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The Kiwi Papuans Essay, Research Paper

The Kiwi Papuans of British New Guinea

This paper discusses the Kiwi Papuans of British New Guinea, as described in The Kiwi Papuans of British New Guinea, published by MacMillan and Co. in 1970. Anthropologists Gunnar Landtman, P.H.D., lived among them in April 1910 to April 1912, in order to study their anthropology and sociology.

The majority of the Kiwi Papuans inhabit the large island of Kiwai, which is about 50 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide. In addition to Kiwai, they inhabit certain islands in the estuary of the Fly, a couple of villages on the northeastern bank of the river; the right bank of the estuary and the sea coast towards the west as far as Mabudavane. The Kiwai area lies exceedingly low, which explains why the country is primarily swamp land, and contains no hills, whatsoever. Along the shorelines there are few plots of cultivable land, except some covered with coconut groves. The finest display of tropical vegetation is along the riverbanks upstream from the nipa area.

The temperature of the region remains astonishingly constant. It is pretty much always between twenty eight to thirty degrees Centigrade. The temperature fluctuates so little even during the changes of seasons that it is hardly noticed at all. Similarly, the length of the days varies little throughout the year. The maximum difference in the length of the day is only about one hour. One difference does exist between the seasons in the Kiwai district. There are distinct changes in wind and rainfall. From about April to December is the period of the southeast monsoon, when it is pretty much assured to be exceptionally windy during the day, and somewhat lesser during the night. The southeast monsoon represents the dry season of the year, even though it can rain every now and then during this period. Sometime around the end of December, the winds become changeable, signifying the beginning of the north west monsoon, which generally lasts to close to the beginning of April. During this period, it is not uncommon for there to be sudden, violent hurricanes immediately followed by a dead calm. It is uncommon for a day to expire without rain during this period, although it is equally uncommon for it to rain all day. Devastating thunderstorms are common, but usually pass over as quickly as they arrived.

The Papuans speak a language known as Kiwai. This language belongs to the agglutinative languages, which are somewhat unique. One example of their uniqueness is the pronouns, verbs, and adverbs are often combines in one and the same word. The language is considered to be extremely complicated, but the natives simplify it when they communicate with outsiders. The language comprises two dialects, one spoken in the east by the Kiwai islanders, and the other in the west. The vocabulary varies somewhat, although different groups can understand the two dialects rather easily.

The method of courtship is rather interesting in the Kiwai Papuan culture. As in most cultures, it is the boy who takes initiative. Once the boy finds a girl who he is attracted to, he employs a go between, which is responsible for delivering a token of the boys’ interest. If the girl accepts this boy as a lover, she sends something back, like a tobacco pipe, for example. This is further complicated by the fact that Kiwai Papuan parents tend to be exceedingly protective of their daughters.

When it comes to marriage, the bride purchase is an integral part of the process. The man is expected to present a great number of valuable items to the women’s family in return for her. It is important to note that the gifts aren’t really intended to equal the value of the female, but more to indicate the importance of the donors. Because of this, the male generally attempts to give as much as he can. If, for some reason, a male cannot pay his husband-in-law a bride price, he is sometimes allowed to work for him, in order to pay off the debt.

Quite interestingly, when the final settlements have been made, the two are married without any further confirmation or ceremony. The occasion is celebrated with a large “kaikai,” and dance, but both are no different than ordinary festivities of the sort. Dr. Landtman did find one observance. The newly married wife extinguishes the fire on the hearch, which she has, up until then, been using, and proceeds to throw the ashes away. Following this she kindles the fire on her daughter. The groom’s people are responsible for providing the main part of the food for the marriage feast, while the bride is expected to do the actually cooking and the layout. Also, neither bride nor groom wears any special types of clothes or adornments.

While it is not uncommon for a man to have several wives, it is somewhat frowned upon in the Papuan society. While the majority of the men Landtman interacted with did only have one wife, some had two, and others even had three of four. Each of the man’s wives generally live together in the communal house. The husband eats and sleeps a few nights with each wife, in turn. As expected, jealousy is often prevalent among the different wives, but, in some cases, it is extraordinary how well these women get along with each other. Husbands with several wives would always say that they set out to treat them equally in every respect, but as we all know, this is not only very difficult, but virtually impossible.

While it is true that the marriage contract is supposed to last for life, divorces do occur. The causes of divorce are incompetence on the part of the wife as a worker, illhealth, or excessive quarreling between husband and wife, or between wives. Quite interestingly, adultery on the wife’s part does not always bring about a divorce, but what it does bring about is a fight between the two men involved. If the husband survives the fight, he generally continues living with his wife, like nothing ever happened at all. In most cases, the husbands are reluctant to leave their wives because of the great value she represents. When a woman does leave her husband, she will often join another man, resulting in a fight between the two. If children are involved, they usually stay with their father.

The Kiwai natives’ society is based upon agriculture. Their entire existence depends on the success and production of their gardens. Every man is the owner of a small number of gardens, distributes in patches round the villages among other people’s gardens and stretches of bush. The soil is so rich in the region that even small plots of land are enough to supply the owner with a sufficient amount of vegetable food. The planting of the gardens is done so as to enables the owner to always have a fresh garden ready for harvest.

Before white men introduced iron tools to the natives, the greatest difficulty was clearing woodland for the making of new gardens. Their stone axes were no match for the large trees they encountered. So, they brought them down by lighting multiple fires at their base, and axing off the charred parts after each subsequent fire dissolved. This was repeated until the entire tree has disappeared. The small trees were snapped off by the natives simply hanging on them with the weight of their bodies, which were placed around the larger trees and used for fuel. Even now, despite their iron tools, the natives are hesitant to cut down large trees, for fear of the etengea, a group of sylvan beings thought to dwell in large trees.

According to the natives, the following are the principal plants that have been grown in the country from years past up until the time he lives among the Papuans: yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, coconut and sago palms, sugar-cane, and tobacco. Surprisingly, there are a fair amount of fruit trees that grow in the wild, which everybody refrains from doing damage to. The garden implements used by the natives are extremely simple. They have many types of digging tools, but all are made of some strong and heavy wood. The larger digging implements look somewhat like paddles, while the smaller ones have a broader and strong point.

Even though they are primarily farmers, the Papuans do hunt as well. The principal animals that the natives hunt are: boars, wallabies, a variety of birds, large snakes, iguanas, and young crocodiles. The weapon the natives utilize in hunting are the bow and a variety of different types of arrows. They use both bamboo-tipped arrows and heavier bone-tipped arrows when hunting boar. Another weapon used for hunting is the spear, which had used to be made out of wood, but it now made with iron, making it far more dangerous. Pigs, wallabies, and birds are generally hunted with dogs. These fierce species will sometimes even kill a pig before their master has arrived. Birds are shot with lighter arrows than those used for boar.

The Papuan natives used several different methods to catch fish. A very usual way of fishing for them is with the hook and line. The hooks are made of both small sticks and turtle shells, which are cut narrow and ground on stones. According to the natives, both of these fishhooks were used before the arrival of white people. Large fish used to be taken with the same wooden spears used for hunting pigs. More recently, however, many pronged barbless spears were employed. The natives also shoot fish in shallow water with bows and arrows.

It was discovered by Landtman that the only covering worn by the men was a groin shell, however, even these weren’t worn all of the time. In many Papuan villages, it would be uncommon to see men wearing anything at all. Women would primarily wear fiber petticoats, which they made themselves. The petticoats consist of two long fringes held together by a waistband and the larger fringe is worn at he back, while the smaller one is in the front. The most common ornament worn by the Papuans is called the daguri, which consists of a headband lined with cassowary feathers. They wear other types of head ornaments, as well, though none are worn as frequent as this one.

Rather unusually, there is no difference of rank among Kiwai people, whatsoever. No one has any authority over anyone else, as their community is completely socially coordinated. So, there are no rich and no poor people, since hardly any property exists that would segregate the people economically. While there are valuable possessions, like houses and canoes, they are usually jointly owned by a group of people. Similarly, other belongings, such as tools, household utensils, weapons, clothes, etc., no matter how plentiful are no great advantage to the owner. Every man does equal work, and no one possesses servants. In addition, it is custom for a fellow-villager to assist anyone who is involves in some particularly arduous work. In these cases, the person who lends aid is not expecting any sort of payment, although it is common for him/her to be entertained with food and tobacco. Likewise, the building of a house or any other great enterprise is always done as a community. It is somewhat of a rule that a man is not directly paid for anything he may make for somebody else.

Although there is no social structure among the Kiwais, there is somewhat of a distinction felt in the community, which depends upon personal qualifications and circumstances. But it is important to note that this does not entitle a man to any social precedence. An example of this is that one who is able to entertain guests often will probably benefit from having a greater reputation than others. In addition, warriors, who have shown great skill and courage in battle, demand respect and recognition from others. Hunters, harpooners, and sorcerers are treated similarly. In every community, there are individuals who are looked down upon. These people are usually suffering from a mental illness, physically disables, idlers, widowers, and braggart, etc. It is also apparent that various jobs require of more skill and intellect. For example, certain kinds of work like the making of a drum or canoe, require a great deal of skill, and so are only available to select a few. According to traditions, certain leaders had acquired such influence that they could compel a large amount of people to do close to anything for them.

In Kiwai, there is no real form of cheiftanship, although leaders have assumed the position of self-constituted chiefs. Ordinarily, it is a group of men who exercise trouble authority. Each one of these men is the head of a group, so that when decisions are being made, all of the Kiwai people’s interests are represented. These men are not elected, rather they arrive at the position as a matter of course. These leaders are often middle-aged, and they usually hold their position until they become mentally and physically incapable. As soon as old age begins to set in, the influence of these men decreases significantly. The council of the influential men also acts as a court of justice. The most frequent trials are those associated with sorcery, theft, compensation for murder, divorce, etc. In certain cases, the court meets in secret.

In general, when it comes to treatment and the consideration in which they are held, women are considered equal to men. While it is not uncommon for a man to hit his wife, the community resents it. Outbreaks of conflicts between husband and wife do not often result in serious consequences because neither tends to be particularly sensitive. If things do in fact get particularly bad, the women can seek refuge elsewhere, which practically forces the man to treat her with respect, unless he is not afraid to lose her and what she represents for him. Husbands and wives are pretty open when it come to expressing their love and compassion for one another. While it does not seem this way, husband and wife divide labor relatively equally. The Papuan women’s’ chief concerns are to take care of the children, prepare food, make sago, catch small fish and shell fish, carry water and firewood, and manufacture baskets, mats and articles of dress. Together, husbands and wives make gardens and paddle the canoes. When married, the women also possess property of their own, just like men. Without the wife’s permission, a man cannot sell or manufacture anything which she has produces, gathered, etc. Consequently, the woman is free to do whatever she pleases with those things that she can take the credit in creating. In the same way, the wife has no say in the husband’s belongings. Women are excluded from any participation in any public affairs, but they are often listened to with great concern by leaders who understand that they can offer suggestions and ideas that the men cannot. The wives of influential men, especially take great pride in being able to express themselves well, and are often offended if they are not greeted in a similar matter as their husbands.

Back in former times, any stranger was seen only as an enemy , and by wandering into a foreign village, he would put his life in grave danger. If a group of visitors is seen approaching a village, and an attack on them is being considered, it is bot uncommon for them to be warned by a personal friend of one of the visitors who happens to live in this village. Hereditary enemies, however, are dealt with much more seriously. They are almost always killed immediately after they are gotten a hold of. The same is done for many small parties and tribes, as long as it can be kept a secret, so as to not start a major conflict that would endanger the lives of many fellow villagers. When a visitor approaches a village, it is considered the most acceptable to approach casually and naturally, with no gestures of any kind.

In the Kiwai society, every person possesses only one totem. The totems from the vegetable kingdom tend to dominate all other types, and are regarded as characteristic of the people living on the Kiwai Island. The most common animal totems in Kiwai are the crab and the cassowary, which is somewhat of a mystery since these birds do not exist on Kiwai at all. On the whole, the non-vegetable totems are mostly found in the villages off the southwest coast of the island.

The Kiwai people travel two ways: by foot and by canoe. They can be considered vagrant people, who do not like staying in any one place for a period of time. Due to several causes, it seems as if the whole population of a village is rarely ever all home together. In practically all of the villages, people sometimes leave their homes and settle down elsewhere, where they usually have permanent huts built. Both hunting and harpooning expeditions also account for people leaving the village. Hostilities and warfare have also caused many large migrations. After a war, the losers generally leave their old residencies and move somewhere safer and more secure. Tradition has it that many of the present villages were founded as a result of widespread epidemics that caused people to flee their old villages. People have also moved for superstitious reasons, as well. Landtman discovered a family who left their prior habitation solely because a mysterious ban appeared on their door.

The Kiwai natives believe that illnesses can be caused in a natural way, by sorcery or by some spiritual being. This is often personified by a demon that they call urato, who can transform into basically anything and is solely responsible for all of the diseases that contaminate the villagers. Dr. Landtman had considerable difficulty finding out about illness, since many of the natives were scared to talk because of their fear for the consequences that they might later have to face. The Kiwais’ protection against illnesses is a group of boards carved with a human face design left on the door of the house. The gope, as they are called, are believed to keep the illnesses away from those living within these houses. When somebody is gravely ill, it is usual for a friend or relative to keep a fire burning all night outside of his house, in order to prevent any evil spirit from entering the house and killing him. The pain and fevers that accompany internal diseases are thought to be relieved by bleeding the victim. If deemed necessary, one’s entire head is shaven and deep cuts are made along the skull. Yet, in other cases, the forehead, chest, stomach, arms or legs are cuts wherever the particular disease is believed to be located. The blood, in turn flows freely, but the patient finds this treatment as very natural, since it is the only treatment they have ever been subjected too. It is rather astonishing that Landtman chronicled the he did, indeed, witness some miraculous cures for some nasty wounds that convinced him that the natives have discovers some very modes of treatment.

The Kiwais have no highly developed religious beliefs at all. No offerings are made or prayers are said by a large or small group of the population. The concepts of spiritual and supernatural beings do not only differ from one group to another, but from individual to individual. The religious practices are so simple that no training is required. While every man has the capacity to be a priest or sorcerer, only the very old are the religious leaders who conduct the great ceremonies and the other rites, as well. When it comes to advanced religious ideas, the Kiwais are especially lacking. They have no concept of supreme deity. Even though they believe in myths and the supernatural, there is no one being that they see as a creator or dominant ruler. The Kiwais think of creation in terms of a series of unconnected occurrences. For instance, myths exist that have men stemming from worms, originating in decaying fish, kangaroo, or fruit. There is also a tale of how the plants originated, nut it, too, makes no mention of a Supreme Being. In addition to spirits of the dead, the natives believe in a vast amount of mythical beings. They have beings that represent anything and everything that exists in their culture. Whether little seems to be known of them, or they are somewhat a part of the culture, all are firmly believed in and required sufficient consideration when they are come into contact with. There is no direct communication that takes place between these beings and man, but some have the habit of visiting people in dreams. Almost every individual locale among the Kiwai region is believed to be the home of some mythical guardian.


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