Traditional Huli Society: 3
(Copyright ©1998 G. C. J. Lomas)

(Photos copyright © 1998 Malachy McBride, ofmcap.; Drawings copyright ©1998 Alphonsus Mariot)

Non-hereditary Social Structures

In Huli society there are no hereditary chiefs or offices that carry political power underpinning hereditary structures (cf Glasse 1968: 21).  An exception to this can be found in some clans where the deposit of genealogical history is in the hands of a single individual, who is deferred to by others when tracing ancestry back to the clan founder.  Apart from this, power and special importance can be achieved by any man with the right combination of talents, industry and ambition, a man's influence over others being in direct proportion to his mastery of practical skills and the strategies necessary for combating malevolent influences.  In almost every case, mastery of skills and strategies is linked directly to mastery of their associated varieties of language, and one who has command of esoteric varieties of language and of secret registers and genres, is held in regard: others will tend to listen to his counsel and follow his lead.  This type of leadership is exercised in various areas of social and economic activity, some of which are described below.

homogo    A man who has succeeded in gaining wealth above the ordinary is called a homogo.  His success is evident in the size and productivity of his gardens, the number of his wives and children, and the health, size and number of his pigs.  He usually has gardens in several subclan territories, residing multilocally, and his influence is felt by many.  He clearly has the wisdom and secret strategies necessary for success, and his advice is sought - and bought - by others.  Because of his standing in different subclans, he is a natural arbitrator in times of dispute, while his wealth makes him a valuable associate when death indemnities have to be met or when wariabu bride wealth has to be paid.  He may or may not also be recognized as a manaji.

manaji    One who is in possession of considerable secret knowledge is called a manaji.  His knowledge is of religious rites and divination, and his power has been proved.  He may also be a custodian of Huli myths and lore.  Among the publicly acknowledged manaji are figures of influence such as leaders of the haroli bachelor cult (cf Cheetham 1979: 889) and leaders of cave cults (cf Habel 1979).

dandaji    are men skilled in war and hunting, knowledgeable in the use of  fighting spells and strategies, and of the secret language necessary for  journeying into the high bush.  They are natural candidates for leadership in war, although war parties usually tend to follow the successful man of the moment.

dombagwa    An arbitrator  in disputes is know as a dombagwa.  He usually has command of a special register called damba bi arbitration talk (cf Goldman 1980: 224), and is skilled in remembering details, so that he is able quickly and vividly to relate the background to the matter under dispute (Peters 1975: 19) and to point towards a solution.  He is frequently, but not necessarily, a homogo.  An accomplished dombagwa will chant the damba bi in a monotone.

Singers exercise an influence in society through music, although there is no generic terms that covers all categories of music and music makers.  Players of the gãwã mouth bow and hirijule jaw's harp articulate words as they play, telling stories and recounting everyday happenings (cf Peters 1975; Pugh-Kitigan 1975).  Chanters of the long and intricate bi te folk tales make an essential contribution to poetry and to phatic communion, as do singers of ritual u love chants.  Performers of the dawe wail for dead men and dugu wail for dead women/children are leaders in important social functions, esteemed for their skills.  Players of the gãwã and hirijule may also be feared a little, since gamu religious formulae are considered to gain potency when performed on these instruments.

jagibano    are men who achieve no distinction in society and are patently unsuccessful, with few children, poor gardens, and sickly pigs.  They are presumed to have failed to gain little more than a minimum knowledge of everyday skills and gamu religious formulae.   They are at the opposite end of the continuum from the homogo.  A jagibano may be married, but more typically he is single.  Such single men, including widowers, are called daloali, and generally have little social influence.  A marked exception to this, however, is the daloali who leads the haroli.

haroli    Significant in Huli society are the members of the haroli or ibagija.  This cult is part of the initiation process for young men, the group being led by an older, celibate, man, the ritual daloali.  He is admired and feared for his command of mana lore and of gamu religious formulae, for his wealth in pigs and for his spartan way of life.  Young men pay highly to join the cult for two or three years, learning from the daloali (who is also a manaji) the complexities of traditional mythology and lore, and the religious strategies for warding off the evil influences of women.  The haroli are segregated from the rest of society, living in special tracts of bush into which no woman or married man may go.

Man in bachelor wig
Huli man wearing a haroli wig.

Note how the manda wig curves upwards.  Although more usually coloured with hare red clay, this one is charcoal black. Freedom of expression is an essential part of Huli culture, and accounts for the wide variety of decoration that is to be found. 

The manda is surmounted with multiple ubija Raggiana Bird of Paradise plumes, and decorated in the front with the crest of a yagama Superb Bird of Paradise. Parrot feathers adorn the tips of the curves. 

A bright lebage snake skin is stretched over the man's forehead, and tia iri possum fur covers his ears. 

The top of the manda is trimmed with small white feathers, and tail feathers of gulugala Astrapia stephaniae bird of paradise feature vertically on each wing of the wig.

kebeali    Similarly segregated from others are the curators of cave shrines (cf Habel 1979: 19-24), the kebeali or gebeali.  These custodians of shrines are meant to refrain from contact with women during their term of office, and to dwell apart from the rest of the community.  They are privy to the religious rites and formulae necessary for mediation with the dama spirits that inhabit the shrines, and can command high fees for the placatory services that they perform.

wali    The position accorded women in Huli ideology is reflected in the social structures.  They live apart from men, and have little voice in decisions taken at subclan level.  Even when they have been the cause of war they take no part in the fighting or in subsequent negotiations for peace (cd Glasse 168; 1968: 99-100).  Their say in the choice of their marriage partner depends to some extent on how assertive they are (cf Glasse 1968: 52), but ultimately it is the male members of the subclans involved who control the decision making and settle on the wariabu bride wealth.

Woman in garden
Huli woman with her keba digging stick;
note that she wears her nu string bag hanging from her head.

A woman may own pigs and other valuables, and she is entitled to the food she grows in her gardens, but she can never achieve the wealth and influence that a man can.  She may gain a certain standing among other women as a chanter of dugu or a player of the gãwã or hirijule, or as one who possesses special secret knowledge and gamu (cf Pugh-Kitigan 1975: 45), but her political influence in society at large is not significant.