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ETHNONYM: Vulkan Islanders


Identification. Manam Island, formerly called Vulkan-Insel or Hansa-Vulkaninsel by the Germans, and its outlier, the small island of Boesa (Aris-Insel) 6.5 kilometers to the northwest, are part of the Schouten Island archipelago, a chain of small volcanic islands that stretches along the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea. Near the mouths of the Ramu and Sepik rivers, Manam is part of the north coast and Sepik River culture areas.

Location. Situated just south of the equator at 4°5 S and 145°3 E and within the Pacific Ring of Fire, Manam is a small cone-shaped island about 13 kilometers across and 40 kilometers in circumference. A still-active volcano with craters that reach a height of 1,350 meters, it continuously spews forth ash and occasionally erupts molten lava. In 1957 the entire population was evacuated to the mainland for a year, at the end of that time returning to the remains of ash-covered villages on the island. Manam is 16 kilometers from the mainland district station of Bogia, near Hansa Bay in Madang Province. There are no rivers or permanent streams on the Island. Northwest monsoon winds bring a rainy season that lasts from November to April, traditionally a time for canoe building and the staging of feasts and ceremonies. From May to October, southeast trade winds bring a dry season that was always a time of scarcity before the advent of trade stores.

Demography. In 1982 the population of Manam was estimated to be 6,400, with another 420 people on Boesa Island. Despite the fact that many younger Manam have chosen to live permanently on the mainland because of the limitation on available land on the island, the Manam are concerned about a rapidly increasing population. The village population is predominantly indigenous Manam Islanders, with only a small number of in-marrying spouses from mainland Papua New Guinea.

Linguistic Affiliation. Manam, with Wogeo, is classified in the Siassi Family of Austronesian languages. The Manam refer to their language as "Manam pile" (Manam speech or language). Although the same language is spoken throughout the island, it is undergoing a sound shift and two forms are currently spoken on different halves of the island. Most: Manam also speak Tok Pisin (Melanesian Pidgin) and somemostly younger educated peoplealso speak English.

History and Cultural Relations

Austronesian speakers arrived in New Guinea later than Papuan speakers, bringing with them items such as the domesticated pig, outrigger canoes, and navigational skills. The Proto-Austronesian Lapita culture, centered in the Bismarck Archipelago since at least 1,600 b.c., is believed to be ancestral to the Manam. The Manam themselves say that they came from the west prior to settling on Manam. Early written references to Manam are found from the sixteenth century on in the ships' logs of Europeans who noted the island's volcano. Regular contact with Europeans began when the Germans claimed sovereignty over northeast New Guinea in 1884. There have never been nonindigenous coconut plantations on Manam; however, over the years many Manam have worked as contract laborers on coastal plantations and in the goldfields of Wau and Bulolo. Since its establishment on the island in 1925, the Society of Divine Word Catholic mission has been the most significant Western influence. During World War II the Japanese occupation of the mainland caused the Manam to abandon their villages to live in the jungle for the duration of the war. The end of the war opened the way to considerable change, including much interest in the cargo cult and protonationalist activities of the Rai Coast leader Yali, native production of copra for sale, and the Development of other commercial activities. These enterprises, combined with increasing educational and job opportunities on the mainland, have led to a continuing dependence on cash and a consumer economy. The Manam have Traditionally maintained exchange relations with hereditary trade partners (taoa ) on the mainland. There is little or no contact with other Schouten Islanders. Trade most frequently occurs with the Momboan villages on the coast directly across from Manam and with Kaian, Boroi, Watam, and Marangis villages near the Ramu River.


There are fourteen villages on Manam and two on Boesa ranging in size from around 115 to 1,000 people, with the average being about 500. Villages are scattered settlements ranging from the beach up the mountainside into the jungle. Gardens are usually located on the mountainside beyond the settled area. Houses are built of wood with roofs of coconutfrond thatch and walls of woven bamboo or coconut-frond siding. Each village has a central cleared ceremonial ground and a large men's ceremonial house (in Tok Pisin, haus tambaran ) prohibited to women. Other settlements include a small volcanology observatory, a government subdistrict headquarters, and two Catholic missions, each with a church and government-run school. A dirt road partially circles the island, but vehicles are few and travel between villages is Primarily by foot, boat, or canoe.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Manam are fishers and subsistence gardeners who practice slash-and-burn horticulture. Because of the relatively poor soil and lack of groundwater, a limited variety of crops is grown. Most important among them are taro, sweet potatoes, cassava, and bananas. Yams, prevalent on the mainland, do not grow well on Manam. Tree crops, such as breadfruit, coconuts, and Canarium almonds, supplement the vegetable diet. Fishing is seasonal, the monsoons hindering fishing on the south side of the island. Pigs are an occasional source of protein but are most important as wealth items used in both local and External trade. Other domesticated animals include chickens and dogs. The latter, primarily raised for hunting and protection, are sometimes eaten. Copra, sold either locally to distributors or directly to the Copra Marketing Board in Madang, is the only cash crop. Coffee and cacao, important mainland cash crops, are not viable on Manam. At present, cash from copra is used to buy rice, tinned meat, fish, and other imported foods purchased at trade stores on the island.

Industrial Arts. In comparison with many mainland People, the Manam practice relatively few industrial arts. They produce no pottery, carved slit drums, dyed grass skirts, woven baskets, or net bags; instead, they obtain these items from mainland trade partners. Their most important craft, in the past and to a lesser extent at present, is the construction of outrigger canoes. While men used to sail large canoes on trading expeditions to the mainland, canoes are now used only for travel between villages and to carry passengers and cargo on and off boats going to and from the mainland. Carving is men's work. In addition to canoes, other items carved include masks, combs, betel-nut mortars, coconut-shell containers, headrests, and canoe paddles. Women used to make their own pandanus-fiber skirts, while men made their own bark belts. Commercial clothing has replaced these items although they are still worn for special dances and ritual performances.

Trade. In the past men visited their mainland trade partners (taoa) to exchange pigs, Canarium almonds, betel nuts, and tobacco for sago, ritual paraphernalia, and dogs'-teeth and boars'-tusk valuables. The institution of hereditary trade partners still functions, although trips to the mainland are now made by motorized canoes and boats. There are also small markets, a Western innovation, at the mainland and at the mission stations on Manam where women sell produce and betel nuts, tobacco, Canarium almonds, etc.

Division of Labor. The primary division of labor is Between men and women. Men are the main participants in all activities associated with the sea: the construction and use of canoes, fishing, and overseas trading expeditions. While both men and women work in the gardens, the bulk of the routine labor of planting, weeding, and harvesting is performed by women. Men help with the heavy labor associated with the initial clearing of new gardens and construction of fences, and some husbands also help their wives with planting and weeding. Only men, however, climb large trees to harvest bread-fruit, Canarium almonds, coconuts, etc. Both men and women tend pigs, but only men slaughter them and distribute the meat. Only women cook food, chop and gather firewood, and fetch water. Both sexes are involved with the production and sale of copra.

Land Tenure. Land is communally controlled by kinship groups, while other productive resources such as trees are Individually controlled. Both men and women can inherit land and other productive resources from both paternal and maternal relatives. However, men inherit more resources than do women and as land becomes a scarce resource fewer claims of access to land through maternal relatives are permitted by matrilateral kin.


Kin Groups and Descent. Individuals belong to named localized exogamous clan groups called bagi or ungguma whose membership is based on patrilineal descent. Villages are composed of between two and ten bagi. Matrilineal kin, especially the mother's brother, are also important. Homesteads are extended family compounds situated on clan-owned land.

Kinship Terminology. Hawaiian-type cousin terms are used, and siblings are distinguished by relative age and sex.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Although most marriages are monogamous, polygamy is still practiced. Village chiefs in particular have more than one wife. All marriages used to be arranged, but now young people usually decide who they will marry. The groom's family gives bride-wealth to the bride's relatives. With the Exception of village chiefs, marriage tends to be endogamous within a village and residence patrilocal. A marriage is not considered final until the birth of a couple's first child. Prior to that divorce is relatively easy and frequent among young couples.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the basic family unit although extended family households are common. In polygamous households each wife has her own hearth and gardens and cooks for her husband and children. Parents desire at least one child of each sex and adoption of children is a Common practice between siblings. Firstborn children, especially male, receive special attention and have special rights and duties.

Inheritance. Both men and women inherit property from their parents, although firstborn males inherit more than other siblings. Claims to a man's property are made by his adult children through the performance of a ritual feast called boro da paso held in his honor while he is still alive.

Socialization. Although women are the primary caretakers, men often help with child care. Older siblings also share in the responsibility of raising younger children. Sex segregation and socialization into gender roles begins at a young age. Shame is a dominant concept used to shape conformity to culturally appropriate behavior.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Unlike most New Guinea societies which are egalitarian, Manam is hierarchically organized into two hereditary social groups: an elite (tanepoa ) and commoners (gadagada ). Membership is based on patrilineal descent.

Political Organization. In precontact times Manam Villages were politically autonomous. Each village was ruled by a hereditary chief called tanepoa labalaba, a position based on primogeniture. Each clan had a leader (bagi sema ) whose position was also based on primogeniture. Although the Manam now elect a village councillor to represent them on the island's Local Government Council, in effect tanepoa labalaba are still the village leaders. The Manam also elect national and provincial representatives.

Social Control. In the past the tanepoa used the threat of sorcery and physical violence to exert social control. At Present tanepoa and village councillors adjudicate local civil cases of adultery, divorce, theft, etc., or they refer offenders to the district officer and court.

Conflict. In the past incidental fighting and formal warfare, both between villages and between the Manam and mainland groups, were endemic. Conflicts were settled by negotiation of the payment of pigs and valuables. At present, although physical violence still erupts, payment of monetary compensation or jail are the main sanctions against conflict.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The majority of the Manam are nominally Catholic, but various indigenous beliefs and practices based on supernatural spirits and powers are still meaningful, Masalai (Tok Pisin), which are culture heros and ancestors, are important supernatural beings. Masalai easily change from human to animal or inanimate form. Masalai snakes are particularly important as they are associated with the origin of the Manam people. The most important Culture hero is Zaria, a female believed to inhabit the volcano and to be the source of its fire. Since the end of World War II interest in various millenarian movements has periodically surfaced. At present, in addition to Catholicism, Seventh-Day Adventists and several evangelical sects also have a small number of followers.

Religious Practitioners. There are no formal religious positions, but some individuals inherit supernatural power (marou ) from their ancestors that enables them to perform canoe magic, influence the winds, ensure an abundance of tobacco, etc. A tanepoa labalaba in particular is thought to have the power to ensure the fertility of crops and the well-being of his villagers. Through trances, aeno aine or "sleep women" are believed to be able to mediate between the living and the dead to determine the cause of illness.

Ceremonies. Individual life-cycle events such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death are marked with special rituals. Each village holds an annual New Year's celebration known as "Barasi" in May or June. The most frequent intervillage ceremony is a type of dance and pig exchange called a buleka. Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter are also observed.

Arts. Music and singing are the dominant arts. In addition to their aesthetic role, they have important political and Economic functions. Dance, with men as the primary performers, is also a major art and new dance complexes are important trade items. Carving, an artform with a traditional iconography, is of minor importance.

Medicine. The Manam follow both indigenous and Western medical practices. Belief that pollution from blood, semen, and certain foods can be the cause of illness is Gradually disappearing, but illness and death are still not believed to occur naturally. To the Manam they indicate a moral imbalance in the social world of the individual. Indigenous medical practices include the performance of curing ceremonies to reveal the social conflict causing an individual's illness. Most Manam also use the services of the government-sponsored clinic run by the Catholic sisters.

Death and Afterlife. Immediately upon death individuals gather to wail, sing mourning songs, and "give face" at the home of the deceased. People sleep outside the deceased's home until after the funeral feast has been held, approximately five days later. A second funeral rite should occur Several years later when the deceased's relatives hold a special feast to commemorate the dead. The dead are believed to continue to exist as spirits who communicate through dreams and influence events in the world of the living.

See alsoWogeo


Boehm, Karl (1983). The Life of Some Island People of New Guinea. Berlin: Reimer Verlag.

Lawrence, Peter (1964). Road Belong Cargo. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Lutkehaus, Nancy (1985). "The Flutes of the Tanepoa: Hierarchy and Equivalence in Manam Society." Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University.

Maburau, Anthony (1985). "Irakau of Manam." In New Religious Movements in Melanesia, edited by C. Loeliger and G. Trompf, 2-17. Suva, Fiji, and Port Moresby: University of the South Pacific and University of Papua New Guinea.

Wedgwood, Camilla (1934). "Report on Research in Manam Island, Mandated Territory of New Guinea." Oceania 4:373-403.