by Dr. Laurence Goldman

Few domains of analysis in anthropology have been so dominated by discussion of theoretical and methodological problems, engendered by its own literature, as the study of disputes. A considerable portion of this debate has centred on the interpretative value of substantive and procedural models; upon the explanatory nature of folk as opposed to Wes tern-analytic frames; and upon definitional issues focused on the terms “law” and “dispute”. Within this sphere of problems, some notion of “case” has occupied a central role since A. Hoebel’s seminal dictum that the study of primitive law “must proceed upon the analysis of cases, cases and more cases” (1942:966). Despite this focus and the voluminous literature which has attended its discussion (cf.Gluckman 1973, Holleman 1973; Epstein 1967), a reticence prevails in defining standards of acceptability and admissibility of the kinds of text to which we should append the term “case”. This undoubtedly reflects in part the understanding that the methodological and empirical boundaries a study sets itself are dependent on a set of aims. Nevertheless, there seems an important problem of choice as to whether heuristically one a) proceeds with preconceived demarcation criteria to extract dispute data – P.Gulliver’s statement that a “dispute proper only becomes imminent when dyadic argument fails” (1973:670) provides one example; or (b) allow an analysis to develop from the more inclusive indigenous conceptions and categories relating to the field of verbal and nonverbal conflict. The adoption of the latter alternative in this thesis is consistent with, and to some extent implied by, present directions in dispute analyses that focus on speech behaviour and the degree to which it embodies a set of relevant and significant attributes. This orientation has two sources. First, it reflects a conscious refusal to become embroiled in the continuing definitional controversy as to whether or not the province of study is “an anthropology of law”; the recent acrimonious exchange between Roberts (1978) and Koch (1978) is evidence of the intensity of this debate. Extrication from this problematic dialogue has been accompanied by the shedding of traditional analytic frameworks. Second, the last two decades have witnessed a proliferation of literature within the field of enquiry known as the “ethnography of speaking”.

Despite an apparent lack of unification in method or theme within this sub-discipline, the works of Hymes (1962,1971), Gumperz (1972), Bauman and Sherzer (1974), Seite1 (1974), Rosaldo (1973), Keenan (1974), Stross (1974), Sapir and Crocker (1977) have challenged the study of disputes to include more specifically than before the dimension of language. This, corpus of sociolinguistic literature has engaged itself with explicating two particular problems which relate directly to the present discussion: (1) to what extent is speech determined in particular contexts by aesthetic and rhetorical norms, and how can this be related to the actual and perceived structure of expectations and strategies extant within a social context? (2) to what degree do the various speech genres applicable in disputes reveal an interrelated set of semantic dimensions fundamental to the process of situational interpretation, definition and negotiation?

Within the framework of these two questions, my analysis attempts to demonstrate the extent to which our understanding of forensic processes is enhanced by consideration of speech. Throughout much of the literature there has been an implicit acceptance that verbal conflicts represent “fields of argument” in which norms are at some stage relied upon as devices to guide inference from facts to judgements. The corollary of this premise has been that notions of rationality and validity operative within this field have been demonstrated to be “field dependent”. This independence manifests itself in two forms. First, in the rules governing what is acceptable and unacceptable in behaviour and argument. Second, in the speech forms and patterns used to verbalize the above valuation process. There are a number of foci within the sphere of “talk about talk” with which I am specifically concerned and which are related to this latter form of dependence. These are:

(a) the phraseology used to express the nature of talk and trouble, particularly the “perlocutionary”(Austin 1962:101) aspect of any speech act;
(b) the verbal repertoire and associated imagery used to evaluate discourse during argument;
(c) the set of terms and categories employed to locate a stretch of speech within the historical etiology of the dispute in question;
(d) the set of semantic axes which the above embody and the degree to which these are reiterated in other speech forms and social contexts.

These foci constitute the l anguage co-ordinates, the ground rules which determine the creative exercise of competence in speech. They structure and organize the area of discretionary speech use called “performance” by embodying fundamental norms and expectations relevant to interaction is disputes, courting songs a nd teasing behaviour. The Huli employ a number of terms to convey and define a state of verbal argument, though these do not exhibit quite the complex set of inclusion and exclusion relations noted by Frake(1969) for the Yakan. The general inclusive terms -“talk/speech”, 2.te -“talk/discussion”, may occur, or the more specific words B.1.lai -“argument/dispute”, 2.genamo -“vituperative”. Which term is used depends on the situational definition the actor feels is appropriate to his strategy. Thus, in the settlement and negotiation phases of a dispute where an attempt may be made to prevent polarization of parties, the terms lai or genamo are less likely as context descriptions. Further specificity concerning any stretch of discourse – can be generated be employing a format of bi+ modifier: gungu(talk+fight) -“arguing,fighting with talk”; gare(talk+cut) -“angry,painful talk”; bili bale (talk+action of tree climbing) -“talk to evade consequences”; pubi gi(talk+bouse surround) -“one-sided talk”; 5. bi gini(talk+play) -“verbal gymnastics,playing with talk”. The position and use of the term bi in Huli is similar to the Tzeltal word reported by Stross(1974:215). It denotes a wide range of speech genres and situations, while acting in a highly specific way in combination. The meanings of the compound terms cannot in all cases be gauged by the meanings of the component modifiers. The majority of these phrases, and especially those with pejorative connotations, most usually undergo a transformation from their standard forms to a “reduplicative” one when used in rhetoric and oratory. Thus the form A.2. becomes ti te; B.1. 11 lai and c.2.giri gare. Reduplication occurs in evaluative speech with either partial phonemic variation on the word stem, or more simply an exact duplication as in bi daliga daliga (talk+above) -“the talk which is on top, superficial talk”. It must be stressed that reduplication is not considered a disfluency 1 of speech but an aesthetic elaboration on standard forms and is related to the pursuasive function of rhetoric. There is a triad of metalinguistic terms which express both the aesthetic element and recognition of symbolic content in particular speech forms: n.1. bi mone (talk+wasp) -used to describe occurrence of reduplication, assonance, alliteration, alternative vocabulary sets as kai mini (eulogistic second terms) or tayenda tua (ritual forest language). The wasp (as I pointed out in the last chapter) is an aesthetic symbol because of its valμed properties of flight, sound and rotundity of shape. These are alluded to and invoked in child-rearing rites such as Ma Hiriya.

D.2. bi mabura(talk+to go around) -employed specifically for standard turns of phrase, or proverbs
D.3. bi yobage(talk+mark/sign / tattoo(bage)) -overlaps with D.2. and used of any action or speech which is veiled in meaning (cf.Strathern for the parallel term ik ek(1975:189) in Melpa).

It is a recognition of symbolic content, as when a man overturns a bridge to signify his intent or accomplishment of murder. The importance of these indigenous aesthetic terms as markers of particular speech genres is developed and discussed in this chapter. Talk itself may be idiomatically referred to as species of cane and vine, e.g. Diwi wikstremis_androsaemifolia, fam, thymeliaceae), Gondele (urena lobata, famtiliaceae), Dabale (xanthomyrtus, fam,myrtaceae), Gombabu (cvperus melanospermus, fam.cyperaceae) and Nabiya as in the death chant cited in Appendix S(ref.3:199-222). An understanding and documentation of such idioms are important to insights into how disputes (as talk) are themselves conceived in Huli as “knots”(pongo) or “entangled talk” (bi lingi lungu). Talk is like cane because it ‘binds’, it is a central relational and mediational ‘substance’. Indigenous concepts of what a dispute represents are too often neglected in studies of conflict resolution in New Guinea. Talk is corporeal property which is held (yi), carried (hono kogo), given (mia), placed (wia) and, as we have seen in D.1., can be
stolen (page). Congruously with the above idioms, the action of speech can be figuratively spoken of as “cutting strings” (dibia; ref. Appendix 8:3:199-222). This is also reflected in dibade (sliced) – accused). Observation and interaction with environment both the animal 2 and agricultural forms, impinge on cultural notions surrounding ‘talk’. Aspects of the triadic motif man-talk-bird, permeate behavioural conceptualisations. Thus, a man who talks without thinking is agali kudaga (man(agali)+Helmeted Friar bird(kudaga:philemon novaeguineae)) -an adaption of the repetitive rucous call of this honeyeater. The Huli rationalise the movement of Yagombe (New Guinea Spine-tailed Swift (Chaetura novaeguineae) as the result of frequent descent on branch thorns; lihen this bird says “wi diri wi diri”(my penis is paining, my penis is paining) then rain will fall, analogously to human urination. I have shown in the Ma Hiriya rite how the parallel of human talk / bird talk is invoked to instill strength into children. The same abstractions occur also in the making of drums (tabage) where the feathers of Blue Bird of Paradise are burnt into the drum to give it the sound of this bird. 3 These wild/aggressive associations manifest themselves in the predominantly male symbols for ‘talk’ -bow (danda:ref.Appendix 7:2), arrow (timu:ref.Appendix 7:3), drum (as in the phrase “hungi tabage yu kebe? Are you holding a drum (talk) of Hungi (piper;fam.piperaceae)wood?” The question implies “Are you holding a useless talk like this drum of soft wood?”).

Huli Wigmen doing the Mali dance
Huli wigmen doing the Mali line dance while beating their drums.
Huli wigman doing 'drum gamu" with a Superb Bird of Paradise Feather
Performing drum gamu by Burning a Kundu drum with a Superb Bird of Paradise feather.

The agricultural idioms of growth / fertility pervade the expressions of talk or conflict which develop from “pimples to boils”(ref.D.10:222-223), which “grow” (de lara:ref.D.4:815-816;D.11:31-32;D.5:169) or “bear fruit” (bi agibe lini de lole? – which talk is making the fruit grow?). Huli tropes incorporate references to talk as like grass(D.10:364-366) or sweet potato(D.10:384-387) which, if left or cut, will simply “grow again”. Consistent with notions of “planted” talk (D.10:390-391) is conception of dispute resolution that must “pull out the roots” (D.10:367;386-387;D.4:919-920). Further examples of related imagery and phraseology between disputes and dispute settlement can be found in Table 4. The implications of the above metaphoric processes are further manifested in bi mabura(proverb / maxim/ adage) forms that occur in disputes, and which variously contain references to the prevalent fecund symbols: banana (hai), pandanus (anga), taro (ma), sago (hiwa) and sweet potato (hina). We are thus able, by examining these expressions, to appreciate the extent to which the notion of ‘fertility’ permeates multiple contexts of Huli thought. They provide an impersonal repertoire of ‘situational explanations and definitions’; a corpus of apt analogy (without reference to particular past situations or people) used in discourse to evaluate action and promote particular purposes. They invoke the ‘familiar’ and ‘acceptable’ concepts in behaviour. For the Huli, these various adages appear to be utilised in the following types of enviroment: 4

  1. Where a speaker wishes to indicate that some action or event is passed and cannot be changed or retrieved:
    a)The banana tree never bears fruit in the same spot again:hai halu mende do dai nabiaga(ref.D.4:237)
    b)You can’t dig up sweet potato from an old garden:hina walini ha puni i wa dai nabiaga(ref.D.4:238;296-297
    c)The pandanus tree never bears fruit twice in the same season:anga dene un,ua dai nabiaga/anga du pene do dai nabiaga(ref.D.4:295
    d)The arrow came after the bird had flown:ega biralu pea timu ariba kago(ref.D.5:17-18;cf.our “locking the stable door after the horse has bolted”)
  2. Where the speaker wishes to urge others to some form of immediate action:
    a) While you are saying men and Dama are there, women might not have anything, to eat(so don’t be afraid but go ahead and do it):dama ka agali ka lalu keria wali iba nane polebira ref.D.10:119-121)
    b) Your sweet potato won’t grow in clay (i.e. this situation or circumstance won’t promote 5 your cause): hina dongomane hengene anda naholebirago
    c) Why look for sugar cane when water is at hand:iba hambu n elalu du nato o bia a(cf. our “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”) 6
    d) Don’t choose between the dog and the possum (i.e. they are both man’s friend so let’s pay compensation for both these men):biango biango tia tia, biango pora tia pora nalagago. These animals appear also in two other related idioms:
    (i) As many as the hairs on a dog:biango homa mbira iri ale nga(applied to a multitude of things)
    (ii) We will choose the hair for the dogs and the hair for the possum:biango iri tia iri dabamiya (i.e. we’ll share the talk and then choose the issues or culprits in this matter.
    This phrase is related, as I later explain, to the divination form Tiari (perhaps what Glasse refers to by his word “tera”(1965:40)) which literally is a compound of possum(tia)+hair(iri).
    The concept parallels our own notion of ‘splitting hairs’.
    e) The pitpit stick and the pig’s ass are together(i.e. these two are related(as the above in cooking) so don’t choose between them; we’ll pay compensation
    for both):gambe hongo nogo yabunila palu palu
    f) Don’t let the bitter taste of the taro go away:ma tumbu bi naraore kau biaga(cf.our “strike while the iron is hot”)
    g) Chase them inside and hit them like a flying-fox: anda a waranda howa dalu kamia barada ua berene (be aggressive towards them like this creature)
  3. When the speaker wishes simply to provide an analogy for the situation to make a positive statement or as a technique to alienate another contribution:
    a) I was talking about sugar-cane and he talks about bananas:du larigola hai laribe
    b) He is like the light coloured pigs among the black ones:no o mindi dee ka a a abua ea harida o(cf.our own ‘black sheep’ to denote the exception deviant)
    c) His talk is like the nut falling on the Mandi tree and scattering away (i.e. it has no lasting impression):mandi ene hiru hondone tu orebe
    (d)The Tagari river is short by comparison for we will stay forever: ·Gutagali tumagi Iowa habiya. A common variant of the same idea is expressed as follows: The Areca palm is short (by comparison) for we will stay long:Bibi Ayege tumagi Iowa habiya
    (e)Have you been tying up the sugar-cane? i.e. have you made your mind straight and confined like the tying of sugar cane? Basically, are you being stubborn and refusing to listen to our talk.):du mbu lalu baribe
  4. When the speaker wishes to reiterate the point that actions have ‘tene'(sources / causes / reasons / motive):
    (a) The pandanus bears the seed before the fruit: ina pundini anga tole ende hene biago(ref.D.9:138-139;D.6:132-134; cf. our “no smoke without fire ” )
    (b) Where the Bai tree (castanopsis acuminatissima, fam.fagaceae) is a Bauwa tree (casuarina oligodon, fam.casuarinaceae) won’t grow: Bai heneni Bauwa naholebira (ref.D.10:13-14)
    (c) Men never kill for cold possum:tia tambe naga agali nabaga (ref.D.9:167-168)
    (d) You saw the tail of the possum and you went ahead: tia pongorali manene honowa pu pea larigobe(ref.D.9:197-198. i.e. you saw a little bit of the possum and you ‘got over-excited’. Similar in meaning to our own “counted the chickens before they were hatched”).

I have collated and presented the maxims in this way on account of the similarities that obtain in the class of each situated context. Adages occur in greater numbers where oratory is at a premium – in ‘public’ speech making during inter-clan disputes. The above illustrate perfectly aspects of “talk about talk” delineated previously. Within this latter domain, the Huli employ a range of phrases to express the effects of speech, the ‘perlocutionary’ aspects of speech acts: E.1. bi bara – “the talk hits, strikes, kills”; 2. bi para – “the talk sticks, adheres” (like blame/contamination); 3. bi babane pele -“the talk pokes the heart”; 4. bi kodo / bi giabu – “the talk pricks or penetrates”; 5. bi dibulebira -“the talk will cut you”; 6. bi timu ale ho wia b o -“the talk stays like an arrow”; 7. bi kahara -“the talk spears”. When these expressions are employed in rhetoric there is a marked prevalence of reduplication:E.1. bi boga baga; E.3. bi pili pele;E.4. bi kidi kodo / bi gibi giabu. The degree to which these phrases describe talk as a form of physical action reveals a fundamental metaphoric and semantic mode. There is an indigenously perceived structural homology between the pathology and treatment of sickness and speech. The term bi in E.1-7 is interchangeable with the word tandaga (pain). The form bi tandaga -“painful talk”(ref.D.1:486;D.4:382) is a recurrent one in discourse.

We can recite this metaphoric code to two particular facets of Huli society. First, talk (like illness) is a major concern of the people as indeed it is in many of the Highland communities. The pathological metaphor is a metalinguistic statement about the range of shared features of meaning between the domain of talk and the domain of pain. It is the features of substantiality and impressionability which mediate the two domains and constitute the metaphor. They provide “the means that people use to conceive and evaluate their own speech interaction” (Seitel 1974:66). Through metaphoric extension many of the terms listed in Table 4 to connote the settlement of a dispute are also used in talk about the treatment Jof illness. Pain, like bad talk, must be “pulled out”(du gua) or “made to die” (mo homole) and both may be attributed to the work of the same supernatural agents. Second, the manner in which the Huli utilize the above metaphoric expressions to translate speech into action in their verbal evaluation system can be contrasted with Seitel’s (1974) analysis of Haya notions of speech effectiveness. Among the Haya, speech is seen as relatively insubstantial by comparison with action and there is a diminished responsibility resulting from talk as opposed to other behavioural forms. The Haya proverb “‘May you be slaughtered’, doesn’t kill a cow” (Seitel 1974:53) -(cf. our “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me”) – reflects the relative nature of actions and talk along the axis of substantiality. Among the Huli there is no such discontinuity between the two domains, and the prevalence of insult in the society and the resultant disputes attest to the degree of seriousness attached to verbal utterances. The same dimension of effectiveness is employed, however, to contrast speech against speech rather than speech against action. ‘This is reflected in the Buli proverb nogombi po napole, yamo hege tomia bere -“the snake puts out its tongue but does not always bite”.

The discussion thus far has prepared the ground for examining a little more closely how a situation of trouble or dispute is conceptualised and verbalised in Huli. With regard to the degree that aspects of female sexuality (heat/ contamination / anger) engender areas of conflict as expressed by the term galo and anguatole, I have explained this in Chapter 1 to which reference should be made. Commonly, and related to earlier remarks about talk as “cane / strings”, occasions of dispute are perceived as deviations from the straight (tiga), something “knotted”(pongo:D.4:274), “crossed” (banga:D.4:929) or “tied up”(D.2:98-99). Further examples are given in Table 4, especially F.2. twisted (nde) and F.3. entangled (lungu), and in such notions as bo lowa (wound up) and bi gunguni (piece of spider’s web; cf.also D.9:246-248). In most cases these descriptive constructs have reduplicative analogues as in pingi pongo (Table 4:F.1.;D.4:27~), hibi hubua (tied up:D.8:52), lingi lungu and ndi nde (see Table 4:F.3 and F.2.). I would argue that for the Huli the concept of “knot” is central to ideas and expressions of “disorder”. It is an idiom repeatedly used in D.4 by Dugume(D.4:251;2 57-258;274-275) and can be found variously in other disputes(e.g.D.3:198;D.7:358-359). It is conceptually consistent with settlement phraseology which stresses “untying/unravelling” (see ‘table 4) and with sorcery, forms as Dangi Pongo (knotting the grass:after theft), Yari Mabu Pongo (knotting the claw of a cassowary) and Hubi Bi (trom hubua to bind: to knot the talk’). Both verbally and non-verbally “knots” are associated with the presence or promotion of trouble or disorder. Disputes generate “heat” (paralleling our own colloquialisms) which “burn like fires”(D.2:81-82), “burn hearts”(D.4 : 553; 730) and cause illness (D.9:221). “Unextinguished” talk is metaphorically spoken of as smouldering fires(D.9:234) or fires which are relit (D.4:58-61;67,-678;854), forcefully expressed by Dalu in the line “the trouble is like a fire, we are settling it (hundia – to extinguish:see Table 4) and you are relighting it”(D.4:201-202). Analogously to the control of female “heat” by male “water”(ibane-semen) in sexual intercourse, so conflict “heat”(see also terms for anger in Chapter 1) must also be quenched. These situations of “inflammation” (cf.D.7:121) may cause the land to “burn” (D.7:140-141;D.2:81-82) or die”(D.1:463;D.7:222), or make pigs and women “bad”(D.7:312-313:D.8:185-187).

Negative EvaluationTerms
F.1.Bi pongo (knot)Bi pingi pongoHadole – to unite
2.Bi nde (twisted)Bi ndi nde (betrays)Mo tiga – to make straight
3.Bi lungu (entangled)Bi lingi lungu (confused/entwined)Tabama-to settle
4.Bi golia (walls of pig house)Bi gilia golia (closed in)unravel as in Tabahina – to untie
5.Bi mo yi/mo dambia-(covered over/pressed in)Dugua – to pen/Ali to dig up.
6.Bi gare (cut off)Bi giriya gareya
Goda -extract/Haiya – to scatter
G.1Bi ke (hard/heavy)Bi ki ke (angry talk)Hi la/Hili holi – to sweep away
2Bi dere (alive)Bi diri dere (talk
made alive again)
Mo yabia – to make light
3Bi paro (to ringbark)Bi paro paro
Mo homole – to make die
4.Bi gilli la (to pull)Bi gili gili (fighting talk)Tongo/Tingi tongo – to finish up
5.Bi tulira (to pull)-(without a finish)(tongo = expire)
6.Bi kiau (infertile)Bi ki kiau (unproductive talk)Gurapea – to leave something go
7.Bi kara (to scratch)Bi kiri kara (aimless talk)Golapea – released
H 1.Bi kuku/kili kulu (thunder)Gossip – futile, ineffective speechHundia ha – to extinquish, put out, make die
2.Bi gili galo (shower down)GossipHundia ha
3.Bi gili gala (shower down)GossipHundia ha
4.Bi te ti (hissing of steamGossipHundia ha
5.Bi tigi tugu (hissing of steamGossipHundia ha
6.Bi di de (bird speech)GossipHundia ha
8.Bi gomo/gimi gomo (murmur)GossipHundia ha
9.Bi diburibu (cutting/radio)GossipHundia ha
10.Bi ki ku (idle chat)GossipHundia ha
11.Bi muli muli (hum)GossipHundia ha

To be continued.

(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. 140-152.)

  1. Interestingly, stammering . is denoted by the reduplicative terms bi labo labo/libi libule/libi labale all derivatives from labo (twin) -i.e. to talk in twins. This is, in Huli, quite separate from the perception of articulation problems denoted by the term hege tele (‘spinning tongue’). I am indebted to H.Goldman for this insight []
  2. The period from about 6 to 8am is called Gau Iara, conceived to be the ‘talk’ made by the Alua (honeyeater: reichenawer’s honeyeater) bird at this time. []
  3. making the drum men never wash their faces, or work on it close to pigs, as breach of these rules may cause the sound to be bad. This again emphasises previous remarks concerning avoidance of wild / domestic pollution. []
  4. To what extent this might apply to other Highland societies is difficult to gauge without further research
    into this particular topic by fieldworkers. []
  5. Where textual references are omitted, these idioms have occurred in disputes or accounts recorded but not cited in the thesis. []
  6. This is a gloss on ‘tia’ which refers essentially to marsupials. []