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That wonderful PNG sense of humour


THERE ARE THE well-known comedians like Kanagi, but most other Papua New Guineans have a great sense of humour and have a gentle and amusing way of taking the mickey out of stupid waitmen.

One notable example was seen in the so-called Johnson Cult, when in the inaugural 1964 elections people in New Hanover voted for Lyndon Johnson, then the US President.

Most western media were taken in and reported it as some sort of primitive cargo cult, but later the locals showed it for what it was - an elaborate practical joke, designed to poke fun at Australian authorities for their neglect of local representation. Rather like current-day Australians voting for the Free Beer Party.

My first exposure to PNG humour was when I attempted some Tok Pisin on my relatives, who had come around for afternoon tea. I thought I would show off, and when serving coffee asked, "Yupla laikim susu bilong bulmakau?" They fell about laughing and my wife still won't let me forget it. The phrase was taken to mean, 'Would you like some cows’ breasts?'

A bit later at a Christmas party I raised a toast and said “Cheers!”, followed by “how do you say that in Kuman?”  The reply was “you must say tratna!” So I did, and again everyone fell about laughing.Look up tratna in a Kuman dictionary to understand it's true meaning (prepared to be shocked at what I'd said).

Well I my wife, Rose, took me in again last night. I was doing research on the significance of tribal tattoos, and Rose said “mine have special meaning”.

She said Simbu forehead tattoos are a bit like a code. This was getting interesting.

Tattoo Rose Rose has Simbu tribal tattoos on her forehead, which I think look great and add to her identity and beauty. However, she doesn’t like them and is trying various treatments to get rid of them.

Am I wrong to want her to preserve them as marks of her tradition?

The traditional Simbu forehead tattoos are between and above her eyes. There is a large round circle between her eyes and eight smaller dots in decreasing size from right to left above this.

She told me the larger circle is a Simbu tribal mark, being a tradition of her mother's tribe, with her name encoded in some way. The eight marks above this are Manus-style-marks which she does not understand.

On a previous occasion she said the second smaller dots on the line of eight below the circle denote her mother's tribal name or symbol. The others mean she is a beautiful girl (dre dragi - like the orchid).

The last one means she does not belong to the family and can become part of another tribe or province and is a princess. I'm a bit confused now. Is this like the Da Vinci Code? Or am I just the butt of a joke?

But this is not consistent with her first explanation - rather like the Hanover Islanders who voted for Lyndon Johnson in the 1964. They were taking the mickey, and were part of a long tradition of glorious PNG humour and practical jokes.

Now she has a mud-mask on (defoliation and beauty treatment) and tells me she is an Asaro mud-man.

I've been had again. God bless her.

PS, Rose had recently seen The Da Vinci Code, and had had a few beers.


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Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Pitz - I am a Simbu and laughed my head off when I read about the trat-na joke.

You know 'cheers' is not synonymous with 'trat-na'. Not even near! Ha ha..

Peter Kranz

Here's a sample of Kanage's slapstick -

This is Kanage making fun of Tainim Het and also doing an Elvis impression!

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