by Dr. Chris Ballard, Australian National University

(An extract from The Death of a Great Land: Ritual, History and Subsistence Revolution in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea; Australian National University, Canberra, 1995). pp. 237 – 258.)

Dr. Chris Ballard, ANU
Dr. Chris Ballard is an Associate Professor at Australian National University. He is Senior Fellow of the School of Culture, History & Language, School of Culture, History & Language.

His current interests revolve around indigenous Melanesian historicities – their transformation through cross-cultural encounters; their representation through various media, including film and fiction; and their articulation with contemporary challenges such as land reform, large natural resource projects, and cultural heritage management planning. He is also engaged, together with Bronwen Douglas, in an ARC Discovery Project on “European Naturalists and the Constitution of Human Difference in Oceania”. Publications under preparation include an edited collection on the history of racial science in Oceania, and a monograph on violence and first contact in the New Guinea Highlands.

I briefly outline in this section the possibility that ritual, as the set of practices which most clearly addresses and articulates the cosmological framework of shared meanings that constitute Huli culture, offers a powerful lens through which to discern the changing structure of the relationship between Huli and their environment.

Perhaps the most obvious and immediate links between ritual and production are pig herds. Although there is some suggestion that other media of exchange such as possums and tree wallabies were formerly an appropriate sacrifice in the most ancient rituals, all of the rituals still being performed in the middle of this century required pigs, or more accuratley pork, in varying quantities. 1 Pig fat and pig blood, in particular, were employed as the substances establishing or renewing the ties of exchange between supplicant humans and ancestral or other dama spirits; but it is the history of changes in the movement of the remaining pork produced through this sacrificial process that is of particular interest to this analysis.

It should be no surprise, given the regionally atypical forms of ritual leadership and the degree of elaboration evident in Huli cosmology, to find that the history of Huli ritual is extremely complex. Rather than sketch the full extent of that history, insofar as it is known, I seek to contrast two major sets of ritual forms, the ancient gebe (“ancestor”) and dindi gamu (“earth spell”) and the more recent tege pulu 2, as a means of tracing the broad historical trajectory of change in the relationship between ritual and production; in addressing this specific aspect of Huli ritual, description of the rituals here is limited largely to the issues of leadership and the deployment of pigs and pork. 3

Gebe and dindi gamu

The related gebe and dindi gamu rituals are undoubtedly ancient, at least within the temporal reckoning of Huli historicity. 4 The constitution of these rituals is entwined with that of the landscape and the emergence of the earliest ancestral dama in the region, and their most immediate purposes were the restoration of the fortunes and fertility of the land and of people in the face of the tendency in both towards entropy (B2.5 and Chapter B5). Both gebe and dindi gamu rituals were still current in the Tari region during the early 1970s but, under pressure from the various missions and due to wholesale conversion to Christianity of the bulk of the Huli population since the 1950s, neither ritual has since been performed.

Gebe performances can be regarded as the minimal components of the much larger dindi gamu rituals. Gebe was performed at fixed sites, the gebeanda residences of former ancestors, both human and dama. The nature of gebe rituals varied considerably from clan to clan, with each performing lineage transmitting its own traditions of practice from generation to generation. Generally, however, gebe rituals involved the sacrifice of a small number of pigs, the blood and fat from which would be poured over stones or other features associated with particular male and female ancestors in order to attract their favour. Gebeali, specific individuals from the families or lineages within which traditions of ritual performance were maintained, would undertake the performance either in their own individual interest, or at the behest of others, who would then supply the necessary pigs and a payment in the form of cowrie shells. Attendance of these rituals at gebeanda ritual sites was restricted largely to senior men related to the lineage owning the gebeanda, to the extent that ritual sponsors from other lineages were often not permitted to observe performances.

Dindi gamu was a complex of rituals which effectively played out the logic of the smaller, local gebe rituals on a far larger stage, with many other elements incorporated within each performance. Performances of dindi gamu at the major gebeanda ritual centres, or dindi pongone gebeanda (Table B4, Figure B10), addressed fertility on a regional or universal scale. As with gebe, the details of dindi gamu performances varied from gebeanda to gebeanda, but certain common themes appear to have been established through a process of regional linkage; indeed, there appears to have been a historical extension of the regional influence of dindi gamu to non-Huli neighbours along, and probably in support of, lines of regional trade centred upon the Tari region (Ballard 1994).

Leadership in gebe and dindi gamu rituals was thus descent-based, with performances held at specific gebeanda locations and orchestrated by individuals from a limited set of prescribed lineages. The spells (gamu) and knowledge (mana) required for performance were transacted between generations, often with payment involved, but not beyond a closely bounded circle of kin. Effectively, the gebe and dindi gamu rituals were controlled by a small elite; there is considerable genealogical evidence to suggest that gebeali families from the major dindi pongone gebeanda such as Gelote, Bebenite, Tundaga and Bebealia Puni intermarried extensively. 5

The numbers of pigs involved and the frequency with which different gebe and dindi gamu rituals were performed are difficult to establish with any certainty, but some impression of the scale of pig production required for these rituals can nevertheless be gained. Gebe rituals typically involved between one and no more than three pigs, referred to collectively as gebe nogo. In sponsored performances, these would be supplied to the gebeali or gebe gamuyi (“gebe spell-holder”) by the gebe anduane sponsor. One pig was always consecrated to the relevant gebe dama spirit being supplicated, with the other two sacrificed for the dama Hana Wali and for the liru ritual stones.

The circulation of pigs at dindi gamu performances was more complex. The performing gebeali lineage or lineages would acquire and provide a single “sacred” pig, known at Gelote as iba tiri nogo and at Bebenite as nogo yabe; in both cases, there were specific requirements about the size, type and colour of the pig and its source. These “sacred” pigs were then killed and cooked within the gebeanda, with half being thrown to the iba tiri spirits in the Girabo and Dagia rivers and the other half cut into small portions for the dindi bayabaya rite; these portions were then distributed to the different swamps in the region and buried to replenish the fertile iba substance of the land (Chapter B5).

The gebe nogo contributions of sponsoring clans at dindi gamu rituals (known at Bebenite as burugu abi nogo) typically consisted of between 15 and 25 pigs for each performance. These would also be killed in the gebeanda, and their flesh mixed and cooked with that of the iba tiri nogo or nogo yabe which would impart some of its qualities to the flesh of the “secular” pigs. Small cuts of this pork would be offered to ancestral dama spirits related to the gebeali clans, but the bulk of the meat was then consumed by the gebeali and their families, both inside and outside the gebeanda.

Gebe and dindi gamu rituals were not performed regularly but were initiated as the perceived need arose in response to food shortages, unaccountable illnesses or deaths, or general ill fortune in such matters as war. On the basis of estimates of the years in which dindi gamu was performed at Gelote and Bebenite, it is possible to suggest that the major dindi gamu rituals were undertaken as often as every 5 to 10 years, on average. Smaller gebe rituals would have been performed much more regularly at the minor gebeanda sites, but the overall impression gained from the numbers of pigs involved at these performances suggests that the scale of production required to support gebe and dindi gamu rituals was not great. This conclusion is supported by the contrasting impression of the deployment of pigs in the more recent tege pulu ritual to. 6, but eyewitness descriptions published in two popular books on travel in the Highlands give some sense of proceedings in the ritual (Gaisseau 1957, Bjerre 1964). ))

Tege pulu

Tege pulu (generally referred to in abbreviated form as tege) was the most enduring of a large number of experiments in ritual launched by Huli, during the period from the late 19th century up until contact, in response to the perceived failure of dindi gamu and other rituals such as yabo and gomia to maintain the fertility of the land and of people. 7 The evidence of land degradation in the form of declining crop yields on the poorer soils, the advent of large-scale warfare and an apparent increase in both epidemics and famines are collectively described in terms of the emergence of a host of new, unrelated and unremittingly malevolent dama spirits (Chapter BS, Frankel1986). In effect, tege replaced gebe in prominence on a local scale when the origins and effects of this “epidemic” of misfortune could no longer be ascribed to gebe ancestors and were sought instead amongst new, unrelated dama spirits. The emergence of tege did not result in the abandonment of gebe and dindi gamu performances, but rather augmented them and, in so doing, effected something of a revolution in Huli society.

Tege was a remarkable amalgam of materials, rites and dances from different sources, reassembled to form a novel ritual. Tege performances incorporated rites that were both ancient, such as homa haguene, the sacrifice for and repainting of ancestral skulls, and others that were entirely new, such as guruma igiri, a series of rites of passage for boys and young men. The origins of tege are fairly clearly ascribed to Dagabua clan at the Gelote dindi pongone gebeanda, where the gebeali Yaliduma­ Wabira is said to have inadvertently released the epidemic of malevolent dama spirits. Hoyamo clan, afflicted by these dama, were the first to pay for or sponsor a performance of tege, which was performed for them by Dagabua in Dagabua parish; Maiya-Tawa of Hubi clan then sponsored a second performance, as tege tene (“the source of the tege”) or tege anduane (“the owner [literally: “breast-giver”] of the tege”), in Hubi parish for the death of a kinsman. There is exceptional concordance amongst the estimates for the ages of these and other individuals said to have been alive as adults when the dama emerged and tege was initiated, and it is possible to assign these events fairly firmly to the period between ?1870 AD and ?1885 AD.

From the Haeapugua basin, tege spread rapidly to most of the other Huli basins, reaching Mogoropugua in about ?1910 AD; the services of tege ritual specialists from Mogoropugua were then acquired by Duna-speakers of the Upper Tumbudu valley, where tege appears to have been adopted as the Duna kiria ritual (Modjeska 1991:245f.). Along the outer margins of Huli territory, debate over whether or not to adopt tege had varying results: HuH-speakers of the Komo basin enthusiastically took up tege (where it was recorded by a number of patrol officers in the 1950s); there was a single performance of tege in the Lebani basin when, in the late 1940s, Lebani residents “bought” tege from Mogoropugua and performed it in an apparently successful attempt to stem the loss of life ascribed to the depredations of dama; but in the Benalia valley and amongst the scattered Huli communities along the southern slopes of Mt Gereba, tege was decisively rejected. 8 Although Benalia residents frequently attended performances of tege held elsewhere, they decided, as Habo Pebe (Hobi tene) revealingly phrased it in 1990, that they preferred to continue fighting rather than adopt tege and the truces it entailed. The last tege performances appear to have taken place in the mid-1960s, after which pressure from the various missions resulted in its total abandonment.

Unlike gebe and dindi gamu, the performance of tege appears to have been remarkably homogeneous across its full geographical extent. The same reasons given for the performance of tege (war, famine, unaccountable death, illness and suicide) are widely cited. The primary goal of tege was to identify correctly through dream, and then seek to appease through performance, the responsible dama. This dama, which could be either unrelated or ancestral, was the focus of tege sacrifices, together with other principal members of the Huli pantheon, including Ni (the sun), Iba Tiri and Dama Dindi Tene or Dindi Ainya. A standard sequence of rites, performed at irregular intervals over a period of years, was universally observed: the initial himugu and deba rites were followed by the ega rite and culminated in the full performance of tege pulu. 9

Tege pulu performances typically took place in gardens within the parish where the dama was held to have been resident; significantly, tege was not performed within the major gebeanda centres. Over a period of four days and under terms of truce between any warring groups, numerous rites were conducted within a fenced enclosure to which no women were admitted. Women, however, were permitted to camp just beyond the perimeter for the duration of the ritual, and most men were freely admitted to the enclosure, practices which stand in strong contrast to the secrecy and limits on access associated with the gebe and dindi gamu rituals. Unmarried women and married men also met at daweanda courtship ceremonies, though the buildings for these were constructed beyond the tege perimeter fence.

As an experiment with ritual, tege was also an experiment in social order. Leadership in the tege ritual sequence constituted a significant departure from the forms of leadership described for gebe and dindi gamu. Inplace of the narrowly prescribed and essentially hereditary offices of the older rituals, tege leadership consisted of a shallow hierarchy with a multiplicity of offices and roles. A limited number of men known as liruali (“liru ritual stone-men”) were said to have held a complete grasp of the requisite mana and gamu for tege. 10 These liruali operated as instructors for the actual officiants in tege, the uriali, of whom between one and four were typically present for a tege performance. Gamu spells and mana knowledge were exchanged in payment between liruali and uriali; with sufficient experience and knowledge, uriali would ultimately perform as liruali in their own right. 11 Significantly, there appears to have been no kinship requirement between liruali and uriali, though performing uriali at a specific tege were conventionally drawn in even numbers from tene and yamuwini kin within the performing parish; this freedom of transaction of tege knowledge presumably accounts for the exceptional uniformity of tege performance across Huli territory. Under instruction from the liruali and uriali, a large number of men and boys acted in a wide range of specified roles both prior to and throughout the four days of the tege performance; indeed, most of the large number of men attending each tege would have been acting in at least one of these roles. Women were also accorded named roles, as the mothers of the guruma igiri initiates and as nogo ainya (“pig mothers”), the providers of many of the pigs killed during the ritual.

If tege served to expand dramatically the pool of potential officiants, who were no longer drawn solely from genealogically specified lineages, it also widened the net for potential sponsors for ritual performance. As a ritual performed largely in the (male) public eye, the prestige of sponsorship accrued to a much greater degree to the tege anduane sponsor than was the case for gebe anduane sponsors; within the local area around a tege ritual, the performance was generally described as “X’s tege” and through successive sponsorship, X gained renown as an agali homogo, a rich man capable of marshalling the efforts of others in the production of wealth. A brief review of the movements of pigs and pork associated with tege reinforces the impression of a transformation in the role of the sponsor, including the notable emergence in tege of women as ritual sponsors, albeit under the auspices and name of a male relative.

All exchanges of pigs in tege took the form of pork; it was apparently axiomatic for all Huli ritual that pork, rather than live pigs, be the medium of transaction. But competitive exchange need not require live pigs and a highly significant element of tege was precisely its role as a vehicle for competitive exchange between groups led by tege sponsors. 12

Detailed reconstruction of payments made at eight tege sponsored or received by Tani Lebe subclan at Haeapugua between 1951 and 1954 suggests that an average of 72 pigs were killed at each tege (ranging between a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 120). Not all of these belonged to the tege anduane; instead, he solicited contributions from his kin, affines and parish coresidents, forming as it were a tege project group (B4.5). The tege anduane himself typically contributed between 10 and 20 pigs, usually representing the largest single contribution and thus assuring that the tege was sponsored under his name. Of the total number of pigs assembled for each tege, approximately one quarter was given in payment to the officiating liruali and uriali, a second quarter was given to the host lineage by the tege anduane and his sponsoring lineage, and the remainder were provided by each lineage for their own consumption or redistribution. The overall volume of pigs required for tege cycles is, again, difficult to calculate with much confidence. Involvement by Tani Lebe in eight tege over four years (of which they sponsored five) required an estimated 303 pigs from Lebe, or 76 pigs each year. Lebe are only one of nine lineages of comparable size in the Hewago clan or subclan of the Tani superclan (Appendix B6: Gen.3); as many as 600 or 700 pigs may thus have been committed annually to tege by Tani Hewago and in addition to this must be reckoned the usual flow of pigs in payment for brideprice and other forms of compensation.

The element of competition in tege derived from the assumption that sponsorship by lineage A of a tege performed by lineage B would be reciprocated with an equal or larger number of pigs in a second tege in which the roles of sponsor and officiant were reveresed; from such evidence as I have, it appears that increased returns were in fact very rare and that equivalent reciprocity was the effective rule. The competitive “edge” in this system of apparently direct reciprocity stemmed instead from the strategic timing of sponsorship; as former sponsors explained to me, the key to “winning” at tege, or gaining the prestige of the indebtedness of one’s hosts, was to muster one’s resources in secret and spring a sponsorship upon the host lineage when they were least equipped to respond quickly with a return tege.

Obviously, there was a complex web of individual debt creation and settlement at play under the general rubric of tege exchanges, and I do not intend here to trace the full significance for Huli social structure of the directions in which these payments flowed. 13 Instead the point that needs to be made for my argument is that tege represented an occasion for pig exchange on a scale unprecedented in Huli history. Further, it was an explicitly ritual occasion, insofar as the pigs were exchanged as pork, in contrast to the practice of compensation payments such as brideprice or compensation after war where the bulk of the transaction was, and still is, conducted with live pigs (Table B21).


The contrast set up here between gebe/dindi gamu and tege allows us to perceive a rough trajectory in the transformation of both leadership and the organization and form of consumption of pig production over the broad period of the last two centuries. Although all three of the “secular” leadership types listed in B4.5 (homogo, wai biaga, bi laga) are deemed to be ancient, it is possible to propose that there was a general shift during this period in the balance of prestige associated with different forms of leadership.

Thus types of leadership such as the clan headman (agali haguene) and ancestral ritual leader (gebeali) which were founded upon descent-based forms of knowledge, such as clan origins (dindi malu), genealogies (malu) and the spells and knowledge associated with gebe and dindi gamu rituals, declined in significance, insofar as that can be gauged by their ability to marshal the labour of others in the form of pigs. In their place, but not to the point of their exclusion or extinction, types of leadership which drew their status from generally transactable knowledge (liruali and uriali in the tege ritual) and a degree of renown achieved through the ability to marshal labour (such as homogo in pig transactions or wai biaga in warfare and its attendant compensations) assumed a new prominence. Implicit in this transformation and in the increase in the commitment of pigs to tege rituals, is a significant increase in the demand for and production of pigs. Equipped with this insight, it is possible to return to the problem of explaining wetland reclamation at Haeapugua with a fresh alternative with which to account for both the impetus behind wetland reclamation and the historic significance of sweet potato for the Huli.

  1. Possums were still employed in more recent rituals, such as the opening sequences of tege pulu (described below); but, like the reenactment of the gardening technology of the earliest ancestress and the consumption of lowland sago in the inner sanctum at the Gelote ritual site (Section B4.2), the use of possums is a conscious invocation of a deeper past. []
  2. Despite numerous enquiries, no gloss was offered for the term tege pulu, other than that pulu is the call made during the opening stages of the ceremony; a remote possibility is that the term tege is cognate with the term for the ceremonial exchanges of the central and eastern Enga, tee (Feil1984) []
  3. 7. In conjunction with my general research into Huli oral history, the history of Huli ritual was documented in considerable detail; the accounts of dindi gamu and tege pulu provided here are considerably abridged, but draw on this extensive body of documentation. []
  4. Here I am forced to contradict Glasse’s (1965:46) assertion that dindi gamu was adopted from the Duguba early this century; in this he appears to conflate elements of a single ritual performance of the dindi bayabaya rite at Bebenite with the larger dindi gamu ritual. []
  5. With so small a ritual elite, the risk of knowledge loss was ever-present; though a single gebeali generally presided over ritual performances at each gebeanda, other agnates within his lineage and even certain of his aba kin collectively retained a full knowledge of the requisite mana and gamu. Despite this strategy, the dysentery epidemic of the 1940s devastated many of the gebeali families – a blow which may have contributed to the speed of the collapse of dindi gamu following administrative and missionary contact in the 1950s. []
  6. here is no thorough ethnographic analysis of tege available in published form (brief references to tege are made by Glasse (1968), Frankel (1986) and Goldman (1983[]
  7. I have briefly described elsewhere a number of the other ritual experiments and considered the adoption of Christianity by Huli as the most recent in this sequence of experiments (Ballard 1992b). []
  8. One of the earliest written accounts of tege, by Patrol Officer C.E.T.Terrell in 1953, also referred to the Benalia area as a ‘noteworthy exception’ to the universal practice of tege amongst Huli {Terrell 1953). []
  9. The ega and himugu rites which preceded tege appear to have functioned largely as a process of divination. They were not widely attended and the pigs provided by the sponsor were typically three or less in number. []
  10. 14. The majority of these liruali appear to have been based in the central Tari and Haeapugua basins:
    Glasse (1965) has suggested that as many as 12/iruali directed proceedings at a single tege in the Tari basin, and I have documented and confirmed through different accounts the names of 26 different liruali who co-ordinated tege performances in the Haeapugua basin; but Terrell (1953) recorded that only two liruali were known in the entire lower Tagali valley and Komo basin area, and liruali were never resident in the Lebani basin. []
  11. 15. A standard payment made to a liruali by an uriali in exchange for tege knowledge consisted of 60 (“four fifteens”) strings of cowrie shell (dange hende). []
  12. An absence of competitive or cyclical exchange ceremonies amongst Huli had previously been asserted by ethnographers of the Huli (Goldman 1981b:61; Frankel1986:44) and has passed into the regional literature (e.g. Feill987:240), but the scope proposed here for competitive (albeit equivalent) and cyclical exchange in tege has since been confirmed by L.Goldman (pers.comm. 1993) []
  13. Perhaps the most significant observation to be made in this respect is that tege competition was conducted largely between lineages standing in relationship as aha to one another (Chapter B3) []

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