views updated


ETHNONYMS: Bosavi, Orogo, Waluli, Wisaesi


Identification. "Bosavi kalu" (meaning "men of Bosavi") is the collective designation of four closely related horticulturalist groups who live in the rain forest of the Great Papuan Plateau. Of these four groups (Kaluli, Orogo, Waluli, and Wisaesi), the Kaluli are the most numerous and the most thoroughly studied.

Location. Kaluli longhouses are located along the Northern slope of Mount Bosavi at roughly 142°38 to 142°55 W and 6°23 to 6 °29 S, between the altitudes of 900 and 1,000 meters, in the drainage of the Isawa and Bifo rivers. This is a land of lush, largely virgin rain forest, where the vegetation is unbroken except for the small settlement clearings scattered throughout. Seasonality is not based on changes in temperature, because that averages between 29° and 32° C yearround. Rather, the year is divided into a relatively dry season (March to November) and a rainier one (December to February). During the rainy season there are frequent and violent rainstorms, with driving winds, torrential rains, and impressive thunder and lightning displays. The region is rich in birds and wild game, and it is cut through with myriad brooks and streams.

Demography. The Kaluli were estimated at 1,200 Individuals in 1969 and 2,000 in 1987, which makes them the largest single language group on the plateau. Population levels for all plateau groups are thought to have been substantially higher in the precontact years, but the 1940s brought epidemics of measles and influenza, which devastated many of the groups. The Kaluli lost as much as 25 percent of their population to these epidemics, and their numbers have never fully recovered. Infant mortality rates today are quite high, and influenza epidemics still ravage the plateau periodically.

linguistic Affiliation. Kaluli is a member of the Bosavi Family of Non-Austronesian languages, which also includes Beami (Gebusi).

History and Cultural Relations

Physiological and cultural evidence suggest that the Kaluli are more closely related to lowland Papuan cultural groups than to those of the nearby highlands, but there is no hard evidence to suggest that they originated anywhere outside of the general territory that they currently occupy. Early trade relations and cultural borrowings appear to have been predominantly with the peoples to their north and west. Throughout their existence, the Kaluli have been moving very gradually eastward, away from established settlement areas, moving ever more deeply into the virgin forests. Some of this movement may be attributed to a need to seek fresh garden lands, but it may also be explained in part as a defensive response to the expansionist pressures of the Beami and Etoro, traditional Kaluli enemies who live to the west and northwest of Kaluli territory. Warfare and raiding were common on the plateau, but there were longstanding trade relations between the Kaluli and certain of the other plateau groups, particularly with the Sonia to the west and the Huli of the Papuan highlands. First European contact on the plateau occurred in 1935, bringing with it the introduction of new goods to the regional trade networkmost significantly, steel axes and knives. World War II brought a temporary halt to Australian government exploration of the plateau, which only recommenced in 1953. At this time, there began more frequent though still irregular contacts with Australian administrators and more direct interventions into the lives of the plateau peoples. Raiding and cannibalism were outlawed by 1960, and in 1964 missionaries built an airstrip near Kaluli territory to serve two mission stations established nearby.



The Kaluli live in about twenty autonomous longhouse Communities of approximately sixty individuals (or fifteen Families) each. The longhouse is an elevated structure, about 18 meters by 9 meters, with a veranda at front and rear, and built roughly at the center of the community's garden lands. Inside, the longhouse is divided lengthwise down the center by a long hall, along either side of which are found the married men's sleeping platforms alternating with cooking hearths and, above the hearths, meat-smoking racks. Partitioned off from the men's platforms, and running the length of the structure along the outside walls, the married women's sleeping platforms follow the same pattern as the men's, and a wife will occupy the platform directly on the other side of her husband's partition. Very young children sleep with their mothers. Older male children and bachelors sleep together at the back of the longhouse, while marriageable women sleep communally at the front. The hallway, and the space just before the front and back doors of the longhouse are public areas. The area immediately surrounding the longhouse is cleared of forest growth, and here there are likely to be found a few small outbuildings to house visitors, and some of the land is planted in bananas, pitpit, and sugarcane. Other small shelters are built near the individual gardens that are scattered throughout the longhouse territory.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Sago is the staple of the Kaluli diet, processed from palms that self-propagate in the forest. This food is supplemented by garden producebananas, pandanus, breadfruit, pitpit, sugarcane, taro, and sweet potatoes. Protein is derived from wild game, lizards, fish, and crayfish. While the Kaluli keep domesticated pigs, these are only killed on ceremonial occasions, and the pig meat is distributed as gifts. Another ceremonially Important food is grubs, which are incubated in sago-palm hearts and distributed like pork.

Industrial Arts. Items of Kaluli manufacture are few and, for the most part, simple: digging sticks, stone adzes, black-palm bows, and net bags. Longhouses and fences are built of forest materials, and dams are sometimes built in streams. Stone tools have largely been replaced by steel axes and knives. Kaluli also make necklaces of shell and fashion Elaborate costumes and headdresses for their ceremonial dances.

Trade. Circulation of goods among Kaluli longhouses occurs in the context of ongoing, reciprocal gift exchange, as distinct from the more straightforward trade relations between Kaluli and non-Kaluli groups. Kaluli trade items such as net bags and black-palm bows in return for dogs' teeth, hornbill beaks, and tree oil from other plateau groups. These items are passed along with Kaluli goods to the Huli of the highlands in exchange for tobacco, vegetable salt, and netted aprons. Other items for which Kaluli trade include cowrie and small pearl shells from the coast, drums, and, more recently, glass beads, mirrors, and steel knives and axe heads.

Division of Labor. Some tasks are allocated according to a strict sexual division of labor. Men in groups do the heavy work of cutting down, dividing, and splitting the sago-palm trunk and pulverizing its core; they also clear the garden lands, build fences and dams, plant gardens and perform Garden magic, hunt large game animals in the forest, fish, and butcher meat. Women process the sago pith, weed the Gardens, tend the pigs, gather smaller forest prey and crayfish, and have the primary responsibilities of child rearing.

Land Tenure. Garden land and stands of sago palm are, to all intents and purposes, owned by individual men of the longhouse community, and each man is free to give, loan, or bequeath his property as he wishes. The general territory may be spoken of as belonging to the longhouse as a unit, but this group ownership does not imply any clan or lineage control over parcels of it. Ownership obtains as long as the land or sago is worked. Should it go unused for a generation, claims of ownership lapse. Rights in land and sago generally pass from father to son, secondarily to a man's brothers, his brother's children, or his sister's sons. Because the plateau is sparsely populated, there is little land pressure to give rise to property disputes.


Kin Groups and Descent. Kaluli clans are patrilineal, exogamous, and dispersed throughout the longhouse settlements. Localized lineages of two or more such clans share Residence in any single longhouse. While clan membership passes through the male line, an individual has claims of Kinship both to the father's and mother's clans, with paternal kin providing ties within the longhouse and maternal kin providing linkages with his or her mother's kin in another longhouse of the territory. In practice, the sibling setwhich includes one's actual siblings and all others of the same generation born of one's mother's sisters and father's brotherstakes priority over genealogical reckoning in establishing relationships. When a man marries, the importance of maternal kin for establishing extralonghouse relationships is superseded by ties to his wife's paternal clan.

Kinship Terminology. All kin two or more generations distant from an individual are called maemu ("grandfather" or "grandchild"), which is also the term used to designate people with whom one shares no discernible kin ties. Father and father's brother are called by the same term, as are mother and mother's sister. The offspring of all of these People are classified as siblings and share a common designation. The children of one's father's sister and mother's brother are termed cross cousins, though the mother's brother's daughter, upon bearing children, is reclassified with the term for "mother" and her children are classified as siblings. In practice, genealogical reckoning of relationships is preempted by classificatory assignment of a kin term, with no real effort made to pin down actual genealogical links.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Kaluli marriages are arranged and usually set in motion by the elders of a prospective groom's longhouse, under the leadership of the groom's father. The young man and young woman to be wed are often quite unaware of Marriage plans until bride-wealth negotiations are well advanced. Bride-wealth is collected from most if not all members of the groom's longhouse, regardless of actual kin ties, and it is shared out in the same manner by the bride's longhouse Community. Sister exchange, or the provision of a groom's classificatory sister as marriage partner to a wife's classificatory brother, is the ideal, but it rarely occurs. Bride-wealth presentations are accompanied by great ceremonial, known as the "Gisaro," a ritual dance and song performance put on by the groom's kin and supporters. Upon payment of bride-wealth, the new wife is taken to the longhouse of her husband, but it may be weeks before conjugal relations begin. Marriage establishes a relationship of customary meat exchanges between the groom and his affinesparticularly the father and brother(s) of the bridewhich continue throughout the marriage. Polygyny is permissible, but it appears to be rare.

Domestic Unit. Within the longhouse, each nuclear Family functions as a semiautonomous unit in gardening and in making its own meals. However, since so much of social and economic life is based on the cooperative efforts of the wider range of longhouse members, and since food tends to be shared throughout the community, the entire residential community can be viewed as the unit of consumption.

Inheritance. Other than land and sago, which usually pass from father to son, personal possessions are few. Net bags, bows, tools, or items of dress or adornment are given to the surviving spouse, the children of the deceased, or close age mates.

Socialization. Young children are raised by their mothers, with the help of other women and older female children of the longhouse. A girl learns her future role early on by watching her mother and, as she grows older, by helping in the mother's tasks. Young boys soon find themselves free of responsibility, and they are encouraged to play at games or roam the territory with their age mates to hunt or fish. As a boy becomes independent of his mother's care, he moves from her sleeping platform to the unmarried men's communal hearth at the rear of the longhouse, and here he is exposed to the talk and tales of men. During a boy's teens he traditionally enters into a homosexual relationship with an older man, for it is thought that he needs semen to promote his development into full manhood. Prior to contact, the unmarried youths of several clans would go into seclusion in the bau a, or ceremonial hunting lodge, for periods of as much as a year. During this time of seclusion from women, the men and boys would go on day-long hunting trips throughout the forest, and thus each boy would have the opportunity to learn in detail the features of his territory, the behavior of the forest animals, and other elements of men's lore. This practice did not constitute an initiation per se, but it did provide a period of intense immersion in the world of men.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The longhouse is the most significant unit of social, economic, and ritual cooperation among the Kaluli, taking precedence over clan and lineage affiliation in most practical matters. Longhouses are tied to one another, however, through the gift-exchange relationships established between affines, sibling sets, and patrilaterally and matrilaterally reckoned kin, and these extracommunity relationships may be called upon by an individual to secure hospitality or support.

Political Organization. Kaluli society is essentially egalitarian, having no formally understood positions of Leadership. Elders tend to wield more influence than younger men, but group action may be initiated by any adult male who can successfully enlist supporters for his cause.

Social Control. In the absence of formal leadership offices, social control is dependent upon informal sanctions such as gossip or ostracism, and an individual deemed guilty of a social or personal infraction may be met with demands for compensation by the aggrieved party or parties. Beliefs in spirits provide supernatural sanctions for violations of food taboos. The threat of retributive raids once served as an important means of discouraging serious transgressions, but the government no longer permits recourse to this sanction.

Conflict. The principal sources of conflict are theft of wealth or of women and (pre-1960) retribution for a death. Deaths are held to be the result of witchcraft, regardless of the apparent cause. In such cases, close friends and kinsmen of the deceased would determine the party responsible through divination and then organize a raiding party to attack the witch's longhouse. Members of the raiding party would converge on the longhouse at night, rushing the building at dawn with the express purpose of clubbing the witch to death. The body of the witch would be cut up and distributed to kin of the raiding party participants. Later, the members of the raiding party would pay compensation to the longhouse of the witch in order to prevent further retributive raids. Government intervention on the plateau brought retributive raiding and its attendant cannibalism to an end in the 1960s but provided no alternative means of redressing a death. Instead, an accused witch is now confronted and compensation is demanded, but there is no means to enforce payment.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Kaluli believe that there is a spirit world that is coextensive with the everyday world of nature and subject to the same laws but that cannot be directly perceived., Every human is thought to have a spirit "shadow" (in the form of wild pigs for males, cassowaries for females) that wanders about in the forests of Mount Bosavi. A human and his or her shadow counterpart are linked in such a way that injury or death of one's shadow means that one will sicken or die. Along with the pig and cassowary shadows of living humans, the shadow world is peopled by three types of spirits: ane kalu (spirits of the dead), who are kindly disposed to the living and can be recruited to provide assistance when needed; mamult who are generally aloof from humans but who during their hunts on Mount Bosavi may inadvertently kill a person's shadow animal, and whose ceremonial dances cause the thunderstorms during rainy seasons; and kalu hungo ("Dangerous men") who inhabit specific creeks or other such locations in Kaluli territory and who will cause bad luck or bad weather when humans trespass on their property.

Religious Practitioners. Mediums are men who have married spirit women in a dream and who develop the ability to leave their physical bodies to walk about in the spirit world. At the same time, spirits may enter the medium's body and speak through him during seances to help people in curing an illness, locating lost pigs, or divining the identity of a witch. Witches (sei ) can be male or female and generally do not themselves know of their evil aspect, which waits until its host sleeps and then prowls about in the night seeking its victims. Sei are thought not to attack their own kin, except on extremely rare occasions.

Ceremonies. The centerpiece of Kaluli ceremonial life is the Gisaro, which is performed at all major celebratory occasions such as weddings. "Gisaro" specifically refers to the songs and dancing performed for a host longhouse by visitors; the songs are composed to incorporate sorrowful references to important places and people who have died but who are remembered with fondness and grief. The ornately costumed Gisaro dancer performs his song in the central hall of the host longhouse, and his goal is to incite members of the host groups to tears with the beauty and sadness of his composition and the stateliness of his dance. When he has succeeded, longhouse men run up to the dancer and thrust burning torches against his back and shoulders, burning him. After all the singers of a Gisaro troupe have performed, the dancers leave small gifts for their hosts, as repayment for having evoked their tears and grief.

Arts. The ultimate artistic expression is the composition and performance of Gisaro songs and the proper execution of the accompanying dance. Visual arts are not highly developed, except in the elaborate costumes of the Gisaro dancers.

Medicine. Food taboos and the use of medicinal plants are commonly applied to treat illness, but most curing is done through the assistance of a medium, through actions he takes while traveling in the spirit world.

Death and Afterlife. Upon death, one's spirit immediately quits the now useless physical body and is chased into the forest by the longhouse dogs. The spirit is thus forced to walk on the Isawa River, which in this new noncorporeal state appears as a broad road leading west. Eventually, the spirit arrives at "Imol," a place of enormous fire, where he burns until rescued by a spirit woman who carries his charred soul back along the Isawa, stopping at spirit Gisaro ceremonies along the way. In this way, she gradually "heals" the soul, eventually bringing him to her spirit longhouse and taking him as her husband (in the case of the death of a woman, the spirit helper and eventual spouse is a male). Henceforth, the spirit will appear to humans as just another wild creature of the Forest or will speak to his or her kin through a medium. Traditional mortuary ritual called for the body of the deceased to be slung in a hammock-link affair of cane loops, after the body had been stripped of ornaments and clothing, and hung at the front of the house near the unmarried women's communal area. Fires would be lit at the head and foot of the corpse, and during the next days friends and kin would view the body. Later, the body would be placed on a platform outside until decomposition was complete. The bones would be later recovered and hung up in the eaves of the longhouse. Since 1968, government edict has required that bodies be buried in a cemetery. Survivors of a deceased person assume food taboos during the period of mourning. These taboos are obligatory for the surviving spouse and children, but they are often voluntarily taken on by close friends and other kin as well.

See alsoFoi, Gebusi


Feld, Steven (1982). Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics and Song in Kaluli Expression. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Rev. ed. 1990.

Schieffelin, Bambi (1990). The Give and Take of Everyday Life: Language Socialization of Kaluli Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schieffelin, Edward L. (1976). The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Schieffelin, Edward L. (1985). "The Retaliation of the Animals: On the Cultural Construction of the Past in Papua New Guinea." In History and Ethnohistory in Papua New Guinea, edited by Deborah Gewertz and Edward Schieffelin, 40-57. Oceania Monograph no. 28. Sydney: Oceania Publications.