An entry in the Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing
THE four regions of Bougainville have their own ways of initiating young girls into womanhood. To this very day these rituals are still practised and upheld by the villagers.
They are inescapable as there are curses and laws associated with them. The traditions are vital in order for a woman to be regarded as independent and ready to start a family.
Many of these rituals from various parts of the island are no longer practised because westernisation is taking its course, however the Tinputz people of the northern region still uphold their tradition.
It is an initiation performed to adolescent girls during their first period. This ritual symbolises the independence of young girls and that they are ready to find a husband, start up a family and do everything a mother is expected to do.
When a young girl has her first period, she’s not allowed to be in the village. She’s kept in a little hut built in the forest and she’s not allowed out until the flow stops.
For up to two weeks she stays inside the hut with older women who teach her how she has to go about conducting things as soon as gets out of the house.
The young girl is forbidden to bathe and she only wears a piece of grass skirt which is changed each day by the elderly women.
Food given to her is also guided by strict rules and laws that mustn’t be broken. She is only allowed to be given food roasted over the fire and it mustn’t be superfluous.
She is soon to be an adult woman thus she has to make sacrifices.
During her days inside that hut, her upper arm is tattooed by the elderly women with sharp blades. They tattoo it by cutting little deep cuts into her upper arm and leaving them to dry up. She’s not allowed to drink water as it is believed that if she does the cuts won’t heal up as soon as possible.
The pain she bears when both her upper arms are tattooed is believed to motivate her to become a woman who will stand out and fight for what is right. A unique, tough, successful woman who is capable of handling the challenges and obstacles that will come as she starts up a family of her own.
As the second week comes to its end, she’s taken out of the house and a little feast is thrown out amongst the women of her tribe.
The initiation is closed as the girl symbolically climbs a banana tree and thus moves into adulthood.
She is carried out of the hut by an elderly woman on her shoulders and as soon as they come to the spot where the banana tree is, she leaps form her carrier’s shoulders and catches grip of the banana tree and climbs it whilst the elderly women chant in their mother tongue and dance around the tree.
After she climbs down she’s then taken by the elderly women and washed with bush herbs to drive away the spirits that have been with her throughout the initiation period.