December 1994 - January 1995
From the Baliem Valley, Irian Jaya, we flew to Jayapura and further to Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea. Here we got stranded. We had planned to fly to Tari, in the highlands, to the Huli, but 2 Huli tribes were just at war with each other and had chosen the airport (a grass-field) as arena, so it was closed. Outsiders have nothing the fear from tribal warfare, as the war is only between the men of the tribes. So we tried to get to Tari by another way, the following day we flew to Mendi, about 60 km from Tari. From there we went by a minivan to Tari, under attendance of a police-escort of 3 cars. They also went to Tari as the tribal warfare ran out of control. As travelling by land is very dangerous in Papua New Guinea, due to many ‘hold-ups’ (the road is all of a sudden blocked and cars are raided), it was saver to travel together with the police. And indeed, on the way there were 2 ‘hold-ups’. Policemen dashed out of their cars, completely armed. Several shots were fired. The police entered quite harsh, people really got beaten up with clubs. Guns, bow and arrows got seized and the people were forced to clean up the blockades. Not really a nice job, being a policeman in Papua New Guinea. It is quite a troubled country, with lots of revolts, hold-ups and tribal warfare. Just before Tari we said goodbye to the police, they first had to settle some things and would go later to Tari. The community where we would stay was just 5 km further and as the police did not expect any ‘hold-ups’ at the last few kilometres, we went alone further. Unfortunately those 2 ‘hold-ups’ had caused quite some delay and it started to get dark. It was almost dark when we arrived at Tari, this was a little risky, all of a sudden we came with a van out of hostile territory. A whole bunch of beautifully attired warriors with gorgeous headgears appeared with bow and arrow, ready to attack. Very fast we closed the windows, only the driver still had his window open. He had to stop and was threatened by a warrior with bended bow and arrow, just 2 cm from his head. The driver knew Tari, he had family living there, he told them he was only transporting some tourists. At that moment the police arrived and fired some shots, so the warriors dashed away. If we had arrived at daylight there was probably nothing to worry, than they could have seen us well and that we were ‘white’, at night you never know what comes out of hostile territory. All cars have at the front window a grating against bursting stones, we had some arrows in the grating, so we took 2 of them as a souvenir. The police accompanied us to the community where we stayed. We slept in a kind of ‘lodge’, a project of our guide, run by the community, 3 small cabins with some beds and a community cabin where they (the men) cooked for us. 3 Times a year they came here with a small group of tourists. For running water we had to go to the river, but they had a toilet, a very small cabin with a maggot pit. The following day we visited an initiation camp of the Huli. But this ritual is starting to disappear. There were only 6 boys in the initiation camp. The headgear of the Huli is very impressive, it is made of there own hair, full with feathers of different birds of paradise and kasuaris etc. The authentic headgear is grown together to their heads and cannot be taken off. During the initiation rite that takes about 10 months you get and grew together headgear. Through plant extracts they try to stimulate hair grows. They have frizzy hair, they put twigs in their hair to get a stand out hairdo, from which they finally make a gorgeous headgear. The men with grown together headgears sleep at their back with in their neck a little bench, so their headgear will not get damaged. But only a small part of the Huli men have still the authentic headgear, the most cut their hair and make so their headgear, it is more comfortable if you can take off your headgear at night. Everywhere in the village we saw completely attired men going to the battlefield. We avoided the battlefield. The grass-field that served as airport was the battlefield. The chieftain where we stayed, told us their way of warfare. At both sides of the grass-field the 2 rival warriors stand, completely attired and painted with bow and arrow. The grass-field is just too large to shoot an arrow from one side to the other side. So every time some brave warriors run to the middle of the field, shot an arrow to the enemy and run back. Tribal warfare is here very common. Every tribe has several ‘wars’ a year. The main reason for warfare is women, through adultery, but sometimes also for land or pigs. Women are just possession here. While the men are also beautifully dressed up when they are not a war, women mostly wear plain skirts and T-shirts. There is a big difference between the Papua’s of Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea. In Irian Jaya everything is more austerely, the Papua’s are there second-rate people, Indonesians are first-rate people. They are slender, oft even skinny. Papua New Guinea is very colourful, people are larger, fatter, and louder, they are a free, proud and independent people. The official language is Pidgin, a kind of corrupted English. At school they learn English. So in every village there are some people (men) who have gone to school and speak a little English, some even quite well. So you can communicate quite well with them. They mostly came to us, proudly explaining their culture. They took us everywhere. We were welcomed to admire the warriors, dressing themselves up for warfare, we could take pictures and film them. To dress up took quite some time, more than an hour. First they painted their face completely white, everyone did that by himself, then the colours yellow and red followed. They helped each other with the final touch. Everyone had different designs, drawings, patterns etc. When the painting was done, it was the turn of their headgear. Normally their headgear is already very impressive, now all kind of bamboo tubes appeared with special feathers of birds of paradise and were put between the other feathers at the headgear. Although some headgears looked a little the same, you could see their personal touch, and some were completely different. When they were finally dressed up, the Magi came, an impressive old and wise man, who spoke some exorcism and the warriors started to dance. At the rhythm of a drum they started to jump higher and higher. Amazingly that all their headgears remained perfectly at their heads, while just 2 warriors had a grown together headgear. Then they finally disappeared to the battlefield. This was a very serious and heavy tribal warfare, the tribe where we stayed hat already lost 2 men, their ‘enemy’ even 4 men. In the past there were seldom dead warriors, everything went by bow and arrow, just every now and them somebody got hurt. The warfare had more a competitive element. When it started to rain, there was an armistice, otherwise the feathers of their headgear would get wet and damaged and their painted bodies would run. Was it dry again, they dressed up again and continued the warfare. The last few years there are more and more dead, some are in the possession of fire guns, bought or self-made, that counts also for the ammunition. Self-made guns and ammunition lead to several serious incidents. Fortunately the most warriors cannot afford it to buy guns or ammunition, otherwise there would be many dead more, as each tribe has several tribal warfare’s a year. Going into war is very expensive, if somebody got killed, the one who is responsible for this, has to indemnify the family of the killed warrior. When we left Tari, the men were just going to the negotiations with the other tribe, they had come more or less to an agreement, but now the last engagements had to be made.
After visiting the highlands of Tari we flew to Wewak at the east coast, from there we went to the Sepikregion. The Sepik is the largest river of Asia, the 5th largest river of the world. This part of the trip went by canoe, an excavated tree trunk. Everywhere along the river and its tributaries were small villages of pile dwellings. The most looked so ramshackle as if with the first gust of wind they would fall apart, with everywhere openings. We also slept in those pile dwellings, you had to watch your step otherwise you would felt through the floor, which happened with a few of our group. We visited several villages. We were very lucky to visit a village where they would held a skin-cutting ceremony, young men (of several villages in the area) would get a crocodile skin. This was really an experience. Each village has a Tambourinhouse, a house of the ancestors, the house of men. In a few villages we were allowed to visit the Tambourinhouse, these are hanging full with beautifully carvings, some pieces were for sale if we were really interested. We were quite interested, so we took several carvings back home. But here at Jetchenmangue the Tambourinhouse was enclosed by a fence of tree trunks and palm leafs. The women were not allowed to see what happened at the house of men. Han and a few men of our group were allowed to enter the enclosure. Inside several adult men were dressing up for the ceremony, also a whole group of young men who had 3 weeks before their skin-cutting ceremony. They stay for 5 weeks at the Tambourinhouse and leave the house as real men. As this skin-cutting ceremony is only held once in 5-6 years (the people in this region thought that this could be one of the last skin-cuttings, as more and more young men leave the region to go to the big cit), were some young men already married or even father. The ceremony started in the afternoon with singing and dancing by the beautifully dressed up adults. They appeared every 10 minutes out of the enclosure and danced to and around the crocodile totem in the middle of the village. The totem had some crocodile skulls at its foot. The crocodile is the main symbol of the Sepik, so the dancing men formed a crocodile, the last dancer was the tail, he had a large unravelled palm leaf between his legs that swept around and around. Inside the Tambourinhouse they played drum. The drums a huge excavated tree trunks, with sticks they hit the drums. A great sound! They had also several smaller drums with strings and every now and than you heard a slash at the water. This was the tail of a crocodile splashing, at least they wanted to let the women believe there was a crocodile inside the enclosure. Also the 31 young men who had recently their skin-cutting ceremony were part of the crocodile line. They were completely covered with mud and a leaf as loin-cloth. They had a band of unravelled palm leafs as decoration around their heads, so they were not recognized by the women. First they danced with the adult men in a crocodile line, then everyone one by one alone and disappeared again behind the enclosure. 10 minutes later the same ritual, this went on the whole evening and night. The following morning by dawn, the second group of young men (23 in total) was cut. Each one got thousands of small cuts at their back, chest, upper arms and legs, in special motifs. This was a really painful happening. Han was the only man of the group who watched the skin-cutting, the other men returned within a few minutes. Han told that the young men laid at turned canoes, the cutting went quite fast, within 15 minutes a body was cut. The most young men were crying and moaning of pain. So the other men were singing and playing the drums so the women outside could not hear the crying and moaning. It was a bloody mess inside, through the heat there hung a sickly smell, which you even could smell outside the enclosure. Meanwhile the women were waiting impatience until the young cut men would be brought outside to the totem. The women were also dressed up, but not like the men, just with mud and leafs. Each time as the drums inside started again, a few women started to dance, it turned out that they recognized at the sound of the drums that their son/brother/husband was being cut. They were dancing to drive out the bad spirits. At the end of the morning the young men were brought at the back of their fathers or uncles, supported by 2 other men who each held a buttock, to the totem. The women started to cry loudly as they saw the distorted faces of their loved ones. I also had to swallow a little when I saw all the thousands of bleeding and ripped up cuts. Just a few young men looked relaxed. For sure they had eaten beetlenuts. But there was also a lot of shouting and cheering, they were all very proud of the young men. Then they went again behind the enclosure and their cuts were greased with a thick layer of mud. Through this mud the cuts will get infected and become real big scars and they will get a real crocodile skin. In some villages the women are cut as well. We visited a barter market and there we saw several ‘adorned’ women, completely different scars as the men, the scars where much larger and thicker, also the motifs were different. Mostly they only had scars at the upper arms. For the women there was no special skin-cutting ceremony. A barter market was also something special. This market was upstream a small tributary of the Sepik. Here the women of the river and mountain villages bartered their fresh and dried fish for sago, vegetables and fruit. When we arrived there was not that much going on, we saw everywhere merchandise exposed for sale and lots of women walking around looking at the merchandise, but there was no barter. From one moment to another the market started, women walked with large pieces of sago to the river women who where sitting behind their fish, showed them their sago and the river women inspected if they wanted to trade the sago or not. After the sago, vegetables and fruit followed. It was clear that the river women had a higher rank then the mountain women, they had the choice. Of course the mountain women had already checked before the barter started which fish they wanted, but the river women had the final decision. Everything went so fast, within 10 minutes everything, at least the fish was sold. Directly after the barter was finished the river women left the market (the river men where also there, but they stayed near the canoes or at the background) for their canoes and returned home with full loaded canoes. The mountain women left the market a little later with their string bags tied at there heads into the forest. Several of them had still a lot of sago, vegetables and fruits in their string bag.
First part of this trip, Irian Jaya Read more...