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ETHNONYMS: Dadibi, Karimui, Mikaru


Identification. "Daribi" is the name for a people of Papua New Guinea who speak a single language with little or no dialect differentiation. Among themselves they make a distinction between the Daribi of Mount Karimui (Migaru or Korobo) and those of Mount Suaru. The Karimui Daribi distinguish between the kuai bidi, inhabitants of the volcanic plateau, and the buru axe bidi, limestone-country people.

Location. Daribi occupy the volcanic plateaus of Mount Karimui and Mount Suaru and the area of limestone ridges to the west of Karimui in the south of the Simbu (Chimbu) Province, adjacent to the Gulf and Southern Highlands Provinces at about 6° 30 S and 144° 30 to 144° 45 E. Human habitation averages between 900 and 1,050 meters above sea level, with some subsistence activity at higher and lower elevations. Except where broken by gardening and second growth, the area is covered by tall, midmontane rain forest and is drained by the Tua River, a main tributary of the Purari. Most rainfall occurs during the season of the South Asian monsoon (November-April) ; the rest of the year is drier, and overnight temperatures in June are often quite chilly.

Demography. Although the earliest census figures are unreliable, it would be realistic to estimate an increase from Between 3,000 and 4,000 Daribi at the time of pacification (1961-1962) to more than 6,000 at present. This increase was largely the result of the suppression of malaria, which was endemic to the region before that time.

linguistic Affiliation. The Daribi language is classified as a member of the Teberan stock-level Family of languages, which includes only one other language, Polopa, spoken by a neighboring people to the southwest. The Teheran is a family of the Teberan-Pawaian Super-Stock, which includes as well the Pawaian language, a large number of whose speakers also reside at Karimui. Most Pawaian speakers at Karimui are bilingual with Daribi; however, very few Daribi speak Pawaian.

History and Cultural Relations

According to their own ethnohistorical tradition, the Daribi lived originally near Mount Ialibu, in the southern highlands, and then moved eastward, inhabiting the deep valley of the Tua River to the west of Mount Karimui. During this time their staple food was sago, and they took advantage of the large limestone caverns there for shelter. They intermarried with the Pawaian people living at the base of Mount Karimui, eventually moving up onto the plateau. Many of the Daribi phratries trace their origins to Daribi-Pawaian marriages made at that time. Those Pawaian groups that were not assimilated by the Daribi were driven eastward ahead of the expanding population to the valleys of the Sena and Pio rivers, where they now reside. The Daribi seem to have been "pursued" by intermarrying Wiru peoples from the southern Highlands in the same fashion as they drove the Pawaians, for Several Wiru clans took up residence in the extreme west of the settled region at Karimui, and were driven back to the Wiru area late in the nineteenth century after a period of sorcery accusations and internecine warfare. These movements, and certainly the ability to settle inland, away from the rivers, seem to have been involved with the introduction of sweet potatoes as a staple crop. Daribi had their first non-Melanesian contacts with the explorers Leahy and Dwyer in 1930 and Champion in 1936, and they were pacified in 1961-1962, when an airstrip, patrol post, and Lutheran mission station were built at Karimui. Daribi were incorporated in the newly formed Chimbu District (Simbu Province) in 1966.


Traditionally a small extended family, polygynous or based on a group of brothers, occupied a single-story longhouse in the center of a cleared swidden. The house was divided front-toback into respective men's and women's quarters. Other, related families occupied similar quarters nearby. In times of warfare or uncertainty a number of such families or a lineage or small clan of up to sixty people would occupy a two-story longhouse (sigibe' ), with the men's quarters in the upper story for defensive advantage and the women's quarters below. Since administrative control was established, residence in nucleated villages or hamlets has been the norm. Small extended or nuclear families occupy single-story longhouses facing the road in parallel rows, usually with a small yard or garden area surrounding each one.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In traditional as in present times, most significant production and consumption is centered on the family, with its sexual division of labor. Subsistence is based on bush fallowing, or swidden hortiCulture, with sweet potatoes as the staple crop. Sago is grown to supplement this in low-lying regions, and other important crops include bananas, pandanus, maize, yams, dry taro, pitpit, sugarcane, and sweet manioc. Tobacco is grown for home consumption as well as trade, but its earlier importance as a cash crop has been supplanted by cardamoms, grown extensively for commercial export. Pigs are raised for purposes of exchange, nurtured by women when small and then permitted to forage for themselves in the bush. Some chickens are also kept, as well as cattle to a limited extent. Hunting and foraging remain substantial contributors to general subsistence; the favored quarry is wild pigs and marsupials, and bush-fowl eggs, sago grubs, and a wide variety of mushrooms are major forage items. Limited amounts of fish and crayfish are obtained by damming streams.

Industrial Arts. Dugout canoes, wooden bowls, body shields, and bows were produced from hewn wood, whereas fences, rafts, houses, cane bridges, and arrows were constructed from raw forest materials. Traditional industry also included the crafting of bamboo pipes and musical instruments from bamboo and the production of bark cloth.

Trade. Tobacco is grown, cured over the domestic fires of the longhouse, and twisted into large, spindle-shaped packets to be used as the principal trade item. It is traded for decorative bird plumage with peoples living in more heavily forested areas. Before contact tobacco and plumage were traded, Together with extracted pandanus oil, for salt, ax blades, and, later, pearl shells with South Chimbu peoples. Presently the feathers are exchanged for cash. Prior to extensive contact with Highland peoples, Daribi traded with the Polopa of the Erave River and the Wiru of Pangia.

Division of Labor. The basic division of labor is sexual and orientational: men work with vegetation above ground level, including the felling and cutting of trees, planting and tending tree crops, and construction of houses, fences, other external structures, and tools. Men also hunt, supervise animal husbandry, slaughter, butcher, and prepare meats. Women work with vegetation at or below ground level, clear brushwood, plant, weed, and harvest ground crops.

Land Tenure. Named tracts of land, bounded in most cases by watercourses or other natural features, are Traditionally held in common by members of a clan or exogamous Lineage group. Male members and their wives are permitted to use whatever land they wish within a tract for gardening, dwelling, or other productive purposes, provided only that it is not: being used by someone else. Plants or tree crops, however, regardless of where they may be located, belong exclusively to the person who has planted them.


Kin Groups and Descent. A Daribi child should, as a matter of moral principle, be recruited to its father's clan through payments (pagehaie, or, colloquially, "head" payments) made to a representative of its mother's line, usually the maternal uncle (pagebidi). Should the payments not be given, the maternal line has the right (not necessarily exercised) of claiming the child. The clan, which holds in Common the wealth through which these payments are made, is thus ideally patrilineal. Clans are composed of zibi, minimally the sibling set that "becomes a group of brothers after the sisters marry out." Clans are grouped into phratries, tracing Descent from a named male ancestor.

Kinship Terminology. A terminology of the Iroquois type is used with respect to consanguineals in one's own and ascending generations, whereas a Hawaiian-type terminology is used with respect to those in descending generations.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Daribi traditionally betrothed girls from an early age, often infancy, and tried to betroth them to wealthy or prestigious men if possible. The people were traditionally highly polygynous; women were married at puberty, whereas men, who had to assemble a bride-price, normally married about ten years afterward. This imbalance in age permitted most men to be polygynous at middle age, and marriage to sisters or other close relatives of an earlier wife was encouraged. Daribi state summarily that they marry among those with whom they do not "eat meat" or share wealth. This makes the clan, which likewise shares in contributing meat and wealth to recruitment of its members, something of a "holding Company" for wives. A woman's close relatives in her natal clan are called her pagebidi, and, as in the case of her offspring, her membership must be redeemed from them. In statistical terms, fully half of all marriages at any given time are the result of a transference of the betrothed or married woman to someone other than the originally intended spouse. Divorce often involves nothing more than a transference among men in a woman's clan of marriage; this transference is also the most common consequence of widowhood. Postmarital Residence is virilocal by normative preference, though there are exceptions.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit, or household, is determined more strongly by division of labor than by marriage, though a marital household is the norm. For example, a separate household was often formed (with its own building) of all the unmarried youths and widows past childbearing age in a community, so they might cooperate in gardening.

Inheritance. Since a person's pigs and wealth, including money, are most often dispersed in kin payments at death, Inheritance frequently comes down to the right to share in clan lands and wealth. The garden of a deceased person goes to the surviving spouse or gardening partner; rights in bearing trees are inherited patrilineally.

Socialization. A child is not punished for its acts before it is felt to be rational, that is, before it "has a soul" and can speak. Male children are socialized by peers and by participation in male activities, female children through their involvement in women's gardening and child-rearing work.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Collective activities, meetings and arbitration, work groups, and warfare and vengeance undertakings have in the past served as active foci for lineal, factional, and coresidential groupings. Often, but not necessarily, such task groupings coincide with the clan or even a coresidential clustering of clans. Before the institution of centralized administrative control, cooperative parties of men organized themselves in this way to clear large tracts of land for gardening or for military action. Influential men, often the eldest of a group of brothers, take the initiative in planning and supervising collective tasks, more through the exhorting of others than actual direction. Kin relationship is often the strongest or most consistent single factor in the galvanizing of these activities, though it is by no means the only one.

Political Organization. A coresidential grouping of the dimensions of a clan or village predictably divides, at any given time, into two opposed factions, roughly along the lines of kin affiliation or affinity. The men of a faction are the hana, followers and supporters of a big-man or significant leader (genuaibidi ). Such leaders would often bid for the patronage of younger men by transferring betrothals to them or by feeding them with the surplus meals received each day from their pluralities of wives.

Social Control. Body-substance sorcery (animarli ) and secret murder through sorcery assassination (keberebidi ) were often resorted to for vengeance; perhaps the threat of these actions helped to ensure social compliance. Certainly the most effective instrument of social control is "talk," that is, public approval and disapproval, an organ of consensual enforcement that has been amplified by the village-court system.

Conflict. Bouts of hysterical public anger, often escalating into factional confrontations, mark the stresses and strains of ordinary village life. If aggravated over a long period they may lead to residential splitting along factional lines. "Third parties," either leaders or adjacent groups, will often try to mediate these fights. Traditional warfare took the form of ambushes, skirmishes along boundaries, sieges, and occasional massacres by organized groupings of clans acting in concert.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Whether or not they believe in them, and incidental to any profession of a religious faith, Daribi fear the displeasure, attack, or possession of ghosts (izibidi ) and, perhaps less frequently, of "place spirits"local beings dwelling beneath the ground, in ravines, or in trees. Ghosts, most likely those of friends or relatives, are thought to take action against those who betray them, and place spirits against those who violate their habitations.

Religious Practitioners. Traditional Daribi religious Practitioners include spirit mediums, defined as "ill" because they have an insecure relation to possessing ghosts, and shamans (sogoyezibidi ), who have "died" and attained a complete rapport with their spirits. Since most forms of mental and physical illness traditionally were considered to be effects of spirit possession, shamans functioned as effective curers and charged for their services even in precontact times. The large majority of both kinds of practitioners are women.

Ceremonies. The major traditional rite is the habu, performed to "bring back to the house" the ghost of someone who has died unmourned in the bush. In the habu, young men are "possessed" by the alienated ghost and spend weeks in the forest hunting animals and smoking the meat. When they return to the house they bring the ghost "on their skins," and it must be dislodged by wrestling with the "house People," after which the meat is blamed for the ghost's hostility and consumed as a mortuary feast. Other rites include those of marriage, initiation, and the pig feast, introduced from the highlands.

Arts. Depictive incision on arrow shafts and other implements is practiced. Daribi express themselves musically with the flute, the Jew's harp, and mourning laments. Storytelling (namu pusabo ) is the best-developed artistic medium, along with lyric poetry.

Medicine. In addition to shamanic curers, traditional medicine included herbal remedies and a surgical practitioner (bidi egabo bidi ) who removed arrows through a skilled knowledge of body movements.

Death and Afterlife. Traditional Daribi admitted human mortality but denied death through natural causes. The dead are believed to survive as ghosts who communicate with the living through spirit mediums and shamans and who travel, usually at night, along watercourses. They live together at an ill-defined place to the west, possibly in a lake.

See alsoChimbu


Hide, Robin L, editor (1984). South Simbu: Studies in Demography, Nutrition, and Subsistence. Boroko, Papua New Guinea: Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research.

Hughes, Ian M. (1970). "Pigs, Sago, and Limestone." Mankind 7:272-278.

Wagner, Roy (1967). The Curse of Souw. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wagner, Roy (1972). Habu. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wagner, Roy (1978). Lethal Speech. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Weiner, James F., editor (1988). Mountain Papuans. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.