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Pig kill & the early ‘religion’ of the Chimbu people

Displaying the cooked carcassesPHILIP KAI MORRE

KUNDIAWA - The famous Simbu pig kill, 'bugla inngu' in Kuman, was a celebration of fertility rites at a time when the people saw they had plenty of pigs, bountiful gardens, population growth, and peace and harmony.

This was the time for celebration and the coming event was announced by initiated men blowing the sacred bamboo flutes at night.

Singing and dancing were part of the celebration as was the Simbu sun cult, referred to as ‘aril’, marked by a wig worn by dancers who had gone through certain rituals.

The display of the ‘gerua’ board with different designs worn during the dancing by selected people was a similar ancestral veneration.

Towards the final event, there was a ‘mok’ dance performed by the whole tribe. It was called ‘bugla tabuno’ in Kuman, the secret dance of the fern leaves.

The dancers circled around the ceremonial ground beating their kundus and holding spears in an orderly manner towards the ‘bolum’ shrine, built the night before the final dance and pig kill.

The bolum was decorated with slaughtered pigs and the best food. Women would sit around the bolum wearing kaukau leaves on their head as an offering to their ancestors.

The bolum was the sacrificial object and the most secret and the greatest moment of the Simbu people.

The bolum post was cut from a selected tree, called ‘mondo’, and only men with the right magical spells or rites could plant the posts.

With the arrival of the early missionaries, the pig kill was not abolished but acculturation took place. Inside the bolum, for example, was placed a crucifix and magical spells and other rituals were not used.

On the final day of pig slaughter, after the pigs were killed they were lined up towards the rising sun as an offering to ‘Neno Ande Yagle’ meaning 'Sun, Our Father'.

As you can see, our ancestors had a concept of a creator but it was remote and isolated until Christianity revealed it to them as God the father. The people accepted Christianity without hesitation.

Prayers and the use of holy water were also used. A priest or church leader was normally invited to bless the pig killing.

The last time I witnessed a pig killing ceremony was in 1973 when I was a small child. I regret that it's now all gone.


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David Craig

In 1961 when I was Head Teacher at Gon Primary (T) School , on the edge of Kundiawa, I was privileged to be allowed to attend one of the ‘bugla inngu’ pig killing festivals.

This ceremonial pig killing was held at the village of Pari, on the slopes adjacent to Kundiawa.. The talk had gone out into the surrounding villages that it was Pari’s turn to celebrate.

Of course, we heard the message at school and wondered what implications it had for us. We were soon to learn that the school children were expected to be there. I made enquiries in Goroka whether we could declare a school holiday but was told no.

Further discussions took place and I explained that if I said no, then the students would go anyway and it would be impossible to discipline them, even if I wanted to. Eventually permission was granted.

Ruth (now my wife of 57 years) gained permission from the mission to close her school and Merv. who ran the technical school on the edge of the airstrip also closed. We told the parents and the elders that we would give the children a holiday as long as we were allowed to attend.

Permission was given and the three of us climbed up to Pari early on the morning of the main event, the only westerners to be there.

The pig killing festivals that were celebrated in the Chimbu were some of the biggest occasions in the life of the local Kamanuku people. They were held every four to eight years depending on the climatic conditions and the availability of pigs.

The local festivals were held by three clans close to Kundiawa and were held in rotation over the years. Villages from one clan would celebrate one year and invite the people from the other two clans. When a ‘committee’ of villagers decided that the time was right for another celebration, one of the other clans would invite the others to their village. In time it was the third clan's turn.

The festivals needed enormous planning and preparations as many visitors had to be accommodated in the host village. It was firmly engraved in their thinking that to give and to receive, in turn, was most important. It was also considered very important that the host clan killed as many pigs as had been killed by the previous hosts.

On the occasion that we were present 170 pigs were killed. This represented a huge monetary value as a man could purchase a bride for ten or twenty pigs depending on her status. It was indeed rare for the people to eat pork during the time between festivals.

Pigs were so important to these people that a woman who had given birth would also suckle a young pig on her breast sharing with her new born baby. Pigs were given a name and were considered a part of the family so you could not eat your own pig as it was like your brother or sister.

It was bedlam in the village. The clouds were low on the ground. It was cold and wet and smoke hung heavily in the air. There were shouts of excitement mixed with the cries of pigs tied up with rope seemingly aware of what was going to happen to them.

People were dressed in their finery. Bird of paradise feathers adorned their heads and paint and shells decorated their bodies. After a while a signal must have been given and men commenced dragging the pigs into a clear space in the centre of the village.

Some men produced large lumps of wood and began hitting the pigs across the skull. Some pigs collapsed immediately whilst others squealed loudly and tried to get away. It took two or three men to hold them before they eventually succumbed and collapsed to the ground.

Once all the pigs had been killed they were dragged into a long line across the village. All the people who were there crowded around the pigs and an important man (the town crier) marched up and down the line of pigs telling the assembled crowd that the pigs which had been killed this year were bigger, fatter and there were more of them than at the last killing. This boasting was necessary in order to not lose face before the visitors.

By now the air was full of smoke and the noise had risen to a very high level. The fires had been lit early so that the many stones that had been collected could be heated. These were to be used to help cook the vegetables in hollow logs.

The next stage of the festivities then commenced. Pigs were thrown onto the fires in order to burn off the body hairs. It also caused the pigs to swell. Banana leaves were then strewn on the ground and the swollen pigs were placed on them. The local villagers then proceeded to cut the pigs up using bamboo knives. The pieces were then thrown into the fires and ‘cooked’.

Actually they were half cooked and when eaten the blood ran down their chins. We had been warned not to eat pig meat but waited until the vegetables were ready. They were cooked in hollow logs standing on their ends.

Sweet potatoes and corn were placed in the logs together with hot stones. Water was then poured onto the rocks and banana leaves were placed thickly on top of the logs. The vegetables were cooked by the steam and were very tasty.

We left in the late afternoon but the people stayed on and danced and sang all night. Sadly some got very ill with dysentery from eating so much meat as they normally ate very little.

In the following days groups of very tired villagers could be seen returning to their own villages where, no doubt, they collapsed with exhaustion and slept for a very long time.

I have an excellent series of photographs of this day which I could post if there is an interest.

What an excellent description, David. If you send three or four photographs to me at, I'll run your comment as an article on our main page - KJ

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

Philip, I had the opportunity to walk through the Dom territory and saw the Dom bugla ingu (pig killing festival) in 1983/4 as a child. That was the last in the Chimbu. The traditional regalia (plumes, face decorations), dance symmetry, songs,column of long houses, mass slaughter of pigs and bonding and courting in the night were events that I have not seen again in my adult life.

Christianity and western cultural hegemony have collectively destroyed an element of social cohesion.

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