‘Kelote’, An Important Huli Ritual Ground 1

by Dr. Laurence R. Goldman

The following is a summary account of my researches into the importance of a site known by the indigenous population of the Huli as ‘Kelote’ – adjacent to Pureni station.

While there is considerable variation in the belief system of the Huli concerning their own origins, it is an unquestionable fact that the clan known as Dagabua is considered in many respects as the most important of all the clans in the Huli area. The reasons for this are as follows:

(a) They are believed to have been amongst the first born on Huli land, and for this reason hold a particular kind of knowledge called ‘Dindi Pongone’ – which literally means ‘not of the land’. This knowledge refers to how the first ancestors of the Huli lived on the ground and the kind of rituals they performed.

(b) The clan resides in Pureni and are the owners of the site called Kelote and Irari. Research has revealed that at periodic intervals of about eight to ten years a major ritual cycle called ‘Dindi Gamu’ was performed at Kelote and involved not only a number of clans of the Huli, but also of the Duna and Dugube people who live at the Northern and South-Western borders of the Huli.

The principal association of Kelote in the religious belief system of the Huli is that this was the place in which the main cycle of events took pace which the main cycle of events took place which had the intention of promoting fertility of both people and land.

Even though the ritual in its full form no longer is practised, the site nevertheless is the most sacred of all Huli ritual grounds, and is so referred to by the people as the ‘Dindi Pini’ – which means :the root of the ground. It is believed that from this place four roots spread out to the adjacent peoples as the Duna, Dugube, Obena and the Huli themselves. The following is a list of what was formerly present at the site, and some of the factors which are associated with each ritual that took place there.

(l) Kebe Anda
This is a large cave at Kelote where the basic origin spirit of many of the Huli clan resides. The name of the spirit is Kebali and the earth ritual was to have a large extent devoted to him. The spirit is believed to have taken a number of journeys from Dugube land and the tracks which he took is known as Kebe Haria or Habua Pu. These tracks are found throughout the whole of Huli land and often traverse a cave site where this spirit called Kebali is believed to reside, and where the pigs where formally, and in some parts still are, sacrificed to him. These cave sites are called ‘Kebe Anda’ – i.e. house of Kebali, and the large and main cave site for the Huli is still be te found at Kelote, very richly decorated in red clay and ashses. It was here that many of the pigs sacrificed to this spirit were killed, and where for a period of eight days certain men who held specialized spells invoked this diety to promote land and general fertility for the Huli, Duna and Dugube.

(2) Ogo Anda
This was a large conical structure, where pigs were killed to a number of deities and formed part of the general ritual cycle called ‘Dindi Gamu’. While smaller ones were to be found over most of the Huli land, once again the main one was found at a place called Irari. This was destroyed some time ago when the missions came into the area.

(3) Ira Hale
This is a large tree still found at Kelote today. The basic belief behind the importance of the tree is that all the rivers of the Huli are felt to converge at this place, enter through this tree and pass up to the sky where it comes down as rain. A particular spirit known as Iba Tiri who inhabits the water banks of the Tagari and other major rivers of the Huli is held responsible for cleaning all rivers which pass through this area. For this reason axes and pig were pre­viously sacrificed to this spirit. The tree was also the centre of many of the rituals performed by the Kuara people north of Kopiago who used to come to Kelote and decorate this tree with various feathers and mud.

(4) Kebe Hagama
This was a small fenced-in area, no longer there today, which was cleared by certain men only with particular traditional digging sticks. The idea behind this forbidden area, was that they were emulating the way the first woman lived on the land and given the very intense ritual taboos which men place on contact with women. Only those men with the requisite spell could enter this place. Inside this area two further buildings could previously be found: Depe and Halebe. These were long houses built very much on the lines of present ‘Andiria’ (rest house) found adjacent to all men’s houses in Huli. The terms literally mean ‘thirteen’ and ‘fourteen’, used because this was the number of rooms or sections each house had. Once again these were only found at Kelote. In these houses various specified clans would come and plant a number of hard-wood trees, as well as various natural species as possum, tree grubs, cassowary, etc. Once again the intention behind this was to promote the fertility of land by recreating aspects of Huli oral history.

It must be stressed that the individuals who hold the specialised knowledge and requisite spells associated with all these sites are very few, perhaps in total only 13, many of which have died and their sons, because of the breakdown of Huli traditional culture not hold their father’s ‘mana’ father’s (i.e.· talk and customs). For these reasons any contemplated scheme which aimed to reconstruct the site, which could fairly be termed the Vatican of the Huli, will need to aim at initiating the project in the next year before the men with requisite knowledge die out.

Two further house constructions were built, again concerned with Dindi Gamu and placed at Kelote:

(a) Gelage Anda
This was a house in which the Dugube only performed a dance known as Dawe Geyere. The conception behind the inclusion of the Dugube in Huli ritual relates directly to the belief that the first progenitor of the Huli was a Dugube woman from the Siani (a dialect group of the Edolo people north of Bosavi).

(b) Agau Wandia
Another ritual house where a pig was sacrificed to the spirit Kebali and where it was planted with the umbilical cord of a child to promote growth and beauty. This was a ritual performed all over Huli, but the site from which it originally emanated is believed to be at Kelote. This site is associated with ancestral women, the term Wandia meaning ‘woman’s house’.

These were the main kinds of buildings previously found at Kelote, and which, a part from the Cave and Hale tree, have since been destroyed. The sacred ground itself still remains however, and the avenue that leads to the cave is lined by magnificent Hoop pines (Guraya trees). Many of these have already been destroyed due to the presence of a nearby mission saw-mill, and unless action is taken soon, this particular site will unquestionably be irreparably damaged.

It is certainly true that the Huli talk of other sites which were involved in this earth ritual, places like Levani, Bebente (Tari), Bepali Buni (northwest of Komo) at which various leaves were burnt and the smoke from this fire could simultaneously be seen throughout Huli land. However, Kelote was and remains very much the centre for the Huli came and particpated in the earth ritual called Dindi Gamu. While there has been much change in the society in the last two decades, there are still many people who continue in minor ways to invoke these deities for sickness and poor land. The mission influence in the area is partly responsible for rendering Kelote a redundant ritual site and for the destruction of this sacred site. The purpose of this short resume of Huli conceptions of Kelote is not to lay blame at a particular institution but to support any more to reinstitute the kinds of constructions previously found there.

In the event that such action is taken to preserve this site I would be most happy to help and advise in any capacity which the Government felt I could assist.

(Reprinted with permission of Dr. Laurence Goldman. ‘Kelote’ an Important Huli Ritual Ground, Oral History, Volume 7:4, 1979. pp. 14-18.)

  1. See https://huliculture.com/ethnography/kelote-a-huli-sacred-space/ []

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