A never before published, eye witness account.
I write here a ‘first hand account’ of a male initiation ceremony I stumbled upon in 1964, in the highlands of Papua-New Guinea, amongst the Huli people of Tari, in the Southern Highlands of that island; the worlds third largest. At the time I had been working at a height of 12,000 feet, amongst the people of Tari, otherwise known as the ‘Huli tribe’, who are well known for their elaborate ceremonial wigs. There were going to be elections soon in that province to determine who would go down to Port Moresby and represent them in the new parliament. About as far away as ‘chalk and cheese’ to these people, who were quite literally walking in the stone age. I’d had a busy week getting up early and taking the long drive up the mountains to show these people how to mark a voting card and place it in a box. One old fella literally rolled up the voting paper I gave him and used it as a paper for his tobacco and a well earned smoke! I had some time off and decided to venture out into the jungle on my own and find maybe an adventure. Well I sure did.
I was walking up a steep slope through some thick undergrowth when I heard some wailing in the distance and it was getting closer to me. I hurried up the slope to find a path and watched in fascination as a group of Huli men were running fast and carrying something trussed up on a pole. Surely a pig getting ready for a feast, I thought? But to my amazement no, it was a human body, all painted red and hanging by arms and legs on a pole and jogging up and down with the groups rhythm. The wailing came from a group of women all coated in white clay and I found out later these were the dead man’s wives, six in number, even though he was only thirty and had died in the local ‘housesick’ , or hospital. I followed them to a burial site near his garden and they put him up on a stilted wooden bed to rot. Then his bones would be crushed and placed in his garden. I made friends with the group, who then invited me back to their village for an initiation ceremony and accompanying feast.
I shall never forget the scene, for far away one could see the high mountains. One of the highest, Mt Wilhelm, nearly 14,000feet, can actually get snow on it, even though is near the equator. The initiation hut was a very tall A-frame. Against this back ground it looked like a small mountain itself. All around the hut, which would have been a least sixty feet high, were equally impressive bon fires all ready to light. It must have taken the people ages to collect all the wood for these, for they were each about fifteen feet high, but it was for an initiation, important to indigenous people like these. I could not believe how many of these fires had been prepared, at least twenty or so. It was explained to me that each fire was representative of an initiate about to undergo the initiation ceremony for young boys of age to become men, as is common amongst many peoples of the earth.
The sun set and the anticipation had made itself evident during that afternoon, with at least one hundred warriors beating drums in full ceremonial paint and dancing. Such was their intensity and fervor, that I got out of their way quickly as they came towards me. The big fire that had been prepared during the afternoon, running down the center of the initiation house, had reduced itself to coals by the time the sun set. The full initiation was then explained to me by the chief. First, the boys had to run through the initiation house over the hot coals and then to be equally brave, had to endure the senior men of the village beating them with sticks as they went through. Now the length of this initiation long house was about 30 yards, so it would prove to be quite an ordeal for the boys hoping to become men. When all the boys had run through there was a gathering and then each boy stood by his bonfire and an eider lit it, in celebration of their achievement. The feast afterwards consisted of small pigs cooked in underground ovens and local vegetables, mainly taro.
The final part of the male initiation ceremony was that the boys went off into the jungle for two weeks to learn all the knowledge they would need to know as the future men of that particular tribe. I ask you how many of our pampered youth these days could endure this sort of treatment? The male initiation in western society is when you drink your first beer and get your driver’s licence, which we have seen sometimes leads to disasterous results. This account I have actually illustrated, so unique is the memory in my mind all that time ago, when in many ways Papua-New Guinea was more pristine than it is today. I have even read, to my shock, that in the last elections in this part of the world, there were at least a dozen deaths in tribal fighting, over who will go to the parliament. It just goes to show, you can take the ‘people out of the jungle, but not the ‘jungle out of the people’. I am forever grateful that they accepted me, a total stranger, and shared this special experience with me. It has given me much pleasure to share it with the world, so advanced from that time, today.Thank you, Helium for making the channel, otherwise I would never have known I could ever write about it.