Boys to Men – the Madang way

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 14th September 2012

I was privileged to join the Yagaum and Teitab people in the south Ambenob ward of Madang Province for an initiation ritual several months ago.
The manhood ceremony is part of the Madang cul¬ture particularly in the Amele, Bel and Rai Coast ar¬eas which has been practiced for generations.
The haus man is a sacred place where boys are gathered and kept away from their homes and all im¬purities while being taught to live as matured men.
Despite recent accounts of sorcery and cult move¬ments associated with such traditional establish¬ments, this particular custom of the Amele, Bel and Rai Coast is totally unlike.
As one young participant puts it; "It is like rebirth".
He said the haus man is a place for complete cleans¬ing and reform.
Nonetheless, much of what is done indoors or in the vicinity of the haus man is strictly sacred. Strangers, foreigners and even tourists are allowed but only to witness the final stage of the initiation which is the parade.
"It has been that way and will remain so", that’s what the Amele men claim.
The parade or taim bilong kamap as it is called in Tok Pisin is a time to feast and witness the conversion of boys to men. Pigs are slaughtered according to the number of initiated boys.
In this particular ceremony, six pigs were bought and prepared for the day including garden food such as taro, bananas, greens and other vegetables.
People from as far as the Umin village along the Astrolabe Bay came to see and share in the feast.
Now, all is quiet while in a colorful fashion the young men took to the village arena to show their mothers and womenfolk they had successfully com¬pleted their initiations and are fit to live as responsible adults.
Their skin glimmered against the bright sun as they make their grand entrance. All painted in red with specially prepared oil, having similar hairdo and each wearing a red lap lap. By virtue they all appeared to be biologically one.
As I found out later, this was intentionally done to strengthen the brotherly bond, respect and love for one another-the work of skilled haus man elders. Partly this implies to the transition from ordinary boys to young, beautiful men prepared to be active members of their respective communities.
Mothers and womenfolk of the Yagaum and Teitab clans could not hold back tears-both of sorrow and joy. Six weeks of separation was too much for them as they stood struggling impatiently to recognise their sons and grandsons among other young men.
"Today marks a new beginning for these young men", announced the haus man elder.
Total silence followed his introductory remarks. In the middle of the village arena stood his troop of four initiated boys and their respective mos or guardians; most of whom are one or two years older than their subjects.
The six-week ritual is not smooth sailing as they encountered certain problems or threats posed by ri¬vals (other haus man elders), an elder told me.
In the early hours of that particular Saturday, rain poured down on the thatched roof of the haus man creating a deafening atmosphere. However, the elders of Teitab proved too strong for forces behind it;
The first ray of sun shone through the coconut and banana leaves bringing hope to the enthusiastic young men and their guardian. As they watched in awe, the burning ball eventually made its way out over the damp tree tops and at the same time drying their muddied path.
Not one single initiation proceeds unchallenged I was later told.
After initial annotations the haus man elder now officially welcomes the public who have gathered to see his handiwork.
While waiting for the food, our short betel nut break ended as we turned for the spectacular ‘Daik’, a traditional dance performed as part of the initiation celebration accompanied by food distribution.
Normally, the feast and singsing continues to the next day however recently, elders have come to limit this due to alcohol related problems.
The initiation is often scheduled for Christmas to cater for school boys especially those who meet the haus man’s age requirement.
Madang is among other fortunate provinces that are likely to experience development through the in¬dustrial boom however I wonder how much of such traditions which make up the rich cultural identity of this beautiful tourist hub will be preserved.
Initiated boys doing a parade to the arena for the public to witness