By MICHELLE BENUA
THIS is the story of two friends from rival villages having one dream to unify their people and to revive their fading culture.
It is about how this dream and the dedication of these brothers brought a scattered community of villages together as one to bond, celebrate and educate in the name of unity and culture.
The Huhu Rural Local Level Government is made up of 29 wards and a population of approximately 30,000.
Maiwara and Wagawaga villages, with the largest numbers of war canoes in the Huhu area of Milne Bay, have always been the leading war villages since before their history was written. Ironically these two villages had always been rivals dating back to the days of their ancestors and cannibalism, sharing nothing but their thirst for blood.
Led by Maiwara chief and cultural leader Kaimuyoni Ila, and Wagawaga chief and cultural leader Dago Alisa, their canoes were engaged by Egwalau Tours and Events Milne Bay Ltd, to showcase a glimpse of the Huhu war canoe culture to tourists that come in regularly to the shores of Milne Bay.
Through this engagement, a relationship was developed with the directors of the company, Maxine Nadile and Elaine Bate. This relationship provided the understanding of the values and importance of culture and maintaining traditions. The leaders recognised that by showcasing their culture, they not only entertain the tourists and deliver benefits back to their people but also maintain it for the younger generation, making sure that generation understood and were proud of their identity.
With the support of Egwalau Tours and Events, the Huhu War Canoe Festival committee was formed. This committee headed by Ila and Alisa, influenced by their visions and obligations, progressively shaped the Huhu War Canoe Festival.
“It has always been our dream to create something that we share that belongs to us, to our people. Something that can bring us together, to look after, nurture and watch grow, and be proud that it is ours.
“We believe that this festival will bridge the people of Huhu as one people. The lopos (Huhu war canoes) have been the identity of all Huhu people since the creation of our ancestors, belonging to a time when warfare and cannibalism were a part of life.
“Since our partnership with local company, Egwalau Tours and Events Milne Bay Ltd, we have attracted outside interest but most importantly we are learning the importance of teaching others and our own people the value of our traditions.
“We are here to build and to identify ourselves as Huhu people, to revive and develop our culture through the Huhu War Canoe Festival.
“We are a people of our culture and we are proud of where we come from, our identity. We want to share this with the rest of the province, the country and the whole world. Maybe be an example to them.”
These were sentiments shared by Ila and Alisa before the inaugural Huhu War Canoe Festival on Oct 28 and 29, 2016.
Three years later the festival has grown in both status and recognition not only has it attracted outside interest but it has also attracted the interest of young people, the youths of our community, and the rebels of our pride. Every year since 2016 there has been an increase in both interest and participation of the festival by our Huhu youths.
Ila said, “We held meetings and awareness that reached the ears of our youths and quite a number of them turned up. Even on the days of the festival, majority of the participants were our youths.
“The Huhu people and land are in the centre of development and this has greatly affected our culture negatively. To know that our youths received and accepted the message of reviving culture very well and by responding to it through their participation in the festival has made us proud that they are identifying themselves.
“As the leaders of the Huhu War Canoe Festival Committee as well as chiefs and cultural leaders of our area, we are satisfied with what we have delivered, in fact the event have been delivered beyond our expectations…and we will do the same again this year.”
With the positivity of our youths, the commitment of the huhu people, the support of local business organisations and the cooperation of the committee, we can safely say that unity has been achieved and the journey of reviving huhu culture and identity is well underway, thanks to the dream, determination and commitment of two men from ‘once upon a time’ rival villages.
The Huhu war canoes have always been given an opportunity to be showcased during the prestigious National Kenu and Kundu Festival. Unfortunately, they were never able to display the real war canoe culture. With their own event, the Huhu people bring you closer to the lives of the lopos, the traditions and the customs involved.
This one event and the cooperation of the committee brought together the people of Huhu not only in participation but in preparation as well. And not only were the people of Huhu involved but the arms of unity stretched out as far as the companies that establish business on Huhu soil.
NBPOL- Milne Bay Estates contributed with transport and labour for the construction of the car park, roads and a bridge. Saban- Central Sawmill contributed with the provision of timber for the buildings. Islands Petroleum Ltd provided logistics to move participants.
Other smaller business houses from the area played their part too by providing generators, transport, security and other essential services. This event truly defined ‘ownership by the people for the people.
The Huhu War Canoe Festival at Maiwara Cultural Village was all about feasting, traditional exchanging, traditional dancing and of course the launching, demonstrations and re-enactments presented by the Huhu war canoes.
“As the chairman of the Huhu War Canoe Festival Committee as well as a chief and cultural leader of my area, I am satisfied with what we have delivered, in fact the event was delivered beyond my expectations,” Ila said.
Before the festival the chairman and his deputy called together meetings with cultural elders, chiefs and leaders of the war canoe villages (Maiwara, Wagawaga, kilakilana, Gwavili, Gamadoudou). These meetings were planned not only to win the support of the leaders but more importantly they were held to emphasise that this event was theirs.
A day before the festival, the leaders with their people arrived with the intent to deliver. After the festival they left fully satisfied that they delivered.
It was stressed that through this event it was up to the leaders to educate today’s generation on the importance of maintaining their identity through the preservation of culture.
The festival focuses on the war canoe culture. All villages along the Huhu area will be taking part. Coastal villages including Gwavili, Gamadoudou, Kilakilana, Gabugabuna, Maiwara and Wagawaga will be seen with their lopos.
This year’s Huhu War Canoe Festival happens on Oct 25 and 26 at the Wagawaga Village, a canoe ride across from Alotau. It will be followed by the Kenu and Kundu Festival in early November.
An actual re-enactment of the war canoe culture; war raids, feasting and launching of the canoes, will take place. Spells will be chanted, warrior cries will be heard, cultural dancing will be seen, exchanges of gifts will be made and feasts will take place.
- Michelle Benua is a freelance writer.