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Marriage PNG style: respecting the traditions

PNG Attitude values contributors who speak with authority about PNG, and PETER KRANZ is certainly one of them. Here we reprise the story of his marriage to ROSE BEMU

PETER WAS WORKING at the University of Papua New Guinea when he met Rose, who was visiting friends at the university.

"We immediately hit it off and I asked Rose if she would like to have dinner that evening," says Peter, who hails from the NSW Central Coast. "She said yes, and things took off from there. What brought us together? Serendipity."

Two years later, Rose and Peter were staying in a diving resort near Port Moresby when Peter asked her to marry him.

"I got down on my knees in the old fashioned way and asked her in front of everyone," he says. "By this time everyone else wondered what was happening and gathered around us."

Kranz_Peter & Rose Bemu More than 200 guests attended their wedding, including members of Rose's family who travelled from the PNG highlands and Bougainville.

Rose and Peter wore traditional Simbu ceremonial costumes - called bilas kanaka in Tok Pisin - which comprise layers of feathers mostly from birds of paradise and parrots, shells, animal teeth, cuscus fur, leaves, flowers and grasses.

Peter says he was at first taken aback at the suggestion they wear traditional costumes for the ceremony, feeling that as a "whitepela" it might be disrespectful.

But Rose's family was adamant it would be a great honour to their customs if both bride and groom wore Simbu bilas.

Peter says getting dressed took several hours and was supervised by Rose's aunties who were meticulous about getting the details correct.

"As many of the components are now rare and valuable, the bilas is highly treasured and handed down from one generation to the next," Peter says.

"It is a major part of the cultural tradition of all PNG provinces and everyone in PNG is very proud of their area's bilas, songs and dances."

Wedding Some of Rose's female relatives played kundu drums and sang customary chants as she entered the garden. Peter's group was "hiding" behind some trees and a member of the bride's party had to find them, lead them forward and formally present Rose to Peter. The couple then went to the wedding garden where the formal ceremony took place.

Peter says the traditional part of the marriage is not yet complete, and he and Rose will be returning to her village in the coming months to have a formal "bride price" ceremony and feast.

"Many pigs are already being fattened for the feast," he says.

The food: Guests enjoyed a feast of whole roasted pigs, chicken and fish, plenty of sweet potatoes, yams, taro and tapioca flavoured with coconut milk, ginger and garlic, and a variety of local greens and tropical fruit - much of it cooked in a mumu, or earthen oven.

The flowers: The wedding garden was decorated with tropical flowers - bougainvillea, frangipani and bromeliads - collected and arranged by the Simbu Spiders, a university female soccer team.

The wedding party: Rose's 10-year-old niece Margaret was her bridesmaid. Auntie Mary Bemu led the bride's party - "sort of like a best lady for the bride", Peter says. Peter's best man was Rose's brother-in-law, Pastor Moses Kaupa.

What was the highlight?

Peter: "Having such a wonderful group of family and friends come to the wedding and give us so much support and goodwill. PNG people are extremely generous, open and sincere when they become your friends and family."

Mangi Moresby What do you love most about your partner?

Peter: "Rose is the most loving and beautiful woman I have met both on the outside, but more importantly on the inside. She has saved my life and given me a future."

Rose: "Peter has stood by me through good times and bad times and I know he loves me with all his heart. He has given me trust and love like no one else I have known."

Source: ‘Union of cultures in PNG’, Sun-Herald / The Age, 1 October 2007

Pig photo: Peter's pride and joy, Mangi Moresby, now "being fattened on good kaukau"


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Lawrence Warpin

PNG has differing bride price traditions. They're different from each other, although not profoundly.

In the Highlands, as in this story, that is what one would expect and also among Papuans. Their bride price ceremonies are more or less the same.

The bride prices in other coastal areas are much more reasonable. From where I come from in the New Guinea Islands Region (Kokopo-Rabaul), the price tag is in the range of K1,000.

After paying the bride price, gifts given from family members of the departing bride include bananas, household accessories and one live pig. That's the end of the ceremony with the bride being handed over.

There is also a tradition where, before the big day of the bride price, all the relatives of the departing bride come together and spend the whole night with the departing bride, an affectionate way of saying goodbye.

PNG has unique cultures and thus traditions differ from place to place.

Peter Kranz

With heartfelt respect to my wife, whose thoughts I am attempting to paraphrase.

It's a funny and strange thing being married to a white man. He doesn't fully undestand your traditions, family background and beliefs - but he expects you to understand all this about him.

Does he do the same in return?

To start with, he doesn't appreciate the importance of family in Melanesian culture.

Not just mums and dads, but cousin-sisters and brothers, uncles and neices, once twice or thrice removed - and those extended family members who you have perhaps only seen twice in your life.

They are the cement which holds our great wall of identity together.

And he doesn't understand that we have come from a village culture where we had few trappings of western 'civilisation'.

Certainly no Coles or Kmarts, and where the richest family in the village were the ones who owned a TV. So maybe I don't know the correct wineglasses to us for Christmas dinner - but I bet he doesn't know how to prepare a coconut cooler.

And he expects me to fit into Australian culture with 50,000 years difference between us?

And yet we undertand the same human drives and emotions. After all, people are people.

I just ask him to try and get out of his comfort zone and realise that we are different, although also the same in so many ways.

I love him, and I believe he loves me, but he must take the trouble of understanding where I come from, if he truly want's to know me.

Peter Kranz

Tony - we've just enjoyed a Christmas visit from our friends from Darwin, who are a Scot/Aussie man and Vanuatu Melanasian lady married with 20 years of happiness behind them and a lovely 12 year old boy, and still going strong.

It's not about race, its about love.'

Tony Bevington

I am so happy for you both. But have been searching on the net about 'failed' whiteman/PNG meri marriage as most of the people I know are having real trouble.

Me too. After 20 years my Asaro wife changed and became rude, aggressive and unpleasant; calling me 'silly old man' etc.

Many of our friends are suffering the same way or are already divorced. I have friends suffering similarly in Australia and the USA and Germany.Why?

Is it separation from their extended families maybe? Please give me an idea of why this happens.

Peter Kranz

Proof - Mangi Mosbi cost K50 when a piglet. With 50 adult progeny worth at least K1,000 each at adulthood (or pighood), that's K50,000.


Go the pig economy!

Peter Kranz

Sadly Mangi Mosbi is long since sacrificed. But his descendants live on! Al last count there were around 50.

The pig economy is alive and thriving. He has fathered around a 1,000% return on original investment.

Bank of Meekamui take note!

Mrs Do

Wow, enjoyed reading the article. Congratulation to Rose and Peter.

Since reading this article about marrying a Simbu lady, I can't help it but chip in.

Mi meri Simbu, married to my American prince, we already made plans to go to Simbu and do a traditional wedding. This would be a total culture shock for him, because he has never been to PNG or even knew PNG existed until he met me (LOL).

I couldn't been happier, he has treated me with unending love and utmost respect. In fact my dad flew over for my American wedding and told me I am spoilt (LOL).

He said your hubby sure does spoil you, it was his dream to see me happy and well taken care of since am far away from home.

He was here for a couple of months and left with a smile and contentment.

If hubby's whole family decided to come to witness the traditional ceremony in PNG this would be interesting. I keep showing him pictures of how bride prices works and the whole culture itself. He fell in love with it .

Name next time, please Mrd DO - KJ


Vale Mangi Mosbi - at least people enjoyed his ending.

The ribs were particularly good.

Peter Kranz

Well it has taken three years and around $5,000 to try to get my wife Rose Australian residency - and it's not finished yet.

The Immigration Department now says it needs more proof that we are 'genuinely married'.

For God's sake! Rose is badgering me right now about not having enough bilums hanging on the wall - bless her. And we've been together for six years - and no regrets at all.

Peter Kranz

Thanks, Trevor. Yes, the long feathers are from the male of the Black Sicklebill bird of paradise, Epimachus fastuosus, sometimes called the Sickletail.

It is now quite rare and endangered due to over-hunting for it's tail feathers. Each male seems to have only two long tail feathers, so for a full set of bilas probably a dozen or so birds are killed.

It also has an amazing courtship dance which is very rarely seen.

Here's a short video of it filmed in West Papua -

Trevor Freestone.

The long black plumes come from the male black Sicklebill Bird of Paradise.

I also married a lady, from the Highlands. I had to marry Lufuwai three times before my marriage became official.

The first time was by a traditional marriage. During the ceremony I paid six pigs and $600 to Lufuwai's family. I was also required to pay a large number of Bird of Paradise feathers.

Due to the fact it was illegal for an Australian to own feathers the villagers made an exception, so I did not have to pay any feathers.

Then I found that the church did not recognise a traditional marriage. So a week later we were married again in the local church.

When we were due to go to Australia on my annual leave, I discovered that the Australian government did not recognise either of these marriages. So we had to get married once again, this time by the District Commissioner, Jim Sinclair. At last we were finally married.

We have two grown up sons now, one was born in PNG and one in Australia. We all live in NSW.

Sadly our parents and uncles in PNG have been victims of PNG's failing health system and only one of them survives today, although he is currently very ill.

We have always kept in touch with our friends and relatives and still have a genuine interest in PNG. I am saddened by much of the news that comes out of PNG, for I know it is a country with a real future if only the right people are running it.

I always encouraged my school students to value their culture. The Minister for Education at the time used Watabung school as a model for other schools to follow.

I believed that tourism in PNG could be a one of the valuable tools in bringing the rural people out of poverty. Sadly the breakdown in law and order destroyed this dream.

Eric Taylor

Peter - Perhaps I am being cynical as I have seen so many marriages such as yours fail for the same reasons. I have married two PNG women in the many years I have been here.

Both broke up for the same reasons. I was seen by the wantoks as the major source of money. I paid bride price to two uncles who did not distribute as they should have done.

There was always a problem with that among the wantoks who missed out. Some wanted me to pay again. I set up a company with my first wife. But that came crashing when she forged my signature and took most of the money from my account.

I have seen many failures. But I know of several great marriages between a PNG woman and a white man. You are fortunate if you have found a good one.

The last major problem is that wantoks will want to control the marriage of any girl children. They want their share of bride price.

I have known girls to be taken away from the family to ensure a share of bride price. That is why so many white men take their wife and kids out of the country.

Peter Kranz

Eric - I think you are being a bit cynical. We were married legally fair and square.

The ceremony was conducted by the Deputy Registrar of PNG, Pastor Augustus, who also provided a religious service for us.

We have a great relationship with our PNG family and help them if they are genuinely in need, but they do not ask us for money.

Eric Taylor

Peter - Wait till the men think you are a sucker for money.

Wait till you have to pay schools fees for all the kids.

Wait till the village people find that traditional marriage with a white man is not binding.

Bob Jain


Peter Kranz

Mangi Moresby is now huge - only my mum-in-law can control him (in Banz - there's a lesson there somewhere).

The neighbours are scared of him. He runs around the village grunting ferociously and stealing food wherever he can. I think his days are numbered.

Peter Kranz

Actually that is a whole another story - the difficulty in adopting a PNG baby into Australia.

We have PNG friends who say 'just bring her here and say she is your cousin-niece'. But I would like to do things legally.

Reginald Renagi

Peter - I wish you well. You would make a great Chimbu (Simbu) dad all the same...

Keep those yarns coming for our readers about some of the peculiarities of PNG traditions, culture and customs. They make interesting reading.

Peter Kranz

Reg - Mi nogat pikinini. Oli katim bol bilong mi (vasectomy).

We are trying to adopt a PNG meri (my cousin's sister's baby), but Australia makes it difficult.

Reginald Renagi

Peter and Rose - A great wedding story. Thank you for sharing it with readers of PNG Attitude.

May you both have a long and happy life together and Peter I was wondering ... haumas pikinini bai u kisim?

Mari Ellingson

What a beautiful story Peter and Rose. Thank you for sharing it with us. Your Simbu bilas is stunning.

Peter, your story about getting dressed for your wedding had me giggling.

There are many like you who respect the customs of Papua New Guineans and are most endearing.

May you have a long and happy life together.

Peter Kranz

I bought three piglets, which are now in charge of the family and are being fattened on good kaukau.

They are named Peter, Mangi Moresby and Simbu Angra.

Peter Kranz

Of course, you don't wear anything under the bilas. I had to get dressed in the botanical gardens - we found a secluded spot around the back of the main office.

I stripped off and just had a towel around the important bits, when I turned around to face a crowd of about 20 kids who'd come to watch the fun! Nothing like being almost naked and getting dressed in front of an audience! And of course they all offered advice about how it should be done.

Luckily I was rescued by an uncle who chased them off, but then he had a heated argument with the aunties about the face paint. We had about three goes at that before they were satisfied.

Now I know what supermodels have to go through!

Peter Kranz

We bought a set of Simbu bilas (the one I am wearing) but were advised that we couldn't bring it into Australia because of CITES regulations. Does anyone know whether this so, and is there a way of legitimately bringing such bilas to Australia?

Also does anyone know what bird the long black plumes come from? I was told they come from Golaila, but no one knew what bird they were from. They are over a metre long.

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