When you look out of the window of your aircraft and see the distinctive Aird Hills climbing up from the beach on the right, you know you are just about at Kikori.
The Hiri voyages involved long distance sea travel in purpose built multi-hulled lakatoi with distinctive ‘crab-claw’ sails from around Port Moresby, where pottery was manufactured.
The lakatoi sailed to the Gulf Province, some 400 kms to the west, where the pots were exchanged for sago and canoe logs. Intricate family trading relationships evolved as part of the trade.
In 2008, a team of Australian researchers extended an archaeological excavation at Emo, on the edge of the old missionary village of Samoa on customary Porome land in the Aird Hills and have just published their results in Australian Archaeology, the journal of the Australian Archaeological Association.
The site was first excavated in 1971 and again in 1976 but the dating was inconclusive.
By using fine-grained excavation methods they have managed to decipher its chronological history and have confidently dated the first occupation there at 1,840 years ago (about 170 AD).
There were the remains of clay pots in the lowest and oldest levels but by 1,530 years ago (480 AD) pottery appears in much higher quantities and there are shell ornaments present, indicating that the Hiri trade was well and truly up and running.
Chert flakes also start appearing at about the same time. The nodules of chert were traded from inland and used as sago pounders. The presence of the chert indicates the increased production of the sago used to trade for the pots.
In 1886 it was estimated that the trade involved about 20-30,000 pots and upwards of 600 tons of sago annually.
Motuan oral traditions say the voyages were initiated by Esai Siabo of Boera village just west of Port Moresby about 350 years ago. The archaeological evidence suggests that trading voyages began well before that time.
The voyagers went about as far as Baimuru along the Purari River delta. The large trading villages established along the way served as redistribution centres for the pots to inland villages and villages further west.
These centres became powerful economic and political entities and were feared by inland people, particularly during raiding and head-hunting expeditions.
There were about 12 types of pottery manufactured for the trade with the main items being cooking pots (uro), water jars (hodu) and dishes (nau). They were all made using local clay and flat wooden paddles.
The pots were decorated with the maker’s individual designs so that the men exchanging them for sago or canoe logs could keep track of the exchanges.
All but two of the Motu villages and some Koita villages made the pots. The pottery making villages included Porebada, Boera, Lea Lea, Manumanu, Pari, Hanuabada, Elevara and Tanabada. Vabukori and Tatana specialised in shell ornaments for the voyages.
Women in the villages not only made pots for their own use and for the Hiri trade but also for trading locally with inland villages like Gabadi, Doura and the Koita villages along the Aroa River.
The women traded the pots mainly for meat, yams and bananas. The Koita villages then traded the pots further inland, thus ensuring they had a wide spread all along the Papuan coast.If you want to find out more about the excavations link here