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The Baya Baya legend: Messiah-like myths amongst the Huli & Foe


An entry in the 2016 Crocodile Prize

IN EARLY Huli history, there emerged an important young man named Baya Baya. He was the son of the great high god of Hela, Datagaliwabe, who transformed himself into the sun god Ni, came down to the earth and stayed among the Huli people.

Baya Baya was conceived by the virgin Tiame. He was a perfect young man who went around doing good and persuading people to stop fighting, committing adultery and doing evil things.

He was around 14 or 15 years old when he came with Tiame past Duna to Koroba and then down to Lai Terebo places in Duguba. Lai Terebo is a site for performing the ancient dindi ponegone, the ground knot rites.

From there Tiame and Baya Baya came into the Huli area where they stopped and slept at Gumu.

Then they crossed the Tagali River and went to Lumu Lumu, Wabia and all around the Huli area telling people not to do evil things.

At last they came to Bebenete, the special ground called Abureteanda, the most important Lai Terebo place situated beside where Dauli Teacher’s College is now.

Here men were killing pigs for dindi pongone, the ground knot sacrifice, so they decided Baya Baya was going to hold the pigs and would let his blood flow to bless Hela land and stop people doing wrong things.

The man in charge of the pig killing said, “When you hit the pig, instead of cutting it, just miss and cut Baya Baya’s hand between thumb and forefinger.”

But they hated Baya Baya so they hit him and knocked him to the ground. Then they butchered his body and chopped it into little pieces and mixed his blood with the pig’s blood. The women washed out his intestines like that of a pig.

The men who murdered Baya Baya were mostly from the hameigini (clans) Padagabua, Abua Amuira, Hogo Yuwi, Koroba Goli, Pailero, Uguma Labe, Dugu Kewai, Hubiyabe, Homa, Ambua, in and around Dauli village and other Huli men, people from Obena, Duna and Duguba were there that day.

Pieces of Baya Baya’s dismembered body were buried in the territories of all the guilty clans to stop people from doing wrong. Today some of his remains are at one of the secret places inside Mount Lagabe.

A certain stream flowing from Abureteanda sometimes appears red due to the underlying clay and the Huli say it is the fluid from Baya Baya’s intestines containing his blood.

That day, all the men in charge of the killing told the people not to cross the Huria river or go back to their places for six months while they changed their name from Huli to Homa.

The people spoke the Homa language for six months then changed back to Huli. The reason they did this was because they were afraid that bingi, the darkness, would come to them because they had done wrong.

The darkness had occurred earlier in Huli, but on the day of Baya Baya’s death they were afraid it would return so the dindi pongone yi, the specialists who performed ground knot rituals, altered the nouns in the language to avert this.

The Huli regard darkness as punishment from Datagaliwabe and say that, since Baya Baya's death, his mother has been keeping a special pandanus tree of angalu nanenamu variety in Duna. When the tree bears fruit, darkness will occur. Since then, whenever there has been trouble, famine or drought, the people have come together at Bebenete and changed all the names around.

On the day they killed Baya Baya, they hit his mother and threw mud at her and pulled off her clothes. She ran away naked and dirty, trying to get back to her own place. On the way, the Tani clan, which had not participated in Baya Baya's murder, took her in, washed her, gave her new clothes and looked after her.

As she was leaving, Baya Baya's mother said, "Because you have looked after me and helped me in my trouble, one day you, the Tani clan, will be the largest and greatest of all the Huli clans."

So today the Tani people are the biggest and strongest clan and are growing bigger and stronger all the time. Who knows, the new Hela Governor might be from the Tani or Ni clan because the first Governor came from the place that killed Baya Baya.

Many people believe Baya Baya will one day return to the Huli area. Others fear that his kin may come and demand compensation for his death. This is a common cause for concern since all the Huli clan, except for the Tani, are responsible for his death and it is the only case in Huli history where payback has not been given.

The fact that Baya Baya was a perfect man born from a virgin who never did wrong but shed his blood to atone for the sins of all the people, suggests a connection with the Christian gospel, although there is no resurrection of Baya Baya.

A similar Messiah-like myth is found amongst the Foe, the details of which are closer to the gospel than the legend of Baya Baya. Possibly similar myths occur amongst other Huli neighbours as well.

This is the Messiah like myth found in the Foe area.

“Long ago a bird came from the sky and alighted upon a virgin woman. She saw a mark on her stomach and knew she was pregnant and a son was born.

“When he grew up he went around telling people in each village to stop killing, stealing and committing adultery.

“Because he was a good man people hated him. They wanted to continue doing evil, so they decided to kill him. He knew he would be killed, so he told his mother to come to the place where he would be killed on the fifth day after his death.

“Eventually the men in a certain longhouse grabbed him and dragged him out to kill him in the village. But he said, ‘Remember you will pollute the village if you kill me outside the village’. So they dragged him and killed him in the bush.

“They then lay his dead body on rock ledges. Five days later his mother came to the place where he had been laid, but his body was no longer there. She saw a strange light in the sky and heard a voice saying ‘Your son is no longer dead but is with his father in the sky’.”

The Messiah-like myths from the Foe and the gospel refer to the same events, but the New Testament accounts are more accurate because they were written down.

This indicates that the gospel or a version may have come to the area at least 150 years before contemporary missionary outreach.

Concerning Baya Baya the Huli say he is not Jesus Christ but God allowed this legend in their oral history so that they would understand the gospel when it came to them.  


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Tom and Salome live in Hervey Bay Peter, just up the road from me. I knew them in the late 1960s at Nomad.

Peter Turner

Betty, (Egerabagi), An interesting narrative aligned pretty closely with Damian Arabagali's (A Good Catholic, bless him) less than authoritatively supported, but nevertheless scholarly and enlightening thesis, and thank you for sharing and explaining some interesting Huli mythology.

Well done. Your perfect English expression provides clarity and even a 'classical' touch to the identification and reconciliation of traditional and Christian beliefs amongst many Huli people.

I am interested in your use of the Huli word ‘Duguba’, previously widely pronounced 'Tuguba' in the 1970's.

As I recall, then it meant 'lowland cannibal savage' (LOL) and the Huli's looked upon them with disdain and dread. The lowland people in turn, were wary of the bigger, stronger and more aggressive Hulis, and largely 'deferred' to them, on the very rare occasions that members of the two tribes met.

These days, some Huli Clans adjoining promising oil snd gas prospects have even adopted 'Tuguba' as part of their Clan names. They certainly would not have identified, in any way shape or form, with the 'Tugubas' 40 years ago.

In the early 1970's the only Huli residents, anywhere in the Bosavi Area were those that accompanied my patrols from Komo 1973-4, and they behaved much as 'tourists', wonderfully tough, strong and good humoured tourists, fascinated, but repelled by the grille covered ‘Tuguba’s’, and the few Huli and Gogodala health workers and teachers with Keith and Norma Briggs at the APCM (now ECPNG) Mission at 'Ludesa' (which the local people call 'Didesa').

In those days nearly every Bosavi had grille, many totally covered, which the Hulis found disgusting. (Today it is rare to find a case of grille (sikin kuskus), even in the remotest areas of the country. Yaws too. 'Never heard of yaws? Good. Leprosy? Gone. Progress.

Some of the Tigaso Tree oil and black palm bows trade filtered from Bosavi through Komo, and Kutubu 'wel' was mostly directed to established Tari traders.

Returning to the Bosavi area with a Seismic Team 30 years later, I found that nearly every Onabasalu, Kasua and Etoro (most of the Great Papuan Plateau) family groups had a Huli 'Inlaw' and were very proud and happy with the arrangement.

Many times I found myself dealing with a Huli 'tanimtok', always fully supported by 'family' and the former 'Hanua Policemen' or their descendants, now Bosavi Local Government Councillors, (The Establishment).

The once feared and despised 'Tuguba' have become respectable and desirable 'relatives'. (Like marrying into the 'Beverly Hillbillys').

Bosavi people are now investors in the Port Moresby real estate market and Graduates are now not uncommon.

The airstrip I laid out near Bona Village is now the Government Station of Munuma and the Great Papuan Plateau, like the Sogeri Plateau outside Port Moresby, has been well and truly 'colonized' and even 'included' into Huli Myths.

Who would have thought? I was taken aback, amazed and gratified to find two groups so 'alien' to each other, ending up so closely mixed and allied. If the Manam Islanders were resource rich, there would be no resettlement problems.

'Bit of credit' is due to the Briggs Family, who are venerated by the Bosavi people, just as are Tom & Salome Hoey from the next door Mougolu APCM station, in Bedamini (formerly commonly known as Biami) country, who both arrived in the mid 1960's, and all those other Missionaries who ‘brought the Light’.

I watched those people, the Briggs, the Hoeys and Gogodala and Huli staff and Pastors, over much of their mission field lifetimes bring The Light to 'Last Papua'. What a wonderful achievement.

Both couples will have stored up a huge treasure in heaven, but both should be double MBE's or Members of Logohu. Recognition of their contributions is long overdue.

Betty, ‘arime timbune, wandari paija.

Peter Turner ML BEM Ll.M

Rashmii Bell

Hi Betty. I enjoyed this - all the best with this entry. I look forward to reading more of your writing.

Philip Fitzpatrick

That's true about myths having a basis in fact Gary.

In Australia some of the Aboriginal myths describe geological events that occurred thousands of years ago.

Their myths are extremely complex and form the basis of their understanding of the cosmos and the way life should be lived. Armed with the song from a myth one can navigate through unknown country quite well.

Since Papua New Guineans and Australian Aborigines have the same origins it is not surprising that their myths are similar in purpose.

Garry Roche

With regard to Engan mythology, the late Lawrence Kambao from Tsak valley had written about a culture hero whom he called "Tiri Akali Puio". I believe his account had some parallels with the Huli mythology.

As Philip Fitzpatrick mentioned, mythology has a purpose. It would be wrong to dismiss such narratives by saying "it is only a myth". These myths had a purpose and also may have contained some historical facts, e.g., place of tribal origin etc.

Daniel Kumbon

Betty, nice story. A comment on the book written by Damien Arabagali 'Huli book of secrets crept cheaply into the world' appeared in PNG Attitude on 15 November 2012. You might like to revisit the story.


We Hulis and Engans are brothers, you know, and similar stories abound here in Enga Province too especially a virgin giving birth to a super handsome being who opposed evil.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Many groups of people have messiah type myths. The comparisons could work the other way around. The Huli could claim that Christians have copied their 'true' origin stories.

Mythology has a purpose and that is to instruct people on how to behave and impart other useful knowledge to them.

Another very common myth world-wide concerns the travels of the Seven Sisters, usually represented by the stars in the Pleiades Constellation. There is one very faint star so the representation is often of six stars. The seventh is the wayward sister who always hangs back.

In Japan it is called subaru, hence the stars on the motor vehicle logo of the same name.

The Huli probably have a similar myth, Betty.

That aside, they are a fascinating people, different from most highland societies.

Betty Wakia

Thank you Keith Jackson and Friends for publishing my writing on your website. Seen my writing on your website just makes me want to write more. Thank you so much guys for motivate me. Can't wait to write.

Garry Roche

Betty, I remember that Damien Arabagali wrote a thesis on this matter in 1990. He later published a book - in 2012.

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