by Jo Tumbe Mangi

Salt was produced by the Obena from the many saline ponds in the area. 1 I visited two of them. one at Ibarup and the other one in the Pai-ela area. I also inquired about the spring near Porgera referred to by Meggitt (1957:40) and I was told that while the spring was still there and the water used for drinking, the production of salt had ceased a long time ago. I attempted to go and visit the salt springs near Lake Sirunki but was told to turn back at Laiagam by the Police because there was a tribal fight going on in the area following the murder of a primary school headmaster and his wife. The two springs that I was able to visit are briefly described. The method of salt manufacture described below is similar to the description given by Meggitt (1958).


I arrived in the area just after there had been a big tribal fight in which the father of my informant was killed. A village Court Magistrate at Pipitaka asked me to keep my visit short as there was still a lot of tension in the area. Furthermore, the salt spring itself is located near the border with enemy territory and my informants and I were accompanied by five men bearing arms to visit the site. We were there for just over an hour. Consequently, the information obtained is brief.

The salt spring is at Ibarup, near the present Laiagam station, about a kilometre upstream from the Kera river bridge. The source is actually a series of three ponds where the salt seeps through and collects. The site is in grassland (Miscanthus floridulus) near a garden with the Kera River running about 500 metres below to the west. From the informants there I gathered that the site was in production up to about three or so years ago when tribal fighting flared up in the area.

Meggitt (1957:40) mentions that the source of the salt was controlled by a section of Ipili clans, the Pianda clan. My enquiries revealed that the site was owned by the Kilianda clan but I was not able to establish any relationship between the two clan names. However, the similarity in the name might suggest that they are actually the same clans. This seems to be the most likely case here because only one of the people that I talked to was an old man, and he did not seem interested in what I was doing anyway. My other informants were a young man, Kiap, in his mid-twenties, and his mother.

Technique of manufacture

The first step in the manufacture of salt is to cut naturally dry wood from the pi and lep trees to about a metre in length and leave them in the pond to soak for up to four weeks. The reason why this wood is used is that it is quite porous when dried naturally. It soaks up a lot more water than wood that is solid when dry. When the salt wood is ready to cook, a small open sided lean-to hut would be built beside the spring. In the centre of the hut a shallow hole, about a metre in diameter and 10 cm deep, would be dug and the sides and bottom lined with wet clay. At the bottom of this a fire would be started using a small amount of dry kindling from hard wood. In the meantime the soaked wood would have been removed from the ponds and piled up to drain the excess water. Once the dry kindling was burning the drained wood would be piled onto the fire and left to burn slowly for 24 hours. More wood would be added when the pile burnt down. At the end of the day a large pile of wood would be left to burn overnight while the people returned to their homes. By the next morning the soaked wood would have burned through and the ash would be like a solid cake on top of the clay. This would be broken up into slab-like pieces and wrapped in young leaves of highlands breadfruit (Ficus spp.) and tied with bush vines. This would be stored in dry places in the homes of the owners to be consumed or given away in trade. I bought a packet of salt from an old man who had cooked it some four or so years ago.


The Salt spring at Pai-ela is located in an area that is referred to as ipa ipe which literally means ‘saltwater’. It is located on the northern side of the Kulina river which flows into Paiela. It is a fair way from the nearest settlement of Andaria. I visited the area with a relative of the Huli informant that was on the trip. According to the l informant, there were many salt springs there but these had been in disuse since they got imported salt from the gold prospectors in Porgera in the late 1940’s (Meggitt 1957:32). Furthermore, fresh water springs have recently appeared on the side of the ridge, diluting the salt. A good example was the one that we saw. The fresh water spring that came was a result of big timbers being cut and dragged down the hill. Water followed the newly made depressions which became gullies and are now more or less permanent streams.

The salt spring that we looked at was diverted slightly southwards downhill for about 50 metres where it was allowed to settle in a pond in which the wood was soaked. Unlike the practice at Ibarup, there was no specific preference for the type of wood used in soaking. These were burnt after five to six weeks of soaking. The burning took place in lean-to huts. Interestingly enough, the place where these huts stood is hollowed out, however I never got any real explanation for this. The process of salt making appears to be the same as that described for the site at Ibarup.

When we arrived at Anderia I asked some of the old men there about the salt. They claimed that most of the salt that they produced was consumed locally and only a small amount was traded over to the Duna and Huli that came to the area. I was unable to obtain further information on this. As far as the Huli informants interviewed know about the salt production only one actually went to an area where it was produced and cooked the salt · himself. This is a summary of an account given by Mulugu Gawa. He went to Jaikwanda (Jokonda, cf. Meggitt 1956: 102) to obtain salt. On the first trip the went in the company of some other men and a young woman from Jaikwanda who was then in Tari with some of her relatives. Upon arrival he gave four gourds of oil similar in size to the large ones that I used in the interview to a relative of the young woman upon the recommendation of the young woman. (At that time he admitted that he took a fancy in the woman.) This bought him the right to cook the salt from a pond about 1 by 1 metre square. With the help of the young woman he cooked the salt there and got 20 packets of salt from it. This figure is similar to that estimated by Meggitt (1958:312). An average plot of 5 x 4 feet, produces four to six large packets of ash salt weighing from 8 to 10 pounds each.

Of these four were small ones while the rest were large packets. He gave ten of these packets to one of his friends on that trip who was related to him but did not bring anything with him. Of the remaining ten large packets that he kept for himself, he brought them back and used five in Tari and got a big pig for each packet and he brought the remaining five to the Duguba area. From his description it is likely that he went to the salt spring at Langku near Jokonda mentioned by Meggitt (1956:102).

(This extract is from a thesis by Jo Tumbe Mangi, Yole: A Study of Traditional Huli Trade. in full requirement for the degree of Masters of Arts in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology: University of Papua New Guinea. 1988. pp. 62-66).

  1. For a detailed description and distribution of these see Meggitt (1956, 1957, 1958). []

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