An entry in the Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing
BOUGAINVILLE has great cultural diversity, its customs and traditions vary in every district and Buin in the south is no exception.
Marriage customs vary widely throughout the autonomous region and in Buin there is a unique traditional process for marriage.
Today only parts of the sacred ritual are practiced, many aspects subsided two or three generations ago, when most marriages were still arranged.
After a couple is betrothed the two families get together and discuss the bride price, in which the bride’s extended family has a final say.
The payments were traditionally made using aputa (shell money).
On the day of the payment the groom’s family leaves him at his place and goes to the bride’s family home to pay the bride price. They bring with them food and pigs and, after the payments have been made, they feast, sing songs and celebrate until everything is ready for the bride’s departure. After the feast the bride is carried by her ma’si (sister-in-law) to her new home.
The bride’s family makes her kapu, as it is known in Buin. They give her household necessities for life with her husband and families take pride in how much they give to their daughters when they are marrying.
The bride price money is distributed to every member of the clan and anyone who has helped raise the bride as a child. It is also given to people who care about her and will look out for her in the future.
It is evenly distributed, however the mother gets an extra payment called nutubu’m.It is for her hard work as a mother in bringing up the child. The term nutubu’mliterally translates to ‘payment for the breastfeeding’ in Telei language.
Not any other person, apart from immediate female family members, is allowed to see the bride once the groom arrives.
She stays with the mother-in-law still wearing her riki (traditional dress) for three days, after which the bride’s family come to wash her. They take off the jewellery and all the other decorations they had used to dress her up and again her ma’si carries her, this time to a river, all the time hiding her with a kariang (a traditional accessory used as an umbrella and/or bedding).
At the river a person whom the bride’s family trusts is appointed to perform the ritual of cleansing her. It is conducted using leaves from specific trees and herbs. The ritual is believed to purify her for husband and make her fertile to bear him children. A woman who has not undergone this ritual is believed to be a curse or a bad omen to the groom’s family.
After the ritual the woman is considered a wife and part of the groom’s clan.
Her family goes home and she returns to her new home with the groom’s family where her husband awaits. After which she moves in with her husband and build a new family.
But the whole ritual is not completed until she bears her first child and the irikage is held.