PAPUA NEW GUINEA CULTURAL PRACTICES

The Church was first to have intimate contact with the tribes of Papua New Guinea. Missionaries in Papua New Guinea and the people who supported them in many countries can justly claim credit, at least as much as the explorers, traders and administrators, for opening up this beautiful but savage land and turning it into a budding haven of peace and justice.

Disease, attacks by the natives, privations took a heavy toll. So much so that in some cases the number of missionaries who died in the country exceeded the number of converts they had been able to make. But the work of the missionaries progressed nonetheless. By the end of 1914, when German New Guinea had come under Australia's administration, all the schools in Papua New Guinea and 90 per cent of the hospitals were operated by the Church. And by 1973, there were 161 mission-operated hospitals in the country compared with 105 operated by the Administration! Of the nearly 5,400 secondary medical posts, 2950 were operated by the mission. Christianity was not forced upon the people. In fact, the individual's right to his own customs and beliefs is recognised by law. In 1973, more than 95 per cent of the native population claimed to belong to the Christian faith  Magico-religious pagan beliefs still exist - but only among a few tribes in the central western part of the mainland and in the interior of New Britain and Bougainville.

 

Left: Papua New Guinea postcard coffee-harvest. Right: Papua New Guinea - a nun and school children

     

Christianity, however, has been adapted in parts of the country to meet local conditions. And also - but very infrequently - it has been distorted. This distortion has helped produce the nucleus of the cargo cults. Some of these cults are quite harmless, amusing philosophies submerged in contorted Christian ritual. Others are fearsome, weird practices. They combine black magic, human sacrifice, ceremonial mutilation, ancestor worship and cannibalism - all in the name of Christianity! Some of the cargo cults have adopted a political cloak. In a very small way they influence the attitudes of a few members of the Third House of Assembly. The Church has also played a major role in the education of the people of Papua New Guinea. Of nearly 1700 primary, secondary and technical schools operating in Papua New Guinea in 1973, 1050 were run by the mission s. Of about 250,000 students attending schools in 1973, 140,000 were in mission schools. The Church led the way in the 1970-1973 scramble to "localise" leadership. By the middle of 1973 almost all top posts in the Church were held by local people.

Thank you so much for visiting the above five Domains. I am very pleased to be able to share with you that further limited advertising on About Papua New Guinea Page, along with other Web Pages within the above Domains, are now available. Potential advertisers are cordially invited to choose from several thousand Web sites available for placement of your important advertisements.  For further information, please contact me at:

jane@janeresture.com or jane@pacificislandsradio.com

HISTORICAL REVIEW

First to establish a mission in Papua New Guinea was the Catholic Church (Marist Brothers). It set up a station at Woodlark Island in 1947 and a second station at Rooke Island a few years later. But malaria, for which there was no remedy in those days, defeated this first attempt to set up a mission foothold in Papua New Guinea. Ten years later, after several missionaries had died of malaria, both stations were abandoned. The London Missionary Society, formed in 1795 and combining several Protestant groups in 1872 set up stations at Murray Island and on several Torres Strait islands, including the now disputed Saibai Island, off the southern coast of Papua. Soon Port Moresby, protected by the guns of the royal Navy and regularly supplied from Queensland, became the centre of London Missionary Society activity.

Papua New Guinea postcard Priest, little singers

Many of the first missionary teachers were Melanesians from New Caledonia and Fiji and Polynesians from Rotuma, Rarotonga and Samoa. These groups of islands had been explored and Christianised earlier than Papua New Guinea. They provided a constant stream of missionary workers imbued with the same zeal as the white missionaries who had arrived in the south and south-west Pacific area. These early missionary islanders took the brunt of the savage reaction of the Papua New Guinea natives. Within a spell of 40 years, from 1872 to 1912, more than 100 missionary workers from the islands were killed and usually eaten by Papua New Guinea natives.

The Methodists played a prominent part in the Bismarck Archipelago area. They set up missions in the Gazette Peninsula of New Britain, on New Ireland, the Manus group of Islands and Bougainville. Of all the Church groups which established mission in Papua New Guinea, none fought with greater vigour against the scourge of blackbirding than the Methodists. They appealed to Britain, to the young Australian colonies. They raised support in the United States. They remained undaunted in their purpose despite the attacks they were subjected to by native tribes. In the Gazette Peninsula alone 11 Methodist missionaries, nine of them Islanders, were killed and eaten.

Papua New Guinea Residence

The Catholic Church resumed its missionary work in the area in 1883. Not only did it have to face the problems met by the other groups. It also faced hostility from some elements of white settlers who were mostly Protestants. But the work of the Catholic Church was on a larger scale than some other Church groups and its influence soon became more effective. The Lutherans, the Anglicans, the Seventh Day Adventists and almost every branch of the Protestant Church played their part in helping to open up and civilise the coastal fringe of this great group of islands. The work of the missions and the spread of Christianity would have been more effective if there had been a uniform coordinated plan among the various Church groups and no petty jealousies among them.

 

Papua New Guinea men in traditional costume! Right: Papua New Guinea - Mekeo dancer, 1973.

Most of the Protestant groups achieved such a uniformity of approach only in 1968 with the inauguration of the United Church of Papua. New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. This combined the London Missionary Society, the Overseas Missions Districts of the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Methodist Church of New Zealand, and the United Church of Port Moresby. The Roman Catholic Church, which maintains more than 200 stations throughout Papua New Guinea, remains the most influential group at the time the country advances towards full nationhood. Its headquarters is the Archdiocese of Port Moresby, Rabaul and Madang.

CARGO CULTS

Perhaps the best way to understand the cargo cults is to look at two reports written by New Zealand journalist Ray Goodey who lives in Rabaul. Mr Goodey has made a special study of the subject and based these stories on his own experiences - experiences which involved some risks. He is the only journalist ever to interview the "Messiah" (leader of one of the weirdest cargo cults) on the site of the sacred and scary rituals - the peak of Mount Turu:
Picu up any book on New Guinea and you are almost certain to find a reference to the cargo cult and its many followers who claim possession of the white man's key to abundant wealth.
Cargo cult is not new in New Guinea, nor in the Melanesian area. The first cargo cult in the area was reported in Fiji in 1885 and since then has recurred at intervals throughout Polynesia and Melanesia.
There are many different forms of cargo cult but they all share the one basic idea that all the wealth Europeans possess actually belongs to the native people. They claim Europeans have a key or a secret which enables them to receive the cargo being sent to the natives by their ancestors.
the latest outbreak of cargo cult is centres around Yangoru, in the East Sepik District, about 50 miles from Wewak. The chief soothsayer is Matthias Alwan, a former policeman and mission worker who was jailed in 1970 for removing illegally a trig marker on top of Mount Turu, a 3,000-foot mountain near Yangoru.
He claims that while in jail both God and St Peter spoke to him, and told him that if the cement block on which the trig marker stood is removed, material goods would appear without the need of work or personal effort.
However, only people who have paid to join the cult are to share in these goods. So villagers from as far afield as Nuku near Aitape in the West Sepik District (as many as 15,000 according to some estimates) are paying $10 each and $2 per wife.
To the white man and many educated New Guineas this is just so much "rubbish talk". But to the uneducated villager trying to reconcile his primitive religion and way of life with the sophisticated Western culture, with its confusing number of religions, this talk makes sense. Their ancestors, whom they have always revered, are sending them "cargo" which is obviously intercepted by white man.
Aliwan is at present living quietly on a range near Mount Turu and has set July 7 as the date for removal of the stone and arrival of the cargo.
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the cult is that Aliwan's followers claim he will sacrifice himself on the day but on the third day he will rise again and the cargo will flow.
Over the past few weeks Administration officials and mission personnel have reported bizarre incidents concerned with people joining Aliwan's cult - whole villages are burning money in bundles up to $500 and spreading the ashes on their faces.
Gardens have been left unattended (followers believe there will be plenty for all after July 7) and with the expected influx of 20,000 natives food will be short.
The greatest danger with the cult is that it may well turn anti-white. if the cargo does not come on the predicted date, the Europeans have again succeeded in diverting the cargo. Police in Madang, Lae and Port Moresby are reported to be on standby.
The Member of the House of Assembly for the Wewak Open electorate, Mr Beibi Yambanda, has joined the cult. He paid $14 to join - $10 for himself and $2 for each of his two wives.
His initiation ceremony consisted of having his wrist cut with a razor blade, having lime mixed in with his blood and a 10 cent coin placed on top. Then this was bandaged in place.
Mr Yambanda claims he then received money magically, and he was given a magic stone which will make more money for him when the cargo arrives. He now keeps the stone in his house at Wewak and will not allow it to be touched except by initiated members.
Meanwhile Aliwan is busy meditating and fasting on top of his mountain, allegedly preparing to offer himself as a human sacrifice.
To clear up the rumours circulating about Aliwan, I made the trek to his mountain retreat recently with three other journalists. 
We were escorted by Daniel Hawina, Aliwan's second-in-charge and general spokesman. Daniel, too, has declared himself willing to be sacrificed on July 7 for the cause.
After nearly tow hours of walking up and down mountain tracks and crossing over a dozen rivers we finally came in sight of Aliwan's house.
He greeted us in Pidgin English, and agreed to be photographed by himself and with a group of his followers. He is an impressive looking man, and looked most "prophetic" standing to attention with his long staff.
He told me that on July 7 he will remove the cement stone from the top of Mount Turu. Then, he said, the gardens will flourish and there will be plenty of game in the bushy.
Twice I asked him about the human sacrifice being talked about, with himself as chief victim. The first time he ignored the question, and then said "no comment" in Pidgin English.
He refused further talk. We must ask Daniel Hawina, he said.
The message seemed clear. We packed up, quite relieved to be on the way back.
We met up again with Daniel Hawaina at Marambanja village and talked to him. He showed us a tin suitcase containing what he claimed was over $8,000. He said this money had been collected from the cult members, and he wanted it sent to Canberra to built a war memorial for their dead.
The memorial is to be officially opened by either the Queen or Pope Paul.
Still no one knows for sure what will happen on July 7. Townspeople are concerned that the movement will turn against all Europeans, and Administration officials are still considering what is the best way to defuse the situation.

Papua New Guinea young girls.

Mr Goodey followed up this report with a visit to the top of Mount Turu on what was to have been a fateful July 7.

Matthias Aliwan, self-styled messiah, stood on the top of cloud-covered Mount Turu waiting for 10,000 of his followers to complete the gruelling climb through leech-infested jungle.
When all was ready, a hush came over the crowd, and Aliwan and 12 of his disciples proceeded to dig out the two American survey markers which he claimed were the key to the white man's abundant wealth.
As soon as the stones were removed, the clay was scraped off and they were handed around to a lucky few nearby. They believe that cargo will now appear without the need for work or personal effort.
So ended weeks of anxious waiting by the New Guinea Administration in the latest outbreak of cargo cult in the Yangoru area of the East Sepik District about 50 miles from Wewak.
This particular cargo cult hits the headlines about six weeks earlier when the leader Matthias Aliwan, a former policeman and mission worker and his second-in-charge Daniel Hawina, said they were willing to sacrifice themselves if the police tried to prevent them removing the stones on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year. Both Aliwan and Hawina were jailed in 1970 for illegally removing the trig marker that marked the top of Mount Turu, a 4,000-foot mountain near Yangoru.
Aliwan had promised God and his people that once the stones were removed all would be well. Now being the period of waiting, and wait they will for the wealth they now believe must come.
After the stones had been dug out, Aliwan asked me to take a picture of him standing on the holes where the stones had stood. The two stones were then carried down the mountain through the villages. Finally the stones, 1.1/2 feet long and one foot in diameter were carried to the Administration officer in charge of Yangora, Mr Chris Buttner.
The 4,000 people who had accompanied them down the mountain were then addressed by Mr W. Johnston, Director of Civil Defence, who had been sent to the area as representative of a Mr Tom Ellis, Secretary of the Administrator's Department.
He asked the people to move back peacefully to their villages but at least 1,000 remained sitting by the side of the airstrip, waiting. By nightfall the majority had left.
People had come from all areas of the East and West Sepik Districts and many I spoke to were ardent cargo cult followers. Others were not too sure and had been sent by their village elders to see what would actually happen and then take the word back.
Paloau Maloat, at present the Member of the House of Assembly for manus for several years headed an anti-government, anti-mission (cargo cult) movement.
In 1964 the people of New Hanover Island started a cult aimed at breaking away from Australia, and getting for their president the then President of the United States Lyndon Johnson.
The Administration are deciding whether or not to replace the markers. Europeans are wondering what will happen to the $21,000 collected by Daniel Hawina. Missionaries are expecting either sudden increases in church attendance or sudden decreases. And the people of Yangoru and fellow cult members througho9ut the District are just sitting in their villages, waiting. 

Aliwan's cargo cult is, of course, one of the more harmless examples of the weird thoughts which grip some of the more primitive peoples of Papua New Guinea. Whether the money, so fraudulently collected, was put in any use, or whether it was burnt or returned to the owners, will never be known. The Administration, in its concluding stages, showed an "elastic" approach in dealing with such problems. And what else could it do, when even members of the House of Assembly appear to have been involved in these absurd beliefs. The episodes related by Mr Goodey happened in 1971. They give us a glimpse of the way naive native people are often misled, even today, when the halo of independent nationhood begins to glow over the ice-capped peaks of this fascinating land.

The markers removed by Aliwan were placed there by the United States Air Force in 1`962 as radio distance measuring aids. They were airlifted to their position and weigh about a ton. They are called Hiran Stations. Altogether 16 of these markers are scattered over Papua New Guinea mountain tops.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA NATIVE MUDMEN

Australian journalist Peter Hastings has accurately described cargo cult as "... a baffled, frustrated expression of black aspirations to white skills and goods." The strength of these aspirations, and the urgency with which they may be pursued, is likely to play an important part in the political stability of the country in the years to come.

STRANGE PRACTICES

In a society as varied, as young, and in places as primitive as that which exists in Papua New Guinea today it is understandable that the visitor may find ways of life and strange practices alien and even repugnant to him. Cannibalism, though little published in Papua New Guinea, and hardly mentioned either by Administration officials or by United Nations de-colonization committee pundits, still exists in 1973. Very much so in some of the more remote areas of the Sepik River Districts, in the Western District and probably in New Britain, tool.

In fact, it is common practice among warring tribes in these areas to carry off the bodies of slain enemies and eat them. Of course the Administration and the missionaries have tried to stop this whenever and wherever they have been able to penetrate the remote mountain fastness of the border areas with West Irian. These are wild inaccessible lands which can only be reached on foot, at the right time of the year. Or perhaps by helicopter at the few spots where the forest has receded. Head hunting and head collecting are more "popular" than cannibalism. The practice is spread over a wider area. Tribesmen who collect and display human head are not necessarily cannibals. They may not have killed in order to collect a human head. For example, a tribesman may behead the corpse of a friend or an enemy who died of natural causes and keep the head for more or less the same reasons that someone in a Western society collects butterflies, or stamps.

Also popular, and carried out quite legally, is the adornment of living people with parts of the bodies of the dead. for example, often a man or a woman wears a necklace or a bracelet in which the centre piece is a human finger, or a hand, or an ear. Another strange Papua New Guinea custom, among the Kukukukyu people and others, stems from ancestor worship. For example, when old grandma dies, how can one express respect and love for the old lady other than by preserving her body for posterity. In this case the bodies are smoked for two or three months over the fire. Then, with due ceremony, they are carried and placed on a spot of worship (perhaps some nearby rocks). Whenever one wishes to see grandma, he simply goes to the spot where the dried up corpse lies. men play with grandma's skeletal hands or feet. Women and children fondle grandma's head.

Perhaps the most widespread Papua New Guinea custom (and the most feared) is the payback. According to payback principle the relatives and the fellow tribesmen of the victim of some offence--perhaps theft, assault, rape or murder--are obliged to pay back the culprit for his wrong-doing. It is considered an insult to the victim's tribe if the police and the courts are allowed to arrest and punish the offender. Retribution must come from the tribe itself. According to payback, it is not necessary to find the individual who committed the crime. Anyone of the culprit's family or tribe will do. It is a kind of primitive vendetta. But it extends over the whole village and tribe of the offender. It is easy to see how such a system of vengeance can quickly inflame a whole district.

Motorists in Papua New Guinea are often told (and with good reason) never to stop if they happen to hit someone - even if they happen to hit and kill a dog or a pig. They risk being killed, or beaten up by the relatives of the victim, or by the owner of the dog or pig. This applies not only to the driver of the car. It applies to all passengers as well. The grim prospects which face hitch-hikers or other passengers of a motor vehicle, even a public bus, are obvious. The position of white people who live among primitive tribes is also awkward. In the eyes of some local people, all whites belong to the same "tribe". In the last few years payback killings among natives have been so frequent that the police have been unable to investigate and prosecute in all cases. But they do act whenever a white person is involved. This has tended to dampen payback enthusiasm against whites.

Perhaps the most publicised and politically ominous Papua New Guinea custom is tribal warfare. The able-bodied men of one or more tribes will gather and line up on a pre-selected battlefield facing one or more enemy tribes. The two opposing armies will then fall upon each other with sticks, spears, stone aces, bows and arrows. Roaring their individual or tribal war cries fearful-looking painted and decorated men wade into each other. Sometimes to the skirt of native pipe bands playing well-known Scottish tunes, more often to the drum and saxophone music of nightclub bands playing some of tom Jones' latest hit tunes.

But this is not a game. These warriors are deadly serious. For some reason, which seems to defy common sense, few people get killed - perhaps a dozen, maybe two dozen out of several thousand. But the injured who later seek treatment may be in the hundreds. The quarrel may be sparked by a dispute over land, over the theft of pigs, to a lesser extent women. Or it may be a general payback settlement between groups of neighbouring tribes. The police usually arrive too late. At least, too late in sufficient strength to stop the fighting. The tribal battle may last a whole day - or several days. In the last case a truce is arranged for the night, the warriors are fed, entertained and given some time to rest. Then the battles resumes at dawn the next day. When one side is defeated in open battle, it continues to fight a guerrilla war, in the steaming, insect-ridden gullies, the rainforest mountain slopes, the craggy mountain peaks. It is during this guerrilla warfare period (while white district commissioners are trying to organise a truce with the help of interpreters, witchdoctors, churchmen, tribal chiefs) that most of the atrocities take place. Raiding parties from either side may attack the villages of their opponents, killing or carrying away women, children, pigs, cassowaries, decorative shrunken heads.

Officials in Port Moresby (both white and native) claim that tribal warfare is not caused only by disputes. They say that it is often the result of the explosion of the warlike instincts of nomadic mountain peoples who have a long tradition of fighting behind them. They say that these New Guinea Highlanders (most of the tribal fighting takes place in the New Guinea Highlands) have not yet adjusted to the need for peaceful co-existence with neighbouring tribes. Whatever the reason, tribal fighting is a serious problem today. It carries in it the germ of political instability and regional anarchy at a time when peace and order are the most sought after elements in the new society which emerges with the birth of the Papua New Guinea nation.

Within the scope of this review it is impossible, of course, to describe all or even most of the strange customs of so many different groups of people. The few examples mentioned must be seen in their right perspective. Except for payback, which is practised by perhaps 10 or 20 per cent of the population, all the others refer to small groups of people in three or four areas alone.

Papua New Guinea Home Page
Papua New Guinea Tribal Art - Sepik Region
Papua New Guinea Tribal Art Home Page
Papua New Guinea Tribal Art
Papua Home Page
Oceania Postcards and Picture Galleries
Jane Resture's Oceania Page
Jane's Oceania Travel Page

Soak in the enchanting sounds of the sun-drenched Oceania/Pacific Islands coming to you in 64kbps FM Stereo!

   Pacific Islands Radio Stations
 
 
 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 3rd November 2012)
      
 

eXTReMe Tracker
 
yahoo.gif (465 bytes)