Doubling of aid budget carries risks: Treasury

Papuan shells & pots from 1,800 years ago


Aird Hills AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL site in the Aird Hills near Kikori is providing new evidence about the antiquity of the legendary Hiri trading voyages.

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.

Lakatoi 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.

Pot 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


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Doryguy Cain

I am a Motuan from Elevala village. I'm looking for information about a crew member who is believed to have died on board a lakatoi in the late 19th century or early 1900s. The lakatoi took the deceased back to Elevala.

The name of the lakatoi was Kevau Bada and the captains were Laloaru Keni and Bau Moipi.

Please can anyone help give me that information.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Jacob - I don't have any specific information on Boera but if you look up Larus Energy on the internet and go to their 'News' tab, then the 'Article' tab you'll see a PDF in the list called 'Social Mapping Survey Report'.

There is some useful information there.

Alternatively, if you know Reginald Renagi he's got a copy, I think.

Rev Jacob Bogaperi

Do you have any information on where the Motuans, especially Boera people, came from about 300 years ago?

Colin Huggins

Yes, Paul, I remember the big canoes of the Tami Island people - they came to the mainland to trade their carvings.
I suppose in exchange for food that couldn't be grown at Tami?

They would beach their canoes right in front of my "Bulolo" at Dregerhafen. All my photos from those days are now gone - damn!


Also recently published is a study confirming that the PNG highlands had the oldest-known mountain agricultural communities.

Researchers have found the world's oldest known high-altitude settlements - some dating back nearly 50,000 years ago - buried under volcanic ash in the PNG mountains.

A team of archeologists and anthropologists from PNG, Australia, and New Zealand discovered the remains of six camps across the five different sites.

More on this important discovery in PNG Attitude tomorrow - KJ

Paul Oates

There was a similar trading route around the Vidiaz Strait between Tami Islands, the Siassi Group and the mainland around Sialum, Finschhafen and further up the coast.

The big hulled canoes would use the SE Trades to sail over to the coast and around and then sail back when the NW trades started. The canoes weren't as large as those of the Motu people and they had woven triangular sails.

The trade items were again clay pots and logs for canoes on the mainland and dogs, shells and carvings etc. from the islands.

The Siassi people and the Sialum (Tewae) people were always pretty close because of inter marriage and trade and they now have a combined local council.

I can remember the dogs (the Siassi used to eat them) had really brilliant red eyes.

There was a book published in the late 60's by the University of Hawaii called 'Voyagers of the Vidiaz Strait' that detailed the trade routes.

So much we could share if only we could turn back history.

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