Time our police respected their mission
The Melanesian Way in a modern society

The blowgun hunters of West New Britain


Blowgun THE KAULONG and Senseng people live in the Passismanua census division of southwest New Britain, inland from the coastal township of Kandrian.

These people have customs unique to PNG in that they hunt with blowguns and, more strangely, they bind their infants’ skulls to elongate them into a shape they regard as being attractive.

I made several patrols to this area in the late 1960’s and the following observations are based upon the circumstances existing at that time.

The area was extensively studied by anthropologists Dr Ann Chowning and Jane Goodale, who spent a year with this group of people in the early 1960s. Their findings were included in the National Geographic in the mid 1960’s in an article enitled “Blowgun Hunters of the South Pacific”.

The basic geology of this area is mainly massive coral algal limestone with well- developed karst topography with local areas of marly and cherty limestone. The area is below the altitude of the upper ridgelines of lower montane rainforest country along the adjoining northern Whiteman Ranges.

Traveling throughout this region is somewhat arduous due to the severe nature of the topography characterised by ankle twisting limestone ridges falling into boggy valleys and broken by small but fast flowing streams which have eroded into the limestone substrata, at times disappearing completely underground.

Traversing the rainforest country between the extended hamlets is no less daunting as one rarely sees the sky due to the heavy overhead canopy of rainforest trees whilst battling stubbed toes from the massive tree root structures or having ones boots ripped to shreds from the razor sharp coral outcrops whilst being drenched from frequent downpours.

The high annual rainfall, estimated at over 6 metres a year, and altitudes over 500 metres coupled with poor soil types severely limit horticultural productivity necessitating supplementary hunting and gathering.

Although the people nominally lived in established hamlets, such residency was only to comply with the requirements of the government of that time. 

The majority of the residents preferred to spend most of their time in the surrounding forest in small extended family groupings around their gardens with the menfolk traveling on long extended pig hunting expeditions or setting elaborate spring traps to snare wallabies and cassowaries.

At the time these groups of people were isolated from the outside world, their main contact with government being irregular visits by government officers which necessitated migration back to their nominated villages to tidy up and carry repairs to their “second” houses.

Amongst Melanesians, only the Kaulong, SenSeng and neighbouring tribes of southwest New Britain use blowguns for hunting.

These remarkable blowguns are fashioned of bamboo lengths, hollowed out and glued together to form tubes 4 to 6 metres long.

The projectiles fashioned from black palm spears up to one metre in length use the breast feathers of the guria pigeon as a baffle.

The hunter pokes the blowgun into the tree canopy getting as close to possible to his quarry then, with a sharp ejection of breath, speeds the arrow into his intended bird or flying fox prey.

The origins of this , custom are not known and the Chowning and Goodale article makes no further reference to this matter, although it does mention that stone artifacts found in the area suggest that there was habitation dating back some 30,000 years.

Later research by an anthropologist from La Trobe University in 1991, apart from dating these stone artifacts, shed no further light on whether the current inhabitants of the area were descendants of the original inhabitants.

Dr Jane Goodale noted in her National Geographic article in 1963 about these people:

The Kaulong regard premarital relations as a major offense and it is not usual for a man to marry as late as 30 years. Some men are so marriage shy that the approach of an eligible girl will send them away into the forest at a run.

Denied many advantages of a modern world in their remote fastness, the Kaulong will in all likelihood also be spared one of its thorniest problems- the population explosion- for a long time to come.

Little did that anthropologist realise at that the time any future threats to the population would not arise from overpopulation but from another unknown source. Timber logging.

I made a return journey to Kandrian in the early 1990’s. As I flew over the inland I noted that the once pristine rainforests in the Kaulong and SengSeng area had long disappeared to the rapacious hunger of loggers.

Kandrian c 1968 The inland people were no longer happy people. They were frustrated in their ambitions of a better future promised but never fulfilled. The birds, pigs and other wildlife had long deserted the area fleeing to the sanctuary of a more safer future in the Whiteman ranges.


Photo: Kandrian government station circa 1968


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Harry Topham

Tom - I will email you privately regarding what I have.

Tom Prescott

I am an ethnobotanist and am writing a paper on the inland Kaulong after doing field work there in 1999-2000. Would be grateful to see any more pics from your time there.

email: [email protected]

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)