by Damien Arabagali

Damien Arabagali Portrait
Damien Arabagali

Dinini is the word used for the soul of the human being. Every Huli has a dinini. The shadow of a person is his or her dinini. It is the image of the soul. The true dinini is invisible. When a person dies, the dinini leaves the body through the fontanelle on top of the skull. I have been warned many times not to wake a person too quickly because the person may wake up before the dinini has returned, in which case that person might die.

When I was a child, the hair on top of my head was left growing for someone to pull on when I am at the point of death. This will stop my dinini from leaving. The dinini of children are harmless but those of adult’s are dangerous especially for those who were not on good terms with the dead person. They are distinguished by gender as agali dinini (agali means “man”) and wali dinini (wali means “woman”).

The spirits of the dead, which are still active after death, usually remain in the area where people died, but sometimes they are seen in the places where, they are buried. Some help the relatives. Some frighten people. The Huli can tell where they themselves will go or what they will do after they die. Before he died my uncle, Kai Goli, told my relatives that when he dies, his spirit would go and settle in the Hagari Valley. The evening after he died, a big thunderstorm came and a big, landslide took place in Hagari Valley, and a fierce-looking lake was formed by the landslide. To this day, my people believe that my uncle lives in that lake.

My grandfather, Kau Kulu,’ told my relatives that when he is buried he will cause a loud noise like thunder to come from Mt Togo. That will be the sign that he has met his dead ancestors and is happy. Everything happened as he foretold. My nephew’s spirit also came to me when he was buried at home. Distance does not hinder the spirits. There are many examples of the presence of the spirits of the dead.

The spirits of those who had violent deaths usually harm people, but those who had natural deaths do not disturb the living. They often visit their children in other forms. The skulls of those who had special relationships with supernatural beings are redecorated on special occasions and are put on display. They are still considered to be active. Sacrifices are made to the head ancestors to get them to ask the deities to help them. Ancestors act as representatives for them. They act on their behalf. The Huli often repeat the names of the dead men of the clan so the children will remember.

The Heavenly Beings (dahuluya ali)

According to our Christian belief, God always takes care of everything. He created visible and invisible forces and powers. He spoke to humans in various ways. One of these ways is through the angels who live in heaven. Jesus spoke about the angels that represent each one of us in heaven (Matthew 18.10). They are instruments of God’s providence. The angels played an active role in the Old and New Testaments.

The belief about heavenly helpers was nothing new to my people. They were called dahuluya ali, (dahuluya means “sky home” and ali means “people.”). The Huli had many visits by these heavenly beings who are pictured as very pretty girls or very handsome boys. These young people belong to one family. Their parents are very old but still strong. The father seems to be the only one alive and active in the stories. These heavenly beings live in one long house. The ladies sit on one side and the young men on the other side. They have plenty to eat and there is much rejoicing. They give all their food to their old parents, these heavenly beings are very kind to the helpless, the widows and orphans, and the sick. Sometimes these heavenly beings give up their lives helping human beings. They risk their lives out of love. For instance, Pepeko Wane Pandume was a heavenly woman who, with her sisters, came down to earth to help a poor young man to make his garden. She was eventually killed by the boy by mistake. (See haroli legend)

Dangerous Spirits (dama)

Dama spirits are very dangerous to the Huli and are feared by them. They are invisible beings who often come in the form of birds, animals and insects, or in the form of strangers. They appear as they are to children. They have human bodies, but they can disappear and change into other things in a split second.

The real dama spirits live in the deep jungle. They attack their victims by first making them get lost in the forest. Then they usually eat the smoother parts of the body, like the ears, eyes, nose, and flesh that is under the armpits and chin. No one can kill them. The Huli have a special language which they use only to confuse the dama of the jungle. These dama only attack those who come to the jungle. There are many types of dama including dama poloma (bewitching spirits), dama iba diri (water spirits) dama heyo/ape (the chief spirit), and dama payaka horonapaliya (giant spirits).

Dama poloma are spirits that bewitch people, especially women. The wali poloma (wali means woman) is seen as responsible for many deaths in the Huli-Duna area. This spirit is active now, as it was in the past, the dama poloma enters the victim by killing the soul of that person. The person possessed by the dama poloma usually has no choice but to follow and do what the dama poloma decides to do. Women who have a dama poloma have very light, shiny skin and sharp, piercing eyes. When seen from the distance, they appear to be two people, and they do most of their work at night while the bodies they use are asleep. Their presence is known from the special whistling they make, a sound that makes all Huli-Duna people grow cold with fear.

I have seen such women myself. They have impressive powers. Two such women were brought to the Koroba District Court for killing a man in 1984. During the court case, both started to argue; one claimed that the other ate most of the organs and she ate the liver. “You killed the man not me,” she said. Most of the time, the women who are involved in such cases are not held responsible. The dama who is in the women is the one that is doing the killing. When the dama poloma is killed, the woman who has the dama dies immediately afterwards. No compensation is paid for such a woman because she is considered a public menace.

Dama iba diri, or “foolish water spirits” (iba means “water” and diri means “fool”), stay close to the rivers in which they live. They are not very dangerous, but, they can harm people, especially children, by implanting river stones in their bodies. Some women have the power to take out these objects. I witnessed one of these cases when I was a child.

Dama heyolape is the chief dama of the Huli people and is the most deadly of all the dama. It is zealous and merciless, and it will kill if it is not appeased. Each tribe has its own dama house where the dama heyo/ape is worshipped. Sacrifices are made for success in a payback killing, for, curing illness, for thanksgiving for good times and protection. All this worship is done out of fear.

Dama henge is a function of a dama, This is the term used for a dama that attacks pregnant women by lodging part of itself in the internal organs of the foetus. Babies who have blood in their mouths when born are thought to be the victims of the act of dama henge. This shows that a dama henge is present in the child. In such instances the mother of the child usually cuts the tip of the child’s finger to let the blood flow. This is thought to send the dama henge out. If further tests show that a dama henge is still there, additional rituals are performed to remove it. Some families have relatives who know how to do this. These families have special birth marks, called ake which is a lump under the armpit. The dama henge is not a separate deity as Glasse states. Rather, it is a function of a dama.

Dama payaka horonapaliya are dangerous giants who kill human beings for food. They have huge legs, eyes, ears, teeth and hands. The Huli live in fear of them. These giants live in a place far away, but they come and hunt for human beings.

Good and Bad Spirits

Having briefly described the spirits of the living-what we usually call the human soul – and the spirits of the dead – usually referred to as spirits, and ghosts, it is important to note that traditional spirits have ambiguous characters and are good or bad according to the situations in which they appear. In the Christian view, spirits are either good (angels) or bad (demons). If one overlooks this difference between Huli and Christian ideas about spirits, he or she might easily classify traditional spirits as merely evil and dangerous and insist one-sidedly on, say, Christ’s message about good and protecting spirits (cf. Matthew 18: 10).

(Extract from Datagaliwabe Was Working Among The Huli. Damien Arabagali. Treid Pacific (PNG) Ltd. 1999. pp. 35-38.)