Simbu man goes tubuan

Normal, Weekender

It is common occurrence now for outsiders, including people of other nationalities and races, to be admitted into the tubuan. But this is done only with the strong insistence on strict adherence to admission procedures and protocols, writes Dr JACOB SIMET

STEPHEN Bagme Waine, acting festival officer with the National Cultural Commission (NCC), is a 54 year old man from the Kerowagi District in Simbu province.
Stephen was inducted into the Tolai Tubuan Society, during the recent 15th National Mask Festival in Kokopo, East New Britain.
For some time after his induction, he could not stop thanking his sponsor  for making this possible.
Stephen was the fourth non-Tolai staff of the NCC to be inducted into the Tubuan Society in the last ten years.
Stephen’s was a promotions officer with the NCC.
Only recently he took on the job of acting festivals officer, which required him to be involved in the festivals of the NCC.
One of the tasks was to compile information or data on the masks of PNG.
This partly involves documentation of all the masks that attend festivals in different parts of the country, such as those which participate at the National Mask Festival.
Apart from the National Mask Festival in East New Britain there are two provincial events, the Gulf Mask Festival held in Toare Village in East Kerema of  Gulf province and the Namatanai Mask Festival of New Ireland.
After documenting masks at the Gulf Mask Festival in mid June this year, Stephen travelled to Rabaul to do the same at the 15th National Mask Festival.
Among other documentation tools Stephen took questionnaires for those associated with or are responsible for the masks.
He was greatly surprised however when he arrived in Rabaul on the day before the festival opened, and found himself and two colleagues barred from entering the tubuan sanctuary or taraiu.
One of these was Tolai himself and the other was non-Tolai but who had been inducted into the tubuan some five years back.
These two colleagues dropped Stephen off in the village and entered the tubuan sanctuary on their own.
There was no one around at the house and Stephen felt very uneasy.
He wondered how he would conduct his work if he could not even get within fifty meters of the people he was supposed to talk to.
The isolation of Stephen in a deserted village was perhaps not as bad as the isolation of another officer of the NCC in the bush some time earlier, with no houses or people in sight and only mosquitoes for company.
This particular officer had come to work with the festival and masks. As he had not been inducted into the tubuan at that time, he was given the same treatment as Stephen.
In the end this particular officer was inducted into the tubuan to allow him to be with his colleagues working with the masks groups, including the tubuan.
Stephen’s dilemma was still there on the eve of the festival opening.
His colleagues had thought about having him inducted but they could locate any tabu or shell-money, which was required as Stephen’s entry fee.
These colleagues felt some sympathy for Stephen when they entered the tubuan sanctuary later that afternoon to find a non-Tolai officer of the Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) and a whiteman who was consultant photographer of the TPA, sitting with the men after they had just been inducted into the tubuan after payment of their fees in tabu.
These two men were in the same situation as Stephen but were lucky to have tabu sponsors ready on their arrival in Rabaul.
Stephen’s colleagues quickly found some tabu and Stephen was inducted into the tubuan two days later; enabling him to perform his tasks.
He was inducted by the tubuan ToGirgir, an important piece of information for Stephen in case he was quizzed later on how he had entered the tubuan society.
Stephen Waine and the two men of the TPA are part of a group of people in a class within the main body of the tubuan society, who have to be admitted into the society out of necessity.
In the same class are people who have to be admitted because of their association with Tolai society either through marriage, friendship or other forms of association.
Their admission enables them to be with the menfolk in the village and when they enter the tubuan sanctuary.
In this regard they are part of the larger class which includes a large number of young boys who get admitted every year into the tubuan.
They are at the bottom rung of the class structure of five levels in the tubuan hierarchy, which takes a lifetime to scale.
Most Tolai will get out of this lowest rung and move up, as they get older but most outsiders like Stephen and his TPA colleagues may never. Only very few outsiders ever get past this level.
Since the first missionaries settled amongst the Tolai in 1875, many outsiders have been admitted into the tubuan society; including some Fijian missionaries. In the early years this admission of outsiders into the society caused some consternation among the people.
There were those who considered that it would diminish the value of the tubuan and the society.
However, while people have discussed it over the years since, outsiders continue to be admitted into the society.
It is common occurrence now for outsiders, including people of other nationalities and races to be admitted into the tubuan.
However, as a requirement, this is done only with the strong insistence on strict adherence to admission procedures and protocols, a part of which is the payment of the required fees in tabu.
Unlike many indigenous cultural institutions which quickly eroded and disappeared soon after contact with the outside world, the tubuan has maintained a very large part of its traditional integrity.
The body of the society feels quite at ease in the thought that the larger part of its cultural protocol remains galvanised enough to weather most threats being brought on by modernday situations.
An important part of the of this galvanising veneer is the society’s ability to respond and adapt to modern situations, such as the admission of Stephen Waine, his colleagues from the TPA and other outsiders, whose intrusion, in other situations, would have otherwise be seen as threatening to the institution.