Group revives Motuan pottery

Weekender
CULTURE
Lahui Arua Tarupa, the 95-year-old pottery expert.
Dobi Isaiah, founder and president of Helaro Association.

By KEVIN DAYONGA
HAILING from Porebada Village is 95-year-old Lahui Arua Tarupa, the oldest renowned ceramic artist and instructor, perhaps in the whole Motuan society.
She carries on the age-old tradition of women potters. Born in this coastal fishing village in 1924, like any other Motuan woman growing up, it was customary that she learn the skills, art and techniques of pottery from her mother and grandmother as well as the rituals surrounding the art.
Almost a century old today she and her children, her nieces and other relatives are clinging on to the dying tradition by a thin thread to continue the legacy as acclaimed potters her people from that era have left behind.
Historically, the maiden Hiri voyage on a lakatoi is said to have started out at Boera Village to Gulf, thus the Hiri trade commonly known to many, formed an important part of the culture of trade by the Motuan and Gulf people.
The Motuans braved the harsh weather conditions to trade surpluses of clay pots, kina (mother of pearl shell or oyster shells), and toea (cowrie shells) in exchange for sago and knowledge in traditional skills in sustainable gardening, hunting, fishing, building and sailing. The clay pots played a significant role in this trade system.
Lahui and another matriarch, Dimere with few others have told tales about the trade system and its importance in securing wealth, peace and the role of pottery when trading with the Gulf people.
Lahui has witnessed the changes occur through the years and much of what used to be the pride of their pottery culture have disappeared.
Doreka Dai, a woman leader from Boera confirms that “only a few remaining experts are still alive today and it’s a challenge trying to lure the next generation to have interest in this dying tradition. It’s different now; most of us do not know the processes and techniques of firing pottery. We have heard tales about this and have witnessed this in the earlier years of our lives but it’s not the same today.
“Pottery plays an integral role in Motuan society and is used for rites and rituals such as weddings, births, marriages, and burials, and it often symbolises hospitality and communality. The pots are also for household use. The large pot are used for cooking, preserving food, storing water, etc,’’ she said.

Revival of tradition
Western civilisation and its impacts in various areas have no doubt affected the once vibrant and thriving system. The need to revive this ancient tradition saw one woman leader from Porebada Village step out of her comfort zone and take on the challenge to bring back what is theirs.
Her name is Dobi Isaiah, president of Helaro Hope Association, a community-based organisation that provides empowerment programmes for women in her village.

Bubu Lahui giving instructions to women preparing clay.

In July this year the association, with the help ExxonMobil Limited and Advancing PNG: Women Leaders Network (APNG:WLN) held its first ever Hiri Motu pottery workshop in the village with an aim to set the course in reviving the dying pottery culture.
‘’So much has happened over time and has seen that the very systems that make the fabric of culture have eroded, due to obvious influences. We want to revive the once thriving Motuan culture that have played an important role in the Motuan society and the Hiri trade.
“What we are trying to do is revive pottery making and to enable our younger women to continue passing on the skill to the next generation. Not only that but to help them negotiate their way around using our very own resources to better their livelihoods.
“We are blessed to have one of our matriarchs, 95-year-old Lahui Arua Tarupa still around to run through with us and teach us the techniques. She has seen for herself the changes that have happened and has raised her hand to assist,” said Isaiah.
The workshop picked up interest from other stakeholders, one of which is the Motu-Koita Council. During the closing of the workshop chairman and Deputy Governor of NCD Dadi Toka Jnr applauded Helaro on initiating the training. The delighted Motuan son has thrown his support on the programme.
“The work that we are doing here is not to be treated lightly. The Motuans and the Koitabuans are now at the crossroad. Our identity is now at risk. That is why we want to do this kind of work all the time. We must not make this as a one-off workshop and then wait for another 10 years and come back and do another workshop.
“I’d like to thank the councilors and elders for their support in initiating and supporting Helaro on this project. I want to also acknowledge the two elderly women who have thrown their endless support in upskilling our next generation, Aunty Lahui and Aunty Dimere, thank you. Their contribution in this programme is immense. Without them, to run a programme of this kind is going be too hard. Thank you lohiamui (elderly women); you came and sat among us and this work was able to go forward.
“You have taken this important step, and now partners have come in to work with you all to support this initiative. I must congratulate you for this great job,’’ Toka Jnr said.
The Helaro Association hopes this initiative will develop and enhance skills, embrace culture and empower young people to hold on this important heritage. The association would like to see a cultural centre established in the near future which will include a pottery factory for the women to learn and continue this age-old tradition.
Doreka Dai who is also a member of APNG:WLN, and a local from this area, said the passing on of the rich Motu cultural knowledge of Hiri pottery from the generation that did the Hiri Motu trade to this generation was a great testament for this women’s organisation who were taking the lead in this fast evolving digital society we live in.
“The true act of taking back PNG and Porebada is through this approach by taking back our inheritance and the unique identify that defines us as Motuans from this part of the region. I want to commend Helaro Association and the executives, its members, the Porebaba community for reviving the Hiri pottery making and even going further to initiate this very important training,’’ she said.
She acknowledged and thanked ExxonMobil PNG, for believing and supporting PNG women to be vital development partners and demonstrated that once again through APNG: WLN and Helaro Association
Toka Jnr acknowledged the support of Advancing APNG:WLN and was very happy with the collaboration that has happened and would like to see more of the Motu-Koitabu councilors involved in this partnership.
He pledged K5,000 for the pottery training to continue and gave the Helaro Association the opportunity to display their pottery making skills during the recent Hiri Moale Festival.

  • Kevin Dayonga is a volunteer with the APNG:WLN

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