Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture here at the Smithsonian Institution. He is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of knowledge systems, folk arts, museums, and development. He is currently Study Leader on our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey Around the World tour, and will be blogging periodically while traveling. This post is tenth in a series. To see the other posts, click here.
Dateline: Papua New Guinea
Our group arrived in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, and split up in three to explore different parts of New Guinea—one to the Sepik River, one to an area near Mt. Hagen, and one to the Tari Valley in the Southern Highlands. I went with the latter given that a colleague, Steve Feld had done a wonderful series of ethnomusicological recordings in the Bosavi region of the Southern Highlands over the past three decades and published a wonderful set on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
We arrived after a 90 minute flight on a Dash-8. There was no terminal, only a landing strip. A colorfully attired group of hundreds welcomed us—it was market day. We made our way down and up the adjacent hillside to the Ambua Lodge—named after the yellow ochre used as face paint by the Huli. We were treated to a visit to a nearby village; we watched, learned and listened as women wove fibers into carriers, men fired arrows at banana tree stumps, and demonstrated fire-making techniques.
The next day Huli from different clans demonstrated mumu cooking—placing raw corn, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and other foodstuffs into a backing pit covered with heated rocks. The Huli men—called “wig men” conducted a workshop on the growing, care and use of wigs—a shamanistic practice, and finally held a sing-sing greeting dance. We learned about the role of the clan in the inheritance of garden plots, domestic life, gender relations, and the use of pigs as a specialized form of money—30 pigs being the typical price of a bride. One of the lodge staff, herself a Huli woman told movingly about her own life as a girl and her divorce. Another guide spoke about men’s warfare and weaponry.