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The legend of Sissano Lagoon and how it came to be

Sissano LagoonFELIX BARAKA

SISSANO Lagoon on Aitape’s west coast in the Sandaun Province is a fertile source of sea food for the coastal villages of Warapu, Arope and Sissano.

The area also has long historical links with South-East Asia.

Historically, when people started to migrate from Asia, the Pinapro, a huge tribe comprising four clans, moved in. These four clans are nowadays Pou (my village), Barapu, Ramo and Sumo, which is located at the pedestal of the Torricelli Range.

These four villages, as living evidence, continue to have a common spoken vernacular.

They migrated under the leadership of two powerful men: The first, Choro, could intercede with the gods on behalf of the people. The other, Chapais, would be the destroyer if sacrifices offered were not up to the expected requirement.

These migrants first settled Vanimo. There they built the haus tambaran, which Chapais was dissatisfied with.

They then continued their migration and settled in O-ne village, west of Siera village on the west coast of Vanimo. Chapais, the destroyer, did not accompany them, because he was frustrated.

“Pawa nane kei rai nena, nens unake,” he said. I will follow my tribes for I’m lonely.

His body covered in cassowary like feathers, he secretly followed them and hid in the nearby forest.

That same evening, two tribesmen set out hunting. Approaching a huge tree trunk, they spotted what they thought was a cassowary. They call upon their dogs to hunt him down and he called to them, “Stop the dogs, it’s me”. Immediately, they called off the dogs and walked toward him.

With due respect, they constructed a raft which carried him to the settlement.

Before Chapais had been there long, he began to disagree with the way the villages were behaving. With anger, he went into the haus tambaran and initiated a power that caused the second destruction of the settlement - a flood came and destroyed it.

The Pinaparo tribe continued its migration and settled in Aiyelon, the present day Malol village. Chapa, who was in intense anger, kept following them and caused a third calamity. At that time Chapa died in the destruction he had caused.

Leaving Aiyelon, the people moved westward and settled in Nopura. In 1907, that was the time Sissano Lagoon came into existence.

In the village, an only daughter was born to a family. She was very beautiful and caught the attention of a village man. Each time he asked her to be his soul mate, she refused. This went on so long it caused envy and frustration.

One day, when the father and mother set out for the garden, their only daughter stayed at home.  Seeing the opportunity, the young man entered the house and raped and killed her.

The parents, arriving back from the garden, found a pool of blood underneath the house.

With feelings of sorrow, the mother, ignoring that women were banned from entering the haus tambaran, went inside, dressed like a man and singing a war chant with a kundu drum.

Lightning struck, a water sprout came from beneath the earth, black snow appeared and darkness set in.

Then a huge flood came creating many small islands.

This caused the Pou, Ramo and Sumo people to migrate and settle inland. Warapu was left behind.

In 1998, an enormous tidal wave (tsunami) cost many lives and caused massive destruction and forced the Warupu people, now Barupu (Ba-fish, ru-bird, pu-wind), to move and settle inland. 


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Laurence Quinlivan

I remember the tranquil waters of Sissano Lagoon as I and weary members of my platoon had locals transport us part way from Aitape to Vanimo in the early 1960's.

We were at the end of a six week patrol, south from Vanimo to the Sepik River then east along the river then north to Aitape.

We were somewhat tired (especially me) having crossed the Bewani and Torricelli Ranges.

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