined in situations where several Gamu Yi (spell-holders) operated? For the most part there was a high degree of specialisation and an implicit recognition of major (timbuni) and minor (emene) practicioners. Where people were reliant on others’ knowledge, they selected initially on the basis of parish-section membership. Where major experts were unable, due to illness or states of ‘contamination’ (e.g. after birth) to perform Gamu, then the minor practicioners were called upon. The network of dependence was extremely wide, and for Tege, Berolo (divination form) and Tiari (divination form) Ialubans were forced to hire people from other communities because of the lack of neighbouring experts. In this context, a great deal of cohesion and integration was given to a community such as Ialuba where individuals operated across parish boundaries with considerable frequency. Political leadership was thus neither dependent on nor bolstered by ‘sorcery’ as was typical of many of the Big-man systems which existed in other Highland societies. In a society like the Huli with marked spatial and social segregation, making oneself a recognised Gamu Yi, through inheritance or purchase, was a means of ensuring social participation. At all social and cultural levels of the Huli, symbiosis is defined as one of ‘talk’, and this is manifested in the model of dispute resolution abstracted in chapter three.

Group D (Table 7) illustrates the saliency of knotting, tying and binding in activities which are concerned with negative imposition; they further indicate a level of cross-cultural parallelism with our own concepts of “tie in knots ” and “knotty issue / point”. In Huli the Gordian knot is a corollary of a chain of symbolic oppositions that define tiga (right / straight) and le (left / bad). The marked homogeneity of ‘negative images ‘at the superordinate level gives way to a set of quite disparate statements that inhere in each subcategory of ‘sorcery’, and which amplify our understandings of delict and retribution. Tomia, strictly speaking a form of poisoning, is associated, though not exclusively, with women. As with so many of the Huli social forms and ideas – explanations are embedded in a conceptual system defined by the causal notion of ‘tene'(origin). Menstrual poisoning, like incest, is related to the Ni Hana myth; it has two forms, Liano and Pogaga (ref. Figure 2, Chapter 1), distinguished by the speed with which they cause death. My discussion in Chapter 1 established the socio-cultural and socio-linguistic (a neglected dimension) milieu of inter-sex behaviour. Female sexuality is, per se, dangerous and sexual intercourse, even within the sanctioned context of marriage, is hedged with prohibitions and ritual. When dealing with such a common motif that typifies, albeit in different ways, most Highland systems, we need to keep distinct individual instances from cultural patterns. The ideological syndrome associated with sexual behaviour shares many correspondences with Mae Enga concepts, but in other respects the Huli male is like the Maring man. They are not ‘prudish’ about the subject – one may refer back to the jocular forms given in chapter three – and yet exhibit the “look but don’t touch” attitude noted by Buchbinder and Rappaport (1976:21). Males ‘display’ -like birds of paradise – to females to attract their approbation while simultaneously keeping their influence and realms of contact quite separate.

The language of sexual intercourse is not that of ” assault”, but one of containment, to keep the body and persona in an integral state. This is linguistically implied in the terms Ndi Tingi(‘secret body’) and tanga (intercourse:most probably related to tangaba:alone). The reprehensible nature of adultery in Huli does not derive from any fear of alien seminal fluid, or from possible debilitating effects on the husband; it is reprehensible because it is ‘theft’ (wali page). No gross characterization of what ‘women’ represent (here ‘wali’ always denotes a married female) is made as clearly as it i s for ‘wandari'(girls i.e. as Damba) in Huli culture. To young children she is in some sense a ‘provider’, and this is what emerges from the joke forms (ref.Chapter 3) concerned with states of deprivation. To a husband she is the ‘producer’ of children, and barrenness is a common and legitimate reason for divorce. When we begin to map out the political aspects of the marriage system many of the differences between the Huli and their Highland neighbours become intelligible.

There are no conceptually expressed enduring patterns of alliance and enmity, warfare is associated with ‘individual’ networks rather than with clan or parish groups(cf.A.Strathern 1972:74). The Huli do not relate affinity to enmity (as among the Mae Enga) and thus the danger of women is essentially tied to the nature of their ‘sexuality’. It is internal to them rather than an external characteristic of their parish provenance. Following death, women are not the focus for sorcery and witchcraft accusations as appears to be the case for the Chimbu. Huli men are not concerned in cases of illicit sex to emphasise the “lasciviousness” of the female; their responsibility for compensation is not thereby diminshed in the traditional context. A host of factors impinge on the situation as I have defined it: first, leavings sorcery (Puri: said to be a Duna form) was not widely practised in Huli and women were not seen as an agent through which enemy sorcerers obtained their vital substances. What is clear from Table 7 is that sorcery operates with Gamu, the only other vital requisite being the ‘name’ of an intended victim(this generalisation is qualified in the following discussion). Second, there is far greater separation of the sexes in Huli than is the case for other Highland peoples; men and women often (though not always) tend different gardens, and males never eat food prepared by women. This does not reflect any ‘political’ statement, but simply the contagious nature of women’s taint (ngu: as in ngubi:smell).

Third, the notion of “possessed women” certainly exists -see the terms Wali Nguni, Wali Poleme, Duna Wali and Wali Kaiya in Chapter 1 – and indeed these are held to attack both men and pigs. They operate, however, far more at the level of ideology than at the empirical level; accusations are hardly ever made within the community, and as with cannibalism and most of the potent sorcery forms, they are attributed to ‘outsiders/others’ (e.g. ref.D.4:591-192; also to joke forms given in Chapter 3). This helps explain the attitude of fear to strangers who simply walk into the community and who may be labelled ‘lulu'(literally long-long:i.e. possessed). Lastly, we are left with a set of uxorilocal food prohibitions relating to the qualities of redness and softness, as well as location of Dama attack (ref.Chapter 1). In the absence of any native explanation that went beyond “it is our Mana”, I would attribute these to a combined anxiety about “unfamiliar” surroundings and “weakening foods” rather than any association of danger and affinity. Indeed, the disputes we have examined show that the Huli conceive of all “relations” as incorporating conflict and while it is certainly true that this statistically is more frequent amongst affines, the potential “gains and losses” on each side are more critical in this sphere. In addition, the cross-sex prohibitions on insulting and joking are well delineated and breaches used more frequently in strategies where affinal hostility already exists. We may note that the same food prohibitions held for Haroli as well, which perhaps indicates a more rigorous working of the male/female dicotomy than ‘political’ considerations.

The above observations set cases of menstrual poisoning in their proper context. Relative to other delicts, this type of accusation is rare but has nevertheless persisted despite the introduction of new medical interpretations for illness. Any contact with menstrual discharge or excreta is dangerous and motive does not necessarily enter into the legitimation of a claim for compensation (e.g. D.4; part 11). The belief system provides an abundance of alternative explanations for illness and women are not, as I have previously stated, accused of poisoning as a matter of course. Where the units are already in conflict women married from enemy sections did not appear to be in especial danger and there was no incidence of poisoning accusations between Tobani and Koma. We may note from D.4 part 11 that the death of Daiya’s son is initially – interpreted as an accident(D.4:1146-1147). However, premature deaths are very rarely explained as due to ntural causes and Daiya subsequently hired Tainya to eradicate the responsible Dama. Following this, the death is then attributed to excreta poisoning.

Causal interpretations are not only variable, they may alter and fluctuate in any one case depending on current patterns of relations and states of information. What is antithetical to man in Huli pertains to the realm of impairment associated with female sexuality, not to concepts of woman as ‘wife’. Puri (leavings-sorcery utilising excreta) and Toro are both believed to have issued from the Duna, though it is curious that the Huli fear of “waste” products did not engender any indigenous form of leavings-sorcery. The account of Toro given by Glasse(1965:41-42) in which he details the role of magic stones and Gamu, is basically correct and I can add nothing further other than to point out that it was not practised, nor resorted to, in taluba. What is interesting about Group C is the involvement of ‘birds’ and ‘birds’ talk’. Hambu sorcery is conceived as having issued from the talk of the Gabale(parrot-type) bird which when repeated by man caused death; this re-emphasizes the power of the man-talkbird theme in Huli thought. Toro is transmitted by small birds the ‘talk’ of which can be heard at night. The third member of Group C – Daboreli – was used subsequent to cases of serious theft where either the culprit could not be publicly identified (through lack of evidence), or where he/she was unknown. Unlike Puri, Toro and Hambu, this could be used against a member of one’s Hameigini. Certain leaves are burnt(such as poro) as well as the feathers of a Yagombe (New Guinea Spine-tailed Swift: chaetura novaeguineae -noted for its speed) bird, the basic intention of which is to make the man ” ega bibi yagalo yu ibaga – fly around (interminably) like this bird”, committing offences which will eventually result in his death. We should once again note the occurrence of the morph ya (flying) in the species term above. The behaviour of habitual thieves was thus often rationalised as daboreli hirini – “he has been cooked by Daboreli sorcery”. There was only one Daboreli Gamu Yi in Ialuba and from his accounts it does not appear to have been frequently resorted to. In view of the fact that several possible sorcery forms could be used for any one situation, frequency and choice were likely, in the traditional context, to be determined by such factors as availability and cost. In this context, Daboreli was a far more potent and expensive means of retribution than Dangi Pongo which most adult males could control. Ialubans had no need to travel for Toro when Hambu sorcerers were near at hand.

Hambu is a quintessential manifestation of the ‘power of word (bi)’ in Huli thought, semantically reflected by the term itself which means ‘lips’. To the description given by Glasse (1965:42) it is important to add that the sorcerer breaks a cassowary claw (yari mabu) – an adversary symbol – when reciting his Gamu. There were three Hambu Gamu Yi in Ialuba (Kabo, Hagai and Harabali) all of whom had purchased the Mana for personal revenge on people outside Ialuba. The historical case material I collected concerned revenge for suspected poisonings, failure to give compensation for injuries, and ‘pay-backs'(dano) for killings in warfare. The spell texts express ideas of “peeling” (laga) an enemy’s skin and hair, find changing their blood to ‘pipini’ (pus:ref.Chapter 1). Children are held to die quicker since they have less blood to transform. The spells are considered extremely dangerous and in any earning/transference” situation the teacher turns his back on the recipient avoiding all eye-contact. Following several complete recitations(rather than a single phrase method) the spell holder ends the session by ‘spitting’ out the deleterious residue left in his mouth. Many Gamu utilise the spit to add potency to the performance, and this is semantic ally reflected in the term hamagatola (spit:as opposed to saliva:hangiau) which literally me ans to ’emit'(ta la) death (homaga). It is important to stress that Group E is characterised by Gamu pairing such that the afflicted victim is obliged to seek out the spell-initiator to effect a cure. This is explained by the operation of conceptual chains of obligation in the Huli retribution system. Following the expression of anger, an offender is obliged to assuage this state (notwithstanding the onus of culpability) in the same way as an initiator is obliged to signal his recognition of appeasement by restoring health to the offender. This reciprocal mode of obligation typifies the sphere of compensation which, I later argue, is perceived as a form of applied medicine to “rub on the sore”(D.3:192-193). This structural facet of Group E may thus be interpreted as a corollary of the system of analogies between sickness/pain and talk discussed earlier in Chapter three. In many senses then, the models of talk, illness, compensation and sorcery manifest a homologous set of interrelationships, they share a basic linguistic and symbolic repertoire.

Dangi Pongo is a form of sorcery that is still, albeit on a lesser scale, practised today and has perhaps persisted because, unlike Toro and Hambu which are associated with death, it causes minor ailments such as blisters and boils. Moreover, it operates to make a public statement to the effect that ‘my X (goods) have been stolen and I am shaming Y the thief’. Subsequent upon theft of garden produce, tobacco and other foodstuffs, and where the culprit is unknown, the owner will knot a piece of grass (dangi: imperata cylinnrica) around what is left of the stolen article and recite Gamu. The words are often blown onto the knot, the breath (pu hea) carrying the efficacy of the Gamu. The whole performance is founded on two related premises:(1)that thieves are ‘habitual’ offenders and will thus return to perpetrate another crime; and (2) the thief will see the knot and get shame from his delict. Alternatively, others will notice the knot and force the thief to repent. Paralleling the kind of oppositions marked out in Table 4 concerning ‘dispute 1 and ‘settlement’, the language of ‘punishment’ and ‘rehabilitation’, as reflected in the paired Dangi Pongo Gamu I collected, involves opposition of actions rather than objects. The image of pain is conjured and conveyed by reference to thorns (ani), sharp points of grass (dangi dene) and wasps (mone). These are juxtaposed in the punitive spell with the verbs pongo bero (I’m knotting), giabu (pricking), bendelandaro (push through, penetrate) and pigi pogua (working furiously). The Huli, as might be expected given the cultural emphasis on illness, distinguish between many types of pain (tandaga): nimu (throbbing), tenge (piercing), pele (pricking), diri (stinging) and kabu (aching). These appear variously in Gamu concerning states imposed upon offenders. Opposition is expressed – as it was for the concepts life (habe) and death (homa) in the myth cited in Chapter 1 – by the term beregeda:to be ‘turned around’. The curing Gamu in this sense is said to I turn around’ the above by contiguously placing the same nouns with opposed action forms of hada (untie), tiga ha (push out) and perela (flick out).

Yari Mabu Pongo and Hubi Bi contain little which enhances our understanding of Group D or E. The first is perhaps better considered as ‘love magic’, employed by a man when his lawini (girlfriend) shuns his attentions or marries another man. The latter is an amorphous collection of spells, used by both sexes, in situations of domestic strife -to drive a co-wife away or an unwanted marriage partner – and warfare. Wives make Hubi Bi to protect their kin in war by “tying” the enemies arrows while men recite spells to give strength to their weapons. What clearly emerges from the data thus far presented is that no one-to-one correspondence exists between animal species and abstracted characteristic. The invocation process concerning natural species is multi-dimensional, the system is typified by ambivalence. A bird or a dog is not attributed a discrete ‘value’, but is defined by crosscutting semantic dimensions. A ‘wild’ dog exhibits aggression, and our own concept of “dogs of war”(D.9:276) is paralleled by Huli phraseology which signals approaching enemies in war by the sentence “biango ibira” -the dogs are coming. The domesticated dog has a ‘utilitarian’ value associated with hunting; both, however, may represent Dama or ‘excreta’. Similarly, the snake is valued on account of its perceived properties of ‘immortality’, but its behaviour induces fear; it is ‘covert’, devious and deceitful because it leaves no visible tracks. For this reason it is invoked in spells concerned with theft or war – one wishes to “go like a snake” so that detection becomes impossible. Which ever animal species is the subject of discourse, the antitheses occur within, rather than between, species. In this regard the cassowary is one among many adversary symbols, though, on account of its prevalence in different contexts, it may be considered the most important. It is placed within the same taxon as ‘birds’ (ega), and whether in Haroli, personal decoration or sorcery, its strength and aggressive qualities make it a suitable choice for abstraction. The seemingly random process of analogic inference is perhaps founded on distinctions such as celestial/terrestial, wild/domestic or flight/flightless. In understanding Huli thought it seems, to me at least, more important to comprehend the way in which, for example, the Manda is a medium for expressing a collage of ‘positively’ made symbolic statements. The juxtaposition of cassowary feathers and Superb feathers on a Manda is a contiguous placement of the values of aggression/strength and flight respectively (an aspect linguistically reflected as I have shown in Chapter 2) rather than a realisation of oppositions. The conversation with nature incorporates both processes of invocation, imitation and imposition. From the interaction between animals in myth we learn to what extent occurrences and expectations of ‘deceit’ are major themes in Huli culture. Moreover they yet again illustrate the predilection for ‘first cause’ explanations of enviromental features. From the -two texts given below we may observe the centrality of the ‘trick’ in Huli mythology, quintessentially encapsulated by Iba Tiri(refer also Appendix 10). We see the place of ‘insult’ in any conflict situation and we are told why dogs hunt, and why the echidna (Porage) has no tail.

Informant:Togua, Tobani

Text: Tene Te oral history): Why the Porage (second name (mini mende) is dindi pubu:”comes and goes in the ground ” – reflects echidna behaviour) has no tail. The tail of the tree kangaroo(Andaya:dendrol agus dori a nus)was under the ground but he said to the echidna, “Can you see my tail?” The echidna thought it was true that the kangaroo has no t a il so he cut off his own to be like him. When he had done this the kangaroo said to him, “Brother, you have done a good thing”. When the echidna goes he has no tail but the kangaroo has a long one and puts it up when he climbs a tree. We say that when the kangaroo climbs down he is like a man. 1

Text: Why dogs chase marsupials.

There was only one house and dogs slept on one side while the possum slept on the other side. In the day they went off to get their foods but one dog came back and slept. When the possums came home they said “Ngui iba, Habidogo”, (insult terms used only for dogs:refer Chapter 3) – these dogs never bring things home for us, they never share their food. They just play around and put excreta everywhere. They never bring firwood, they just take ours.” The dog that was there hiding among t he rubbish heard what they had said and told the other dogs. They agreed that they should fight the possum. When the possum came back the next day the dogs told them, “You have insulted (mege) us, why?” They fought for three days and one possum was killed. Then one of the dogs went to drink in the river and it tasted really sweet{dendebi); while he was drinking he saw the possum and ate it in the river. The blood was sweet and that is why the dogs are chasing the possum. The place where they fought was Hogwarene Pugua in Levani. Conflict and deceit are thus as much a part of the Huli concept of animal behaviour as it is of their own actions. The language and semantics of sorcery reveal, however, that the system of punisher-victim has a built-in homoeostasis. It is in the nature of Huli sorcery to be a covert form of action, a unilateral redress mechanism, a monologue that does not allow of reciprocity. However, Dangi Pongo shows that, given the appropriate cues, the imposition of illness is reversible. The structural similarities between sorcery and the verbal disputes we have been examining is that the confrontation of actors is defined with and through ‘talk’. The theatres of operation are different, but both are to some extent constrained by obligations to acknowledge contrition.

(Reprinted with Permission of Laurence Goldman: Talk Never Dies: An Analysis of Disputes Among The Huli. Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at University College, London, 1981.pp. 311-323)

  1. This may be reflected semantically by the morph anda meaning ‘inside’, which occurs also in andah ane:neighbour. []

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