Go­ing with the breeze

The leg­ends be­hind the Hiri Moale Fes­ti­val

Paradise - - Contents -

Mo­tuan sea­men would sail their gi­ant ca­noes north-west, sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres across the Gulf of Pa­pua, to ex­change pot­tery for sago.

Acry goes up. Sails have been sighted. A run­ner is dis­patched to con­firm the iden­tity of the sail­ing ca­noe, called a

la­ga­toi, and af­ter con­fir­ma­tion is made the vil­lage springs into ac­tion.

Kundu drums are fetched, head­dresses brought out, faces painted. Women, adorned in tra­di­tional cos­tume, get ready to greet the

la­ga­toi with fan­fare and cel­e­bra­tion when it reaches shore.

In years gone by, this would have been the scene at the end of ev­ery Hiri trade voy­age, cus­tom­ary along the shores of the Mo­tuan coast­line.

To­day, the scene is played out at the Hiri Moale Fes­ti­val in Port Moresby. The fes­ti­val pays trib­ute to the tra­di­tional Hiri ex­pe­di­tions.

Hiri re­searchers say that the voy­ages sig­nif­i­cantly shaped the lives of the lo­cal peo­ple of Port Moresby, be­cause with­out them “the Mo­tu­ans would not have sub­sisted” be­cause of fre­quent droughts in the area.

Ac­cord­ing to F.R Bar­ton, who pub­lished a de­tailed ac­count of the Hiri in 1910, the in­sti­tu­tion had ex­isted for many gen­er­a­tions, as it was a fea­ture of life when the first English mis­sion­ary set­tled in Port Moresby in 1874.

About Oc­to­ber or Novem­ber, be­fore the south­east trade winds die, Mo­tuan sea­men would sail their gi­ant ca­noes north-west, sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres across the Gulf of Pa­pua, to ex­change pot­tery made by Mo­tuan women for sago pro­duced in the west. In late De­cem­ber or Jan­uary, the ex­pe­di­tion would re­turn, aided by the north-west mon­soon.

Much plan­ning would go into a voy­age, per­haps start­ing a year be­fore. A man wish­ing to lead an ex­pe­di­tion would cul­ti­vate large gar­dens to pro­vide food for the feasts re­quired dur­ing the con­struc­tion of the la­ga­toi. In April or May, he would sum­mon his relatives to a small feast at which he would an­nounce his in­ten­tion and en­list their sup­port. This was given to him soon af­ter, in the form of ad­di­tional ca­noe hulls, arm shells and other tra­di­tional cur­ren­cies.

About June, the voy­ager would go pub­lic. He did this by leav­ing his house in the early morn­ing and sit­ting by a fire in the street. He stayed there un­til he was joined by a deputy, a mast man and sail man, and the rest of the crew. Bar­ton records the av­er­age num­ber of crew­men at 29, aged be­tween 20 and 40.

Con­struc­tion of the ves­sel in­volved col­lect­ing vines and cane, as­sem­bling and bind­ing the hulls, and step­ping the masts, which were heir­looms handed from fa­ther to son.

These tasks were sup­ported by sup­plies of food from the large gar­dens, cooked by the wives of the lead­ers.

Mean­while, the vil­lage women set about making the pots. Women dug the clay, fer­ried it home, made and fired the pots. The pots came in three types – cook­ing, wa­ter stor­age, and bowls.

As for the la­ga­toi, its de­sign and prop­er­ties were so well thought out and built that the ves­sel could with­stand the rigours of the sea and carry the crew for weeks.

The hull com­prised dugouts, held to­gether by vines and a net­work of bam­boo poles. A typ­i­cal

la­ga­toi had four dugouts, although it has been re­ported that one had more than 25 dugouts, which made the ves­sel as wide as it was long.

The hull be­came the stor­age area for the cargo and was crammed with ba­nana leaves to pre­vent wa­ter from seep­ing in­side.

Upon the hull was placed floor­ing ma­te­rial that be­came the deck. Built in the mid­dle, were two sep­a­rate cab­ins – one for the cap­tain, called the

ba­di­tauna, and the other for his co-pi­lot, known as the dori­tauna. Be­tween the cab­ins were the two masts, upon which the sails were fas­tened. The area be­tween the cab­ins was the

iru­tahuna, the sa­cred place re­served only for the two ex­pe­di­tion lead­ers and their er­rand boys.

Hiri cus­tom dic­tated the in­clu­sion of young pre-pubescent boys – usu­ally the sons or neph­ews of the cap­tains – on the trip to run er­rands for the lead­ers.

The ba­di­tauna and the dori­tauna were the spir­i­tual lead­ers of the voy­age, ob­serv­ing all the spir­i­tual pro­to­cols that gov­erned their daily rou­tine. While the mast and sail men at­tended to the phys­i­cal run­ning of the ves­sel, the two prin­ci­pals took care of the spir­i­tual needs of the ex­pe­di­tion.

Upon ar­rival in a Gulf vil­lage, the barter oc­curred ac­cord­ing to the value sys­tem de­signed for Hiri. The re­turn was al­ways a very happy oc­ca­sion. Much feast­ing took place and debts owed were re­paid to those who took care of the fam­i­lies of crew­men dur­ing their ab­sence.

The Hiri flour­ished un­til 1941, when World War 2 dis­rupted tra­di­tional customs, although few Mo­tuan vil­lages tried to re­vive the in­ter­est af­ter the war. But in 1958, the Aus­tralian colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion banned ex­pe­di­tions, af­ter a re­turn­ing la­ga­toi cap­sized out­side of Port Moresby, killing ev­ery­one on board.

Mo­tu­ans say the ma­jor func­tion of Hiri was eco­nomic. They also val­ued the in­sti­tu­tion for its main­te­nance of links with part­ners and neigh­bours. Hiri also pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity for fes­tiv­i­ties, and con­ferred pres­tige on those who par­tic­i­pated.

To­day, the last sur­viv­ing sailors are in their 80s and the prac­tice of clay pot-making has died.

The Hiri Moale Fes­ti­val re­lives the tra­di­tion by hav­ing young men schooled in la­ga­toi

con­struc­tion skills and young women groomed in wom­an­hood ac­cord­ing to the ways of Hiri.

The fes­ti­val in­cludes a Miss Hiri con­test and co­in­cides with Pa­pua New Guinea's in­de­pen­dence on Septem­ber 16.

Keep­ing up tra­di­tions ... a la­ga­toi (sail­ing ca­noe) at the an­nual Hiri Moale Fes­ti­val (left); the real deal (above); the Miss Hiri con­test is part of the fes­ti­val (right).

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