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ETHNONYMS: Goilala, Tauata


Identification. Tauata is one of a number of closely related dialects, and the name "Tauatade," which is used by the neighboring Fuyughe to designate the speakers of all these dialects, passedslightly modifiedinto official usage as "Tauade."

Location. The Tauade live in the Goilala Subprovince of the Central Province of Papua New Guinea, mainly in the valley of the Aibala River, at 8° S, 147° E. The elevations of this valley range from 600 to 3,000 meters; the lower slopes are grassland, produced by prolonged burning, and the upper slopes are forested. Rainfall averages 254 centimeters per year, humidity is seldom below 75 percent, and the yearly average temperature at 2,100 meters 18° C. The main rainy season lasts from the beginning of December until the end of May, and the months of June to September tend to be the driest.

Demography. In 1966, the population of the Tauade Census districts was 8,661. The precontact population was probably smaller. A number of Tauade have migrated to Port Moresby in recent years.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Tauade language is a member of the Goilalan Family of Papuan languages.

History and Cultural Relations

The first recorded European visitor was Fr. V. M. Egidi of the Sacred Heart Mission in about 1906, and the first patrol by the Australian government was in 1911. Pacification of the area was a very slow process and was not fully accomplished until after World War II. The Sacred Heart Mission came to the area in the 1930s and established a school at Kerau in 1939. The government established a school at Tapini, the Subprovince headquarters, in 1962. Graded tracks, constructed under the supervision of the mission, extend throughout the Subprovince, but there is no vehicular road link with the coast. An airstrip was built at Tapini in 1938 and another at Kerau in 1967; they provide the main access to Port Moresby, approximately 50 kilometers away. There has been considerable labor migration and an influx of trade goods, notably steel axes and other tools, and alternative sources of food, such as rice. Government incentives to raise cattle as a form of income have generally been unsuccessful. Local councils were established in 1963, and in the following year elections were held for the national House of Assembly. Papua New Guinea received its independence in 1975.


The typical settlement pattern is one of scattered hamlets with an average population of forty-five and about fifteen houses (fewer today), often located on the crests of ridges near the forest line. The houses, arranged in two parallel rows, accommodate the women and children, while married men and bachelors occupy the men's house at the head of the two rows. In modern times, men's houses have mostly fallen into disuse. In precolonial days, each hamlet was surrounded by a stockade. The space between the houses is used for feasts and dances. The houses are often protected by windbreaks of Cordyline terminalis. Hamlets are only occupied for a few years in succession, though the sites themselves are often reoccupied periodically for a long time. Large villages with seventy or more houses are built for ceremonial purposes, but they are only occupied for a few months.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tauade are swidden horticulturalists whose main source of food is the sweet potato, of which they grow at least twenty-two varieties. They also grow bananas, sugarcane, some yams, and a little taro. Pandanus nuts, however, are a very important supplement to their diet, since they can be preserved by smoking. Pigs are kept, roaming in the forest and bush, often destroying gardens, and returning to their owners' homes at night for a meal of sweet potatoes. Gardens are prepared when the rains cease, and strong fences are constructed around them to keep out the pigs. The ground for gardens is cleared by fire and, nowadays, with steel axes. In the past, stone adzes and wooden digging sticks were the only tools. The preferred area for gardens is the secondary rather than the primary forest, but grassland is seldom used. There is an ample supply of land, the population density being approximately 7.7 persons per square kilometer. The pandanus tree is the main source of house-building materials: its outer bark is easily stripped off for planks; its leaves, when dry, are an ideal roofing material; and its aerial roots supply tough bindings for the framework of the house. It is likely that huntingfor small animals, cassowaries, and pigsand collecting were much more Important in the past than they are today.

Industrial Arts. In the past, stone was used to make adzes and bark-cloth beaters. Stone has been replaced by steel, and bark cloth by imported textiles. String bags are still made from local plant fibers. No pottery was made, and green bamboo tubes were the only cooking vessels. Bows were made from black palm, while bamboo is used for tobacco pipes and as a simple drum, sounded by dropping the end of the tube on the ground. In general, the traditional material culture was extremely simple.

Trade. There was little or no contact with the tribes on the south coast of Papua, but feathers were traded for various shellsand, later, steelalong a route through Fuyughe country that ended at the upper reaches of the Waria River in New Guinea. Steel tools were already being used in the Aibala Valley at the time of Egidi's visit in 1906.

Division of Labor. Men are responsible for felling trees, clearing land for gardens, erecting fences, climbing the pandanus trees to cut down the nuts, and house building. Men plant taro, yams, sugarcane, bananas, and tobacco. Women plant sweet potatoes, and most of the work in the gardens is done by women, who also carry the harvested pandanus nuts home in their string bags and collect dried pandanus leaves to bring to a hamlet where a new house is being built. Women also care for the pigs.

Land Tenure. There are roughly demarcated areas of land belonging to each clan, and it is said that the clan ancestors who first cleared the forest thereby established their ownership of the land and passed on these rights to their descendants. But permission to use clan land has been given to many cognates, affines, and friends over the course of time, and this practice has thus also established inheritable rights of use. Customary rights to make gardens on the land of a clan that is not one's own need to be exercised from time to time if they are to be respected. In practice, therefore, since there is an abundance of land and since use rights have been so diffused, people are able to make gardens with considerable freedom. Gardens are made by groups of friends, and often different groups will be involved in making gardens simultaneously. There are no clearly bounded plots of land owned by individuals that can be inherited. Rights of use in land are also transmitted through women, so that men may make use of the land rights of their wives and mothers. Pandanus trees are owned and inherited in a totally different manner from land. Here the laws of ownership holdas opposed to rights of useand the model of hereditary, clearly demarcated plots of land can be applied quite realistically. The pandanus forests are composed of many named areas, and within these areas are the plots of the owners marked by Cordyline at strategic intervals.


Kin Groups and Descent. There is no word in the Tauade language to denote "kin" as distinct from affine or cognate. Nor are there generic terms for "clan" or "lineage," but there are named groups of kin, traditionally descended from a founding group of ancestors, that it is appropriate to call clans, and the reckoning of descent is patrilineal. This is not, however, a strict, jural principle, but rather it seems to be a result of the fact that influence and cooperation are organized in terms of social relationships between people. So it is possible for a person to claim membership in more than one clan. Clans not only claim tracts of land; each clan has a cave in which the bones of ancestors were deposited. (Today, burial in cemeteries is compulsory.) Very few marriages take place within clans, and homicide within clans seems not to occur. Clans are not formally subdivided into lineages, although important ancestors within the clan are genealogical reference points for their descendants.

Kinship Terminology. The terminology is of the Iroquois type.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. About 10 percent of men have more than one wife; relations between cowives are frequently hostile, and only men of high status succeed in maintaining stable, polygynous unions. By far the greatest proportion of divorces occur as the result of men taking second wives. First Marriages are arranged by the woman's father or brother, and the ideal form of marriage is sister exchange, though this ideal is uncommon in practice. Infant betrothal was customary and the marriage was completed when the girl attained maturity. Bride-wealth was paid at this time and continues to be an important feature of marriage. Adultery is extremely common, and compensation is often offered and accepted by the husband, but some men attack adulterers if they catch them in the act. Patrilocality is the dominant form of marital Residence, but it is normal for a man to live with his wife's relatives for several years to establish good relations with them. Only about 20 percent of marriages are within the "tribe" (see the section on social organization), and while some of these marriages are between members of fairly hostile tribes, Intermarriage tends to be inhibited by a high level of hostility.

Domestic Unit. The basic unit of production and cooperation is the nuclear family.

Inheritance. There are no bounded plots of land that can be treated as private property; houses are impermanent; and a man's pigs are slaughtered at his funeral feast. Pandanus trees are the only real property of any significance that can be Inherited. Normally this inheritance is through the male linethough men may also inherit use rights through their mothersbut if a man has no sons, his trees may be inherited by a daughter.

Socialization. Parents are kind and indulgent to their Children, and relations within the family are close and affectionate. In the traditional society, boys at puberty were subject to seclusion for a few months, during which they were beaten to make them fierce. Some children now attend the mission or government schools.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Tauade are divided into a number of autonomous named groups inhabiting the spurs Between major streams on the side of the valleys. It is convenient to refer to these groups as "tribes," and their average population is about 200. Tribes are divided into several named clans, who live dispersed in hamletsusually about five or six in each tribe. Hamlets comprise groups of brothers, often with their fathers and mothers if these are still alive, and these groups are linked by cognatic and affinal ties or by friendship alone. Men frequently move from one hamlet to another and to other tribes, but there are norms of cooperation between hamlet members and fighting is rare. Relations between members of different hamlets are frequently hostile.

Political Organization. In each hamlet there is at least one big-man with his supporters, who may include agnates, cognates, affines, and friends. The functions of the big-man are to coordinate ceremonies, to make speeches, and to give generously, and in each tribe there is a senior clan whose leading big-man traditionally was responsible for conducting peace negotiations with other tribes when warfare occurred. While the status of big-man is not inherited and depends on personal qualities, it has a strong hereditary component, and in many cases big-men are the sons, grandsons, or nephews of former big-men, whose places they are said to take. Ceremonial exchange of pork is very important in Tauade society, and big-men take a leading part in this practice, but they are not the managerial figures described in the ethnography of highland New Guinea. Some of them were war leaders, but this position was not essential to becoming a big-man. At the other end of the social scale are "rubbish men," who are Usually bachelors (because they are unable to attract wives), poor, and regarded as mean and useless members of society. In traditional times, they were killed with relative impunity, unlike the big-men whose deaths always produced large-scale vengeance.

Social Control. Big-men have no judicial authority, and while they may be able to persuade a supporter to pay compensation, they have no authority to settle disputes. Disagreements are extremely frequent, since the Tauade are very sensitive to insult, and there was a high level of violence in the traditional society over pigs, women, theft, and other provocations. In the case of disputes within the family, the relatives of the husband and wife may try to make peace, and residence in the same hamlet restrains disputes fairly effectively. A man's fellow residents will support him if he has a dispute with someone of another hamlet or of a different tribe, and they may even accompany him if he goes to get redress for a stolen wife or pig. They will also put pressure on him to pay compensation if he is the guilty party in a dispute, and they do not feel obliged to risk a fight to defend him in such cases. If a man is injured in some way, he may take immediate physical revenge, delay retribution for years, or ask for compensation. In the case of adultery, such compensation is often paid, but there is no way of legally enforcing claims to compensation except through government courts. Those who are on bad terms avoid one another and live in different hamlets, and these hostilities are often long-standing, so that when the Tauade are asked why they do not live in a single villagewhich would be quite practicablethey reply "because of our ancestors." In the case of homicide, the murderer often flees to his wife's or mother's tribe and stays there until tempers cool, at which time he offers compensation; if this restitution is accepted he may return to his own tribe.

Conflict. In the traditional society, the murder rate was approximately 1 in 200 per year or even higher, and there was almost as much killing, violence, and theft within the tribes as there was between them. Proximity was the principal cause of this: adjacent tribes on the same side of a river fought most often; tribes on opposite sides of a river fought less; and tribes on opposite sides of the forested mountain ridges fought least. A man who had killed another was entitled to wear a shell homicide emblem on his forehead, and this medal was much admired by women. A man might take vengeance against any member of a tribe that had killed a member of his own tribe (or one of his friends or relatives in any other tribe) so that there were many occasions for vengeance. Those selected as victims were usually weak or insignificant persons whose killing could be readily settled by an offer of compensation; grudges were remembered for many years. The killing of a big-man could start full-scale war between tribes, in which hamlets were burned, gardens destroyed, and many deaths inflicted. Members of a tribe that was losing such a war might disperse to live with their relatives in neighboring tribes, and it was common to show hospitality to those driven out of their tribal land. But tribes usually returned to their land after a year or two, and land conquest was not a feature of Tauade warfare. The bodies of slain enemies from other tribes were often eaten, or they were mutilated to cause distress to their relatives.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The relationship between the "wild" (kariari ), and the "tame" or domesticated (vala ), is fundamental to the worldview of the Tauade. The forest is represented in myth as the antisocial opposite to village life, but it is not merely the destructive alternative to the social orderand it is the source of life and of creativity in general. The Tauade have no beliefs in any kind of god, but their elaborate mythology is concerned with the culture heroes, agotevaun, who are supposed to have inhabited the country and carved out the valleys before the first human emerged from a rock. The agotevaun were preeminently figures belonging to the wild, with superhuman powers which they used to kill and torment humans, but they also instructed humans in Ceremonies, customs, and the making of artifacts. In Tauade myths, women are portrayed as the inventors and sustainers of Culture through fire, cooking, betel nuts, string bags, and the useful arts, while men are portrayed as basically destructive. Each natural species of plant and animal is sustained by a Supernatural prototype, often in the form of a rock, and if this prototype were destroyed the species would die out. The bigmen are thought to partake in some aspects of this power, which emerges in generation after generation to sustain the people. In traditional times, when a big-man died his body was placed in a sacred enclosure, hidden from women, in which a bullroarer was swung. The same enclosure was also used for the initiation of boys, if suitable numbers were ready for it. Seclusion lasted for three or four months; the boys were fed special food to make them tough. They danced inside the enclosure and were beaten with nettles to make them fierce. The cult of the dead was extremely important. Bodies of bigmen were placed in elevated baskets within the hamlets to rot, while the bodies of ordinary people were buried. When decomposition was complete and the bones and skulls were collected, a great feast and dance was organized and the bones of the dead were carried in the dance to honor the ghosts. The bones of big-men were then deposited in the branches of oak trees and those of ordinary people in one of the clan bone caves. The Tauade also believe in a number of spirits, almost all of which are malevolent and which inhabit streams, rocks, trees, and other natural features.

Religious Practitioners. Some men are supposed to be powerful sorcerers, but there is no social category of sorcerer or diviner. Some use is made of magical substances and spells, but the practice of magic is not an important aspect of Tauade life.

Ceremonies. The elements of Tauade ceremonies include: the killing of pigs; the distribution of pork and garden produce, especially yams, taro, and pandanus nuts; speeches; and dancing (when guests from other tribes are invited). Small ceremonies are held within the tribe for various rites of passage, especially at death, but the largest and most important ceremonies are the large pig killings organized by the whole tribe to honor their dead. These rituals are arranged by the big-men, who invite many other tribes (often hostile). Thus there is a strongly agonistic quality in these occasions, as the hosts try to impress their guests by their generosity, the splendor of the dance village and men's house, and the speeches of the big-men (in the native language, "to make a speech" is literally "to boast"). Dancing that lasts all night is a feature of such occasions, as a means by which hosts and guests compete in displays of stamina, and the ceremony concludes with the slaughter of large numbers of pigs. Elaborate platforms are built for the speeches, and the dance villages for these occasions may have more than seventy houses, with a very large and decorated men's house.

Arts. The use of feather ornaments in dances is the only significant expression of visual art among the Tauade. Singing is also a prominent feature of dances. They are familiar with a large variety of string figures, which are a very popular form of amusement.

Medicine. Traditionally, plants were used as abortifacients and for the treatment of some diseases, and there were also a number of magical remedies.

Death and Afterlife. Tauade believe that a person consists of flesh, energy or strength, and a soul, which becomes a ghost after death, while flesh rots and energy disappears. The world of the ghosts in some accounts is a reversal of the world of the living. Their food stinks, they sleep in the day and wake up at night, and so on. Ghosts are encountered in dreams but not apparently in waking life. There is no belief that the ghosts of big-men and rubbish men go to different places after death.

See alsoMafulu, Mekeo


Egidi, V. M. (1907). "La Tribù diTauata." Anthropos 2:675-681, 1009-1021.

Hallpike, C. R. (1977). Bloodshed and Vengeance in the Papuan Mountains: The Generation of Conflict in Tauade Society. Oxford: Clarendon Press.