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The buga bolum thanksgiving ritual of the Mitnade people

Tony_RoslynROSLYN TONY

An entry in the Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing

THE buga bolum or thanksgiving ritual in the Kuman Nagane dialect was the centre of the famous pig killing ceremony  practiced by the Mitnade people of the Gembogl District in Simbu province.

This ritual became extinct when Christianity was introduced. It was observed when people saw that there was a surplus of pigs in the pigs’ huts and the womenfolk were having a hard time looking after them.

The surplus pigs signalled to the people that it was time to thank all those who had helped in raising the pigs and offsetting the debt in pig meat.

The ritual began when arlba tandagme, the village spy, reported to the chief that there was surplus of pigs.

The chief called for the kua ombuno (bird call initiation) which acted like the official launching of the pig killing ceremony. Young boys aged seven to 14 met the birds’ ancestor for the first time and had their ears and noses pierced before the call of the mourning dove was played on the kuakumba (bamboo flute).

The blowing of the mourning doves’ call on the kuakumba acted like a jingle for the pig killing. This call was used because of its soft, low, cooing pitch which signals a warning, good and bad news together in that one call.

When the mourning doves’ call is heard, everyone went into hiding. It was believed that if they saw the flute played, their pigs would become malnourished, a disgrace and an embarrassment to the family concerned.

While the kua ombuno initiation was in progress, the older men and male youths of the village wandered into the forest to cut the paipai trees for use in the pig killing ceremony. The wood was carried to a mountain ridge and left to dry in the sun.

Paipai wood is white in colour and when spread on the mountain slope the landscape is as white as snow. The white wood on the slopes also acted as an advertisement for the pig killing.

After gathering the paipai, a special hut was built for the buga bolum. A yomba or mondo tree similar to a kwila was used as the pillar post. Attached to it was a mushroom-shaped frame covered with special bush ferns.

Four posts supported the frame but the hut had no walls. And buried beneath the pillar post was a magic stone believed to possess super natural powers for breeding pigs. The thanksgiving ritual was performed in that hut.

Buga kurak, or the offering of the pig’s heart to the spiritual beings, was observed after the completion of the buga bolum hut. This rite was always done in pairs because the people believed the partnership system brought harmony and success.

The buga kurak rite acted as an official invitation to the spiritual beings. The people believed the spirits helped raise the pigs and deserved to be acknowledged and invited to the buga bolum.

The biggest and the fattest pig was slaughtered and its heart taken to a sacred ground oven away from the village.

The heart was wrapped in a soft breadfruit leaf and placed on the hot stones. This was to allow the blood from the heart to drop onto the stones.  The pig’s heart symbolised love and care and the blood symbolised life.

A chant was cited: ‘Good spirits, we have all worked together in raising the pig. We now bring this heart so we can eat it together and continue to raise more pigs in the future’.

The pair doing the rite served and ate the cooked pig’s heart. The hot stones covered in cooked blood were buried neatly in the sacred ground oven. The buried stone with the cooked blood acted as the monument for the pig killing ceremony.

The ceremony continued with a traditional singsing immediately after the buga kurak.Pigs were slaughtered and cooked in ground ovens. Each family donated a part of the cooked meat to the buga bolum hut. The cooked meat, symbolic of appreciation, was piled on top of the buga bolum’s frame.

Then a yodel summoned the mortal and immortal beings to gather in front of the buga bolum hut. The men shouted in unison and the women hullaballooed in the Simbu way to show their approval as ende dugane (the high priest) made his entrance.

Using a ladder, he climbed to the roof of the buga bolum hut.

Then he chanted: “We are eating with those who have helped in our successes” and bit a piece from part of the donated meat and called out a family name.

The high priest had to eat a piece from all the donated pigs. In so doing, he accomplished the thanksgiving ritual on behalf of the mortal and immortal beings. The high priest was special and unique because he had the ability to eat a whole pig. It was a hereditary role.

Everyone returned to their huts after the ende dugane thanksgiving. In their huts they shared the remaining meat. The meat debts were offset by untying twine knots that acted as the debt record keeping system.  

A knot represented different parts of the pig and each had its own value. For example, pigs’ legs and backbone were more valuable than the arms and skin; so there were bigger knots for the valued parts and smaller knots for the least valued parts.  As each part of the pigs’ meat was offset a knot would be untied until all the knots are untied.

The last celebration was igum gamba beglkua, the mud fight. It was the mourning period for all the pigs that were slaughtered in the ceremony.

Everyone was covered in mud and ash and went around rubbing mud and ash on each other until evening. The cooked pigs’ meat was heated in the ground oven, served and eaten to complete the pig killing ceremony.

After this ritual, everyone went about their normal daily routine again in preparation for the next pig killing ceremony in seven to 14 years time. 

Comments

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Koni Poiye

The Simbu traditional practice of pig killing was one of the most outstanding events which is steadily dying out due to Western Influences.

Our traditional pig killing ceremony defined our true identity of who we are to the world. It signified the importance of peace in society, maintaining relationships and creating new ones.

It instilled confidence and competition upon tribal leaders and was important to courtship and maintaining peace and harmony.

Robin Hide

This is a fascinating account - congratulations Roslyn! I very much look forward to more.

Mathias Kin’s call for the urgent need for further study and documentation of this central aspect of Simbu culture is important.

It is also worth keeping in mind the documentation that we already have.

Here is a short list of materials, from various participants and observers, ranging from films through photographs to articles and books. Unfortunately not all are readily accessible, except in libraries and film archives.

Some materials on major Simbu pig festivals/ceremonies

Films.....

(1950). Festival of the Pig. Australian Peerless Films. Notes: Length: 11 minutes; Format: 16mm; B&W. Description:: Papua New Guineans prepare for a feast in which pig is the main item. The film shows the elaborate costuming of some participants and a ritual dance. Sound track includes chants.

Kildea, G. (1972). Bugla Yunggu: The great Chimbu Pig festival. Australia. PNG Department of Information and Extension Services; Length: 50 minutes; Format: 16mm; Color. Description: The Naregu people of Papua New Guinea used to perform their pig ceremony every five to eight years, but western influence is said to have contributed to a gap of seventeen years between this ceremony and the previous one. Despite times of rapid change, the ceremony still illustrates the economic, social, and cultural practices of the area.

Missionary accounts.....

Bergmann, W. n.d. The Kamanuku: the culture of the Chimbu tribes (4 Volumes). Mutdapilly, Queensland, Australia, Privately Printed. (especially Vol 4).

Schaefer, A. (1981, orig. 1959). “Christianised ritual pig-killing.” Catalyst 11(4): 213-223. (NB: first published in 1959, in German in Steyler Missionschronik, as “Verchristlichtes Schweineopfer auf Neuguinea”. And : Knight, J. (1981). “Afterword.” Catalyst 11: 223.

Nilles, J. (1950). “The Kuman of the Chimbu region, Central Highlands, New Guinea.” Oceania 21: 25-65

Nilles, J. (1977). “Simbu ancestors and Christian worship.” Catalyst 7(3): 163-190.

Knight, J. (1979). “Bona Gene: The pig-kill festival of Numai (Simbu Province) - Tradition and change. “In: N. C. Habel, Ed. Powers, Plumes and Piglets: Phenomena of Melanesian Religion. Bedford Park, South Australia, Australian Association for the Study of Religions (Stuart College of Advanced Education, Adelaide). pp, 173-193.

Knight, J. (1986). “A Numai Theology of Promise”. In: Y. Choo Lak, Ed. Doing Theology and People's Movements in Asia. Singapore, ATESEA. pp, 147-59.

Mantovani, E. (1977).”A fundamental Melanesian religion”. In: Christ in Melanesia: Exploring Theological Issues. Goroka, Melanesian Institute. pp, 154-165.

Mantovani, E. (1986). “Mipela Simbu!: The Pig-Festival and Simbu Identity”. In: V. C. Hayes, Ed. Identity issues and world religions. Netley, S.A., Wakefield Press for the Australian Association for the Study of Religions. pp, 194-205.

Photographs on the web.....

Craig, D. “Chimbu Pig Festival – 1961”: Description: Various photographs of a pig killing "sing sing". URL: http://www.pngaa.net/Photo_Gallery/ChimbuPigFestival/index.html

PNG accounts.....

Gande, J. A. (1974). “Chimbu pig-killing ceremony.” Oral History 2(9): 6-14.

Knuttson, J. (1978). “Pig Killing Ceremony (Bukainge) among the Kunanaku People of the Kerowagi Sub Province.” Oral History 6(7): 2-33

Other accounts.....

Maahs, A. M. (1949). “Festival of the pig.” Walkabout 15(12): 17-20.

Criper, C. (1967). The politics of exchange: a study of ceremonial exchange among the Chimbu. PhD thesis. Australian National University, Canberra.

Yoshida, M. (1972). “Notes on the pig festivals in New Guinea highlands.” Shien
(Journal of Historical Studies, Rikkyo University) in japanese 33(1): 65-81

Yoshida, M. (1973). “Pig festivals in New Guinea Highlands - its regional types.” International Religious News (in Japanese) 14(1): 23-34.

Brown, P. (1972). The Chimbu: a study of change in the New Guinea Highlands. Cambridge, Mass., Schenkman.

Hide, R.L. 1981. Aspects of pig production and use in colonial Sinasina, Papua New Guinea,
PhD thesis, New York, Columbia University. http://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1195780x

Hughes, J. (1985). Chimbu worlds: experiences of continuity and change by a Papua New Guinea Highland people. PhD thesis. Latrobe University, Melbourne.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I was starting to despair about the Heritage category in the Crocodile Prize competition.

All we seem to have been getting of late is half-baked essays by people who have clearly forgotten most of their culture and have been overly influenced by Christian values.

It was getting tedious reading articles that even I knew were factually incorrect.

Many thanks for this one Roslyn, you have restored my faith.
__________

Bit harsh, Phil. I've just glanced through the 16 entries so far received (with five months to go) in the Heritage category and two-thirds of them are fine. As Roslyn's article demonstrates, thorough research and accurate detail provide these stories with real weight - KJ

Mathias Kin

An excellent and a very interesting piece. Even though I am also from the Simbu, our Bolma Ogu in South Simbu is the same with a few variations to the Buga Bolum of Mitnande you write of.

Many processes you mentioned are rituals our young Simbus today do not know.

There are so much in our culture we need to study and document before all is forgotten. Roslyn, you got this one nailed.

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