By NATHAN LATI
EVERY myth and legend in PNG has a connection to a tribe, the environment or flora and fauna.
Rarely seen wild dogs or the New Guinea singing dogs are linked to many myths and legends in PNG. In some places in PNG, if you see one of them in the jungles, it’s either good or bad luck for you. Mt Giluwe is home to a population of New Guinea singing dogs but they are not seen by the locals, rather they hear the songs in the nights and early hours of the morning from the caves at the peak of Mt Giluwe where humans are unable to reach them. The echoes from the songs make it difficult to tell which direction the songs or howls are coming from and where the dogs actually live.
Interestingly, the tracks between their hunting grounds and caves are not similar to those of other animals in the forest. The locals believe that the New Guinea singing dog has a smart technique to jump or leap over to avoid making tracks to their homes. For years, it has been hard for the local people to locate where they live at Mt Giluwe.
For 20-year-old Thomas Tenda from Piambil village near the foothills of Mt Giluwe in the Imbongu District, it was a different story. In 2013, there was a dry season in the area and he went hunting with his dogs upstream Aleponga River which originates from the foot of Mt Giluwe.
He had heard stories of New Guinea singing dogs living in Mt Giluwe but never saw one in his lifetime.
“I have seen few footprints, faeces and remains of scavenged wild animals that are believed to be hunted by New Guinea singing dogs but they have no tracks and footprints to confirm anything further,’’ said Thomas.
However, that fine afternoon in May 2013, Thomas could get to see what he was told in legends and myths. Armed with a catapult, he walked up the bank of Aleponga River with his hunting dogs. After walking for a while, his dogs were barking and chasing something unusual around the banks of the river and into the tree roots nearby. He ran over to see and to his surprise, there were three New Guinea singing dog puppies which were chased by his hunting dogs and trapped inside a hallowed-root of a big tree. He put his hands through and retrieved all three puppies safely and brought them home.
It is believed that the mother must have brought the three pups to drink water from the stream but abandoned them after sensing people and dogs approaching them.
In the village, three families adopted one puppy each; there were two males and one female puppy.
Unfortunately, after few months, one male and the female died because they could not survive on the food provided for domesticated dogs.
“They are used to raw and wild animals as their food and it was difficult for them to survive on normal food; they were losing weigh each day and finally died,’’ Thomas recalled.
Iceman’s characteristics are not matched to any of the domesticated dogs that live in the community and even his features are so complex; he is like a German shepherd and husky hybrid. His eyes are no normal, relatively slanted with prominent features that are rarely seen in other dogs and he has whole brownish-orange eyeballs that look fierce.
However, one of the male puppies which was adopted by a local secondary school teacher survived to this day and its name, Iceman is now known in the villages of Tona and Piambil. Thomas said “the name implies that the dog lived in cold areas of Mt Giluwe where the temperature drops to 5 degree Celsius and below.’’
Iceman is a wonder dog in the community. At night when bored, he gets to a hillside and sings (howls) alone and then stops. It is like a signal looking for his tribe or a hunter’s call and off he goes hunting. He returns in the early hours of the morning and sleeps near his house. And it has been a normal routine for him in the village.
Now he has become used to food provided by his master and can be friendly to people when they feed him with pancakes, rice and meat but still he is not friendly to all like domesticated dogs can be.
Iceman’s characteristics are not matched to any of the domesticated dogs that live in the community and even his features are so complex; he is like a German shepherd and husky hybrid. His eyes are not ‘normal’ but relatively slanted with prominent features that are rarely seen in other dogs. And he has brownish-orange eyeballs that look fierce.
The look on the face will tell anyone clearly that Iceman is not just any other domesticated dog and its mood is unpredictable.
There are highly likely chances of cross breeding in the community with Iceman involved and it’s interesting to see a new breed or hybrid in the community.
The curiosity might drive an urge for others to see the reality in a place like Piambil Village near the foothills of Mt Giluwe whilst legends and myths remain the mystery for its people and the environment. The New Guinea singing dog still remains where it belongs in its own world racing with the changes in their environment.
According to the locals, the population of the New Guinea singing dogs at Mt Giluwe might have been affected by the 1997 bushfire that burnt parts of Mt Giluwe vegetation.
Some of the usual signs frequently left by New Guinea singing dogs are no longer seen in the area. The remains of scavenged animals used to be common but are not seen anymore these days in the jungles of Mt Giluwe and that is a concern to the local communities now.
It is not only the New Guinea singing dogs but there are some rare flora and fauna species believed to have become extinct as a result from the 1997 bushfire.
Nevertheless, there is so much to see in the Tona and Piambil villages with the access road from Tambul to Walium remains serviceable by four-wheeled-drive
The road used to be the oldest highlands highway connecting Mt Hagen and Mendi.
Tourism developments in the area are predicted to change with the support of local elites and leaders of Imbongu District.
As for Iceman, he will live to testify to the local legends and myths that there is a co-existence in the environment connecting people and nature.
- Nathan Lati is a product development officer with the PNGTPA.