More than a beauty contest


THERE are many cultural events coinciding with the country’s independence celebrations nationwide in the month of September every year.
Hiri Moale Festival is one such event that hosts the Hiri Hanenamo quest to coincide with the PNG Independence celebrations.
In many parts of the country, tribal boundaries and customs remain great barriers for the progress Papua New Guinea so desperately seeks to attain.
The fear of enemies still permeates the mindsets of many tribes imprisoning people from pursuing dreams that can develop into better progressive outcomes.
The Hiri Moale Festival means more than what the ancestors and forefathers of the Motuans dreamed about.
It now means breaking down the barriers that hold back Papua New Guinea from progressing into a prosperous and respected nation.
The success of the Hiri trade was based on the Motuan tradition of daring to explore the unknown for the collective benefit.
Hanenamo is a young woman who displays the right attitude, manners and behaviour and whose character is worthyof such title. She observes the rules, norms and laws of her society bringing happiness to her family.
It is this original concept that the modern-day Hiri Hanenamo (queen) competition is derived from. In fact the wife of the first Hiri pioneer Edai Siabo was the first Hiri Hanenamo for her display of commitment and dedication to the rituals vital to ensuring a successful Hiri Trading voyage.
Hiri Hanenamo is not attributed to beauty alone; beauty is only one aspect of being a Hiri queen. Elegance and grace in carrying out duties are also considered. Approval and appraisal by village elders honour such a person.
Today many of these components of village life are taken into consideration by the judges during the Hiri Hanenamo quest staged at the festivities.
A young girl is declared hanenamo if she displays the appropriate traditional qualities to the judges. In addition, authentic tattoo designs, bodily decoration and ornaments according to the background of the woman’s village are also taken into accounts.
The Motuan society continues to reinforce their heritage to their young women.
In 2016, Olive Tau was crowned Miss Hiri Hanenamo followed by her runner-up Boni Bitu from Porebada village. In third place and taking the Miss Hetura was Maha Asi from Tubuserea Village.
Women from villages in the Motu-Koitabu region aged between 18 and 25 are eligible to contest the Hiri-Moale Festival crown.
Former Hiri-Moale queen Hebou Dikana said knowledge of traditional Hiri trade expeditions and traditional dancing was important for the contestants.
“It’s how well we know our culture, our tradition and the Hiri trade expedition, and our best performance in traditional attire determines (who is crowned) the queen,” she added.
The contestants gear up to welcome the Hiri trading canoe lakatoi, which returns from a traditional expedition in Gulf. It shows how Motu women welcome their young men and husbands returning from a traditional trading voyage.
Another former Hiri queen, Meroni Anama, 50, who was crowned in 1988, said their men traded yam and clay pots for sago.
“Young sisters, wives, and mothers have to sit in the house waiting for the return of the young men who had gone for the Hiri voyage.
“How long the voyage takes them, the young girls have to sit in the houses and wait. When they return, only the virgins welcome them, singing and dancing in celebration of their safe return,” the former Hiri queen added.
The Motuan men sailed westwards during the south-easterly winds known locally as the lahara. After the trade, they returned when the winds changed eastwards. These winds are called the laurabada.
According to oral history, the first sailing trip was led by an Edai Siabo of Boera village. Siabo was said to be inspired by a sea spirit after a fishing trip.
With this inspiration, he and his henchmen built a lakatoi (double hulled canoe) and made the first trip to the Gulf coastline.
This trip and subsequent trips were necessary because during these times there was usually drought along the Motuan coastline. Return trips brought bountiful sago to last throughout this drought.
The actual trade would take only a few days however the return trip usually took two to three months.
During this long wait repairs are done on the canoes and relationships are strengthened among the traders. As a result of this long period away from home, the uncertainty back home results in wives and partners of crew members re-marrying.
The return trips are usually arduous and dangerous as the wet winds bring with them storms. Lives are often lost also during these trips.
The last of such trading trips was in the late 1950s where a lagatoi sank just off the coast of Boera village. Several lives were lost in this mishap.
To visitors, the festival is not only a unique cultural experience but in the modern day context a significant event drawing together PNG’s other diverse tribal traditions.
Added to that, it is witnessed every year also by PNG’s resident international community and those that specifically fly in to get that special feeling in witnessing that timeless traditional cultural connection.
It demonstrates the Motuan people’s proud tradition as seafarers and their connection with not only their natural environment, but their ability to interact with different tribal groups in the Gulf and along the Papuan coastline.
The Hiri trade as is famously known was borne out of the natural ability of the Motuans to master navigational techniques, sea craft design, observance of weather patterns and living in harmony with the spirits of the sea and the air
It also showed their advancement and sophistication in developing the knowledge and techniques in making durable clay pots as a major trading commodity when other Papuan coastline cultures were not that advanced.
One other very important aspect of the festival is the appreciation of the natural beauty of Motuan women.
Well-endowed not only in manner and respect for custom, the young women also display grace and elegance in the natural sway of their dances telling the stories of the adventures encountered on the long Hiri trade voyages.
Many have much to learn from this spectacular custom because it portrays respect and appreciation for other races and their own unique ways of existence with their fellowmen.
It stands for the pursuit of new horizons, be it social, diplomacy, education, sharing of technology, knowledge and most importantly the principles and ability of being able to communicate in unity the language of peace among different tribes.
The Motuans dared to forge new alliances and explore the unknown based only instinct and their natural abilities to think outside of the confines of traditional limitations and fear of the mysterious.
They dared to take that first step into the unknown which is still a fear in many cultures and lives in Papua New Guinea today.

  • Peter S Kinjap is a freelance writer and a blogger, email:

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