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The dog as PNG’s legendary culture hero


DAGUA - Culture heroes have always been an important aspect of human society and culture.

They are romanticised in popular literature and oral traditions of most human societies.

Their exploits and relevance are legion in myths and legends told the world over.

Culture heroes in literature are represented as humans, animals or demi-gods. They are an important part of creation myths and origin stories.

In some societies, they are presented as creators of the world, of humans and of society. In others, they complement the creation process through their exploits. They are also portrayed as tricksters in some mythologies.

Culture heroes have a practical function in that they can facilitate the means by which human societies and cultures develop.

They can bring to humans ideas of new ways of doing things or new technology thus completing the world and making it fit for humans to live in.

Traditional societies attribute important aspects of their existence and culture to culture heroes.

The introduction of fire into human society has been a major theme associated with culture heroes.

The ones who introduced fire to humans include the Greek titan Prometheus, the Polynesian demi-god Maui and the crow from Australian Aboriginal mythology, Waa.

In Papua New Guinea, a recurring culture hero in traditional myths and legends is the dog.

The dog is often portrayed as a companion, hunter and protector.

In some of these tales, the dog is elevated to the role of progenitor: an originator of human settlement; the discoverer of salt, fire or a body of water; or caregiver and healer.

Such tales also have dogs shapeshifting or having the ability to talk and communicate with humans.

How this ability was lost depended on how the stories evolved. One form had the dog talking to someone who was not supposed to know dogs could talk. Another would have the dog revealing a secret to someone who was not supposed to know the secret.

Here are two tales from the Lake Kutubu area of the Southern Highlands Province and the Dagua area of East Sepik which illustrate how the dog is an important narrative theme in traditional Papua New Guinea culture and experience.



Once upon a time, there was a man and his dog who lived in the bush. In that village, there was no water so every time, the man and his dog always thirst for water so they always search for water everywhere.

Every afternoon after eating the dog used to go someplace and come back in the night and sleep. The dog used to do this several times.

One afternoon, the man tied a long rope on one of the dog’s leg. After eating, the dog disappeared and the man got the end of the rope and followed the dog into the thick bush.

After some time the man saw his dog under a big tree. There he saw water coming down from the tree. He saw that and he went back home.

The next morning, he woke up and got his axe went to where the tree was located. Then he started to cut the tree until in the afternoon when the tree fell down. When the tree fell the place started to fill up with water.

Then the man and his dog enjoyed themselves washing and drinking and they were very happy. Sometime later, a lake was formed and now people call this lake, Kutubu.



Once upon a time on a hill called Rautibri, there lived a couple. They had an only child named Luhim. There were also two dogs who lived with them. Luhim was like a brother to the dogs. They lived a happy and simple life on the hill.

The male and female dogs were helping dogs. They were also great hunters. Every time, they went into the bush to hunt for meat. On their return, they came with bandicoots in their mouths. Their parents were always excited to see them returned with food.

Since Luhim was just a baby, he couldn’t help his parents. As helping dogs, they would listen and do what their parents said.

One day, the couple decided to go to the garden. They put Luhim to sleep in a bilum and left for the garden. When the dogs saw that their brother Luhim was alone, they decided to stay back and keep watch over him.

After some time, Luhim woke up and began to cry. He cried for a long time. The female dog, in seeing this, said to the male dog, “Nobody will see us. We have to take him out of the bilum, wash him and let him sleep again. Mama and papa will not be returning soon.”

Since there was no one around, they agreed to remove Luhim from the bilum.   The female dog took him down to a pool and washed him. After bathing him, they replaced him in the bilum and let him sleep again.

When the couple returned, they saw the place was clean. They noticed that Luhim was washed because his hair was wet. The couple began to wonder out aloud and discussed who might have done all these things.

The dogs just slept quietly and listened to the couple talking and discussing. They felt demeaned and humiliated. From that day on, the dogs never helped their parents again.

I would like to acknowledge James William of 9C1 (Pangia Aisoli Memorial High School 2008) and Adasha Tairuo of 11Y (St John Bosco Secondary School-Dagua 2018) for these tales


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Philip Fitzpatrick

My next door neighbour is an old farmer who used to train kelpies to work sheep. In the process of driving around with him looking for bits and pieces to fix an electrical problem he had he told me about a particular pup that he trained.

Finding a good puppy to train was a key part of producing a good sheep dog apparently. This particular pup was with him one day while he was visiting a farm that his son ran.

When they were about to pull into the farm driveway he noticed that part of the fence facing on to the road was down. Before he could get to it one of the sheep had broken out of the paddock and had taken off along the busy road.

He rushed over to the fence to secure it so that no more sheep could escape and then turned back to his car to take off to try to head off the escaped sheep before it was hit by a car.

What he hadn’t noticed was that the pup had jumped out of the car when he went to patch the fence and had already set off after the sheep.

In his imagination he could see a frightened sheep chased by a yapping puppy careering all over the road and into the path of an oncoming car. However, as he quickly got into his car the sheep appeared on the road being shepherded back towards him by the puppy.

The pup herded the sheep to the repaired section of the fence and while my neighbour held the wire down it forced the sheep to jump back into the paddock. As he said to me, it was then that he realised that he had an exceptional dog on his hands.

A few years later he was at a social gathering at the farm of someone who had bought the pup. While he was sitting there eating his barbeque sausage the now grown dog came over and sat right in front of him as if to say, “Hello, remember me?”

Which goes to show not only the intelligence of dogs but also their good memories. Treat a dog well and it will be attached to you for life.

Raymond Sigimet

I was told that hunting dogs develop some form of disease after being wrestled by tree kangaroos. I also saw a dog diseased and was told the tree kangaroo did it.

Unlike the free chase with pigs, when hunting dogs corner a tree kangaroo on the ground, the kangaroo is known to fight back.

Dogs know their foes and tend to keep a fair distance with tree kangaroos. What's interesting is that when a kangaroo wrestles or grabs any dog with its forearms (usually a tight grip), it touch nuzzles or mouths with the dog. A kind of face-to-face face-off. The kangaroo then releases the dog.

Whether the tree kangaroo breathes some type of disease into the dog, this cannot be ascertained at this time, but after this encounter, the dog will begin to vomit and eventually become sick after a day or two.

A type of wasting disease and gradual loss of hair will afflict the dog and it eventually dies some days later. During hunting trips, when a dog is grabbed by a tree kangaroo, the hunter knows his dog is doomed.

Garry Roche

Do not forget the 'singing dogs' of Papua New Guinea. Perhaps some are still to be found in the Mt Giluwe and Ialibu areas.

Philip Kai Morre

In order to become a good person, we have to study some characteristics of our dogs.

Dogs are faithful servants despite doing odd things. They are obedient to their masters and faithful to follow you and protect you.

They will easily forgive you. Even if you cut their ears and gave them pain they will still forgive you.

Raymond Sigimet

Phil, with due respect to Constable Flynn, there's something about this Papua New Guinea dog of lore. Once in awhile, I come across an interesting narrative from a student. They are returned as soon as marked so I do not keep track.

The PNG dog, away from the towns and cities, we all see them, in the villages and hamlets, not of the introduced breeds though. They walk or lie around, on those skinny frames. But the village hunter knows them and they know the hunter. The respect is always mutual. And sometimes, their exploits in the bush are legendary and mystic around the fires.

I do not know if this legendary dog is still around with all the interbreeding happening. I hope the PNG dog's legendary exploits are revisited.

Paul Oates

Then there's the story about the twins Romulus and Reamus....just look what they started after being reared by a she wolf.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Special Canine Constable Errol Flynn has advised me that he completely agrees with what you've said about the importance of dogs in PNG.

He did point out, however, that a lot of humans leave a lot to be desired.

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