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Late at night, deep in the remote Papua New Guinea Highlands, a monster rises out of the dark and confronts a terrified ten year old boy, linking his hideous teeth in anticipation of a good meal. Part of a male initiation ceremony of the Gimi people, it is one of the ritual dramas enacted in the men's and women's houses during a two week fertility festival known as the Hau. These unique plays range in subject from origin and creation myths to stories of crop failures, pestilence, male rivalries, sexual conflicts and family strife.

One intriguing drama tells how life began. High in the mountains surrounding the village are a number of swamps, probably of volcanic origin, where the water turns slowly in a spiral. Legend has it that the sun and moon emerge from one such swamp and rose into the heavens following their mother, the evening star. When the myth is enacted, two actors are bound back to back with rope made of dry pandanus leaves caked with mud. Circling the siblings is their mother, Obu. After a period of slow gyration, the sun-moon figure breaks apart and the two siblings move menacingly around the room, frightening the rapt audience.

A monster appears during the
late night male initiation ceremony.


Banana leaves are used to line the
earth oven pit in which peeled taro and
wild game will be placed for a ceremonial meal.

Sometimes a person working alone in a garden is
overcome by trickster spirits who take control of them.
In this ritual, a father plays a spirit coming out of the forest
while his young son acts the part of a man chopping wood in his garden.

Traditionally, men and women lived apart, but this changed after missionaries arrived and insisted on western ways. Once men and women began living together, houses were built in small clusters. The two buildings above house a clan leader and his wife, and one of his married daughters. If a clan leader was of sufficient status in his village and wished it to happen, his daughters, instead of leaving home to live in their husbands' village or hamlet, might choose to stay near their parents.

Actors covered with rope fashioned from dry pandanus leaves caked
with mud, play out the legend of how the sun, moon and evening star originated.
The images on this Web site were taken by an Australian photographer,
David Gillison, who lived in the Highlands for nearly two years. They have been
published by Abrams (Thames and Hudson) in a book entitled: New Guinea Ceremonies.

Papua New Guinea Postcards and Picture Galleries

 click here Papua New Guinea Home Page         
                                click here Papua New Guinea: Sepik Region                                    
                                click here  Papua New Guinea: Port Moresby                                  
                                 click here Madang and Lae                                                              .  
                               click here Jane's Oceania Home Page                                              
Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 19th April 2008)