Chapter 26: Feasting

For some time now, since the Pacific war, Wautogig village has earned a reputation for planning and staging outstanding feasts. The last large feast was held back in the early sixties, I estimate around 1962. No feast on that scale has been held since that time.

Large feasts are grand occasions. Hundreds of pigs are tied to poles, lined up, and exchanged. Fresh yams are lined up and distributed among the visitors. Yams are usually presented in heaps of hundreds. Sago starch is packed in leaves and distributed to the villagers who attend. ADD NOTE ABOUT FEAST TYPES FROM ARNOLD WATIEM + LINKS TO PHOTOS

At night, dancing would take place. Men, women, and children would dress in their finest decorations. Bodies would be decorated with various designs, and plumage of the kumul ‘bird of Paradise, guria ‘crowned pigeon’, and cassowary would be worn. Men would wear tapa cloth and women would wear freshly made sago leaf grass skirts. Both men and women dance bare-chested. Usually, a feast is an occasion for great celebration involving several villages, including both Arapesh and Boikin speakers. But on occasions, people from the surrounding islands and people from the Yangoru area have also been invited to participate.

Anyone is welcome to attend a feast. But the distribution of meat and food involves an intricate repayment of past debts or obligations. It almost always creates new debts between pre-established buaɲin trade partners. Uninvited guests should be fed but do not expect to return home with raw meat or uncooked food. The more food and meat the guests can take home, the greater pride there is for the hosts and the reputation of the host is built up. My village is well known for making such feasts.

During feasts, great speeches are made. No uninvited person may bear the cɨbuk or mace of the authority and speak in public. Speeches are strictly reserved for the crowned or initiated male speakers only. The speeches are couched in symbolic and archaic language, the meaning of which is never fully understood except by those initiated into the nɨbahʷ or spirit house. Anyone who speaks is usually brief and speaks directly to the issue at hand before the group. Anyone who speaks outside the norm or the “path” will be told to take up his position among those seated and will not be allowed to speak again.

In 1979, we had a limited form of a feast. This feast involved people from the village of Woginara 1. The purpose of the gathering was for Wautogig people from the Kərapehem clan to give or pass on to the Woginarans a gift of the Mendep dance. The Mendep dance was originally from Ulingan, in the Bogia district of Madang. The Wautogig people got it from Yuwo Islanders who live off the coast of Boikin, our parish centre. Our acquisition of Mendep took place in the 1940s, right before the Pacific War. Some Yuwo Islanders had acquired it when they went to work on plantations in Madang. They liked the dance and learned it by heart.

When they returned to Wewak they passed it on to our people. The Yuwo island people are our traditional partners. In the olden days we engaged in trade. Our people would cut good wood for canoes and carry it down to the coast at Banak. There they would meet the Yuwo islanders, who would give our people fish in return. So it was through this network that we were able to acquire the Mendep dance.

Some Yuwo people, especially John Kapas, who was married to Cuoh Nindim, were able to come with us to pass on the dance. As a matter of record, this was the first time ever for our people to pass on a dance to another village. It was something we had never done before.

On that great feast occasion, all our people attended the dance. Most of our young and educated men and women were there. Chief among them were Dr. Tom Talonu, Dr. Albert Mellam, Joseph Sallun, and others. We danced all day and all night. At daybreak, we shed all our decorations and gave them to the people of Woginara 1. Among the gifts we gave were two large pigs, one large garamut (slit gong drum), and a small amount of cash.

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