DAGUA - In Papua New Guinea, in traditional societies, mountains animate a sense of awe and malevolence. And they are also recognised as a source of life, spirituality and identity.
Where gods and goddesses reside in mountains in ancient Greek mythologies, ancestral spirits and masalai reside in mountains in PNG mythologies. In PNG, creation stories are augmented by origin and genealogy stories of an ancestor evolving or coming from the mountain.
In August 2008, I spent six weeks practice teaching at Pangia government station in the Southern Highlands. One of my lessons was a task directing students to write a traditional story.
Among the submissions were two mountain myths from the Ialibu-Pangia and Imbonggu. The main characters were Mount Ialibu and Mount Giluwe. Both tales were based on the premise of nature versus man. How Ialibu and Giluwe were able to influence and direct the lives of the people around them.
In their anthropomorphised state, these mountains displayed the characters and qualities akin to the gods and goddesses of ancient Western mythologies. They were able to talk, squabble, move and think like people.
The mountains felt that it was their right and in their powers to decide on the fate of the people around them. The people in turn accepted their fate and feared the mountains.
HOW MOUNT GILUWE SHARED ITS FOOD
This is a tale from the Imbonggu District which is located at the foot of Mount Giluwe. The soil in Imbonngu is not very fertile and there aren’t many crops grown there because all the food has been shared out to other places by the mountain.
Once the mountain came up with an idea and said, “Tomorrow, early in the morning, I’ll share all my food so all the people nearby must come and get a share each.”
Early the next morning while the Imbonngu people who live right at the foot of the mountain were still sleeping, the people from far away were already at the mountain. The mountain was pleased with them and gave them all the best food.
After the people from the distant areas were gone, the Imbonggu people arrived late with their big string bags and bilum. But, the mountain said, “Sorry, because you are late, all the best food was taken away by other people.”
Today, you will see that the soil in Imbonggu is still dry and you cannot grow the best crops there.
So if you are invited to an occasion, you must be the first person there because the first person gets the best treatment.
HOW MOUNT IALIBU AND MOUNT GILUWE SEPARATED
A long, long time ago, there were two big mountains named Ialibu and Giluwe. They were good friends and lived together. During that time Mount Giluwe existed where Mount Korome is.
One day, Mount Giluwe said, “There are too many people and animals around us, we must kill them all.” Mount Ialibu just listened and did not respond to what Mount Giluwe suggested.
Sometime later, Mount Ialibu got up and said, “We must have a meeting.”
They mumued greens and the two of them had their meeting after the mumu.
Mount Ialibu began by saying, “I do not like the way you talk. Please, can you change your mind. I want to live in front of people and I do not want to kill them. You must go and stay in the middle of the bush where there are no people.”
Mount Giluwe became angry and took the mumued greens and threw them on Mount Ialibu’s face. Mount Ialibu then took a stick and broke Mount Giluwe’s teeth.
Today if you travel from Ialibu Station to Wagum Junction, you can see Mount Giluwe with broken teeth. And when you go to Mount Giluwe, it is not safe to use the bush, cut down trees or do according to your own will. It will kill you when you do wrong things.
Even though these two tales are basic in form and composition like all Papua New Guinea myths, legends and fables, they describe well the geography of the region and the natural formation of the mountains as seen by the local people.
During the six weeks I was in this part of PNG, I noticed that some crops did not grow well because of the poor quality of the land. And while Mount Ialibu has a nice crown of green forest, at its summit Mount Giluwe has rows of jagged volcanic rocks.
These natural features are visible when you are on the road to Ialibu-Pangia or to Mendi. And these features are visible and captured well in these two simple tales.
I would like to acknowledge George Pope of 9C2 and Samson Tirick of 9C1 for the above stories, as well as, the 2008 Grade 9 students of Pangia High School (now secondary school)