By SAMSON JOHN HIROWA
PNG is a country that is blessed to have 800-plus languages, diverse traditional cultures and customs.
Our 22 provinces in the Southern, Momase, Highlands and the New Guinea Islands, have for millennia practiced their own unique and diverse traditional cultures and customs. Those practices and norms signify our identities in a united and independent PNG.
However, amidst the hustle and bustle of the contemporary PNG urban areas, particularly Port Moresby, it would seem challenging especially when one wants to create an equilibrium between the need to sustain traditional cultures and customs of our ancestors on one hand and to embrace the ever-increasing Western influence on the other.
In foreseeing this, our pre-independence political leaders saw the need to protect and conserve our traditional cultures and customs that have been practiced by our ancestors since time immemorial because they predicted that as the country advanced into the future, the traditional cultures and customs passed down to us by our ancestors would be threatened by Western influence or cultures and lifestyle of the white man.
Thus when they crafted the Constitution they called for the need to recognise our traditional cultures and customs as the country advanced socially, politically and economically. Hence Goal 5 (3) and (4) of the National Goals and Directive Principles of our National Constitution states that:
“(3)……the cultural, commercial and ethnic diversity of our people is a positive strength, and for the fostering of a respect for, and appreciation of, traditional ways of life and culture, including language, in all their richness and variety, as well as for a willingness to apply these ways dynamically and creatively for the tasks of development; and
(4) traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society, and for active steps to be taken to improve their cultural, social, economic and ethical quality.”
Last Sunday, a traditional rite or ceremony was held by the Hairo people of Lufa District, Eastern Highlands at Gomosasipo Settlement in June Valley as a way to maintain and uphold their traditional custom and culture.
This ceremony was held to officially send Korope Seveh Joshua of Donito hamlet to Michael Tom and his family of Hawagweda hamlet. Both their hamlets come under Hairo Village but they are allowed to marry.
This rite is known as avadedemo ku’umune in the Hairo dialect or givim bilum long yangpla meri when translated to Tok pisin. This is a traditional rite practiced mainly in the Lufa District and other parts of EHP.
This is a ceremony where the bride’s family prepares a feast and calls the groom and his family over. This is the time the bride’s family officially makes it public that they are now delivering the woman to the groom and his family. It is a time where the bride is made officially a part of the groom’s family.
When the bride is delivered to her husband-to-be and in-laws, she is also given new clothes for her and her expected first child and utensils that she will use in her new home.
The avadedemo ku’umune rite is done when a young woman marries and especially at a time when she is expecting her first born child.
At times when this rite is not performed, a woman will face complications during delivery. When avadedemo ku’umune is performed, it signifies that the bride’s family are happy with the proposed marriage and the man their daughter is marrying. It is also a time when the bride’s family wish the bride a happy life in her marriage.
The paying of bride price is also a turning point in customary marriages hence as this rite takes place, the family of the groom are reminded of their obligation to pay the bride price if none is made and if part payment is made, they are reminded to settle the remaining payment.
When the groom and his family pay the bride price, it would mean that there is a general consensus and understanding as to the marriage and whenever the bride faces a complication during the birth of her first child, her family would be easy on them.
However, if no bride price is made and when the woman faces a complication during the birth of her first child, then her family would come hard on the groom’s family; it can result in conflict or a dispute between them resulting in disharmony. Thus the payment of bride price is a pivotal moment in a young woman’s life as she gets married.
One important event within the rite is when the bride takes her things and officially walks off to the groom and his family. As she walks off, one of her relative’s will take a miniature bow and arrow and aim at her bilum that she would carry and take a shot. If the arrow is stuck in the bilum, it would mean the bride’s first child will be male. And if it falls, the bride would be expecting a baby girl.
The traditional rite performed by the Hairo people indicates to us, as Papua New Guineans, that despite living in a busy urban area like Port Moresby, we still have an obligation to uphold and maintain our traditional cultures and customs practiced for time immemorial by our ancestors and passed on to us.
That is our duty that we must uphold without any reservation as we owe it to our ancestors, the generations to come and for the country as a whole. This is our heritage, our identity.
- Samson John Hirowa is a freelance writer.