|Sunrise at Tari Gap|
The Huli lands in the Southern Highlands province around Tari are frankly overwhelming. The beauty and the overwhelming kindness of the people is incredible – more so when juxtaposed with an ingrained culture of violence.
We leave this region tomorrow to head to the Sepik river, and the amount I’ve learned in the past two days is frankly indescribable. The Hulis are people, whom despite the development there’s been and that that’s coming, cling with great pride to their traditional ways. We witnessed spirit dances, sun dances and visited spirit doctors. These men had the power to rid people of spirits haunting them, but to also provide the spells necessary to help others kill. Unlike travel in other slightly more frequented destinations, traditional dress here is real. It is the way of life. Sure people dress sometimes in the standard western cast-offs, but they may be wearing jeans a t-shirt and simultaneously a moss headdress.
|The spirit doctor, working on a treatment for a sick man.|
Missionaries and others have tried to “modernize” the culture but have largely been unsuccessful, if that is that term. The above “spirit” practices were all banned, and if you ask now in an official context, they tell you they still are. Dig a little deeper – they’re not.
This morning we visited a woman’s village. One of the staff members of the lodge is from this village and she has organized the ability for certain groups of guests to visit to witness the “hard life” of a Huli woman. Men have multiple wives and as men need to constantly be prepared for war and clan fighting, women must take care of everything else. Remember the adage of “Land, Women, Pig” – well, the truth is that they are all the responsibility of the women. The Huli gardens are beautiful. They are spacious and abound in fresh vegetables (sweet potatos, herbs) and are habited only by people and pigs. Everything is immaculately clean and organized.
|Planting sweet potatoes in the garden.|
The women explained their daily lives as well as their typical travails. Travails they are. Domestic violence is the norm. Women go to the “magic woman” to try to prevent their husbands from getting more wives. They say it works – the evidence does not bear this out.
|A house in the women's village.|
The Huli people take their inspiration from the birds of paradise that abound in the area. They dance mimicking the way the birds dance around and “show” when trying to mate. It is incredibly ironic that the dancing parodies such harmless creatures when people will kill at will. We heard the comment while here that “if we hear that people are fighting, we will go join in immediately. We do not think twice about defending our clan.” This morning with the women we learned in great detail about “payback” and “compensation”. We learned that the real reason we couldn’t get out at the market yesterday was because four women were dressed in their mourning “compensation” clothes and it was that, not our “whiteness” that could have led to violence at any moment. If they did not receive their adequate compensation, they would inflict payback and kill a member of the opposing clan.
|From left to right - traditional clothes, "compensation clothes", mourning clothes|
Our time in Huli land ended this evening with a magical musical performance. A few clansmen sang with guitars – brought by the missionaries – and a couple performed Huli dances. It was quite a moment. We’ve done it all here in our 3 days – we’ve seen the birds of paradise, we visited the clans and learned about the culture. I bought my Digicel top-up card and already seen how PNG LNG is altering this area forever.
The highlight for Jen was undoubtedly when the cook gave her two of the recipes she wanted. It took him two full days to get her the recipes because the cook can not read or write and had to dictate. The recipes involved phrases like “chop-chop.” The cook was so nice and cute explaining the recipe and how she needed to make them. The cook has five wives. The recipe will be posted when we return.