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ETHNONYMS: Roissy, Vokeo, Wageva


Identification. The Wogeo, who call themselves Wageva, are the Melanesian inhabitants of the island of Wogeo off the north coast of Papua New Guinea. Wogeo is well described for the period from 1934 to 1948, but it has not been studied closely before or since that time. The description here focuses on the traditional culture, although large political, social, and economic changes have probably taken place during the last forty years. The contemporary Wogeo probably closely resemble the neighboring Manam.

Location. Wogeo is located near the intersection of 3° S and 144° E and is one of the Schouten Islands, which include Manam and Kairiru, among others. About 24 kilometers in circumference, Wogeo is a mountainous island of volcanic origin with two peaks reaching about 600 meters above sea level. There are two major seasons: June to September is governed by the southeast trade winds, and the monsoon season lasts from November to April. Rainfall is plentiful and ranges from 228 to 508 centimeters per year. The topography is a mix of rocky outcroppings, beaches, tropical forests, and hilly slopes.

Demography. The population at contact is unknown. In 1934 there were 929 Wogeo on the island, 839 in 1948, and 1,237 in 1981. Despite a smallpox epidemic following first contact, the Wogeo evidently escaped any serious depopulation caused by European contact.

Linguistic Affiliation. Wogeo is a member of the Manam Subfamily of the Siassi Family of Austronesian languages. There are slight dialect differences between villages.

History and Cultural Relations

Wogeo was discovered by the Dutch navigators Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten in 1616. Regular contact with Europeans did not begin until the late 1800s through traders, plantation labor recruiters, and government agents from New Guinea. In 1905 routine recruiting of plantation workers began; most men served for three to four years off the island. In 1934 a Roman Catholic mission was established. Contact with neighboring groups such as the Manam mostly involved organized trading expeditions every two or three years.


Wogeo is divided into five districts: Wonevaro, Takul, Bukdi, Ga, and Bagiau. Each district has a number of villages of about sixty persons, each of which is located along the coast. In most villages the largest structure is the men's house (niabwa ) located in the center of the village, with dwellings clustered in groups of two or three to the right and left of the niabwa. The sizable village gardens are generally cleared out of the forest behind the village or on not-too-distant Mountain slopes. Dwellings are of different sizes, although all are much the same in appearanceraised on piles 0.9 to 1.5 meters off the ground and featuring a palm-thatch roof, veranda, and palm-wood floor.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Wogeo subsist through a combination of slash-and-burn hortiCulture, fruit and nut collecting, fishing, and shellfish collecting. The primary foods are taro, bananas, coconuts, yams, bread-fruit, sago, pawpaw fruit, and almonds. Wild pigs are hunted and domesticated pigs slaughtered and eaten, as are lizards and dogs. The climate is such that the horticultural cycle runs at a leisurely pace year-round, with little concern about food shortages. About 40 percent of the gardens are planted near the villages in the coastal belt that circles the island, with the other 60 percent planted farther inland on hilly slopes.

Industrial Arts. The Wogeo make dugout canoes, baskets, drums, bamboo flutes, fish nets, and various other tools, utensils, and ceremonial objects. Most notable are the large seagoing canoes made from whole tree trunks and decorated with carved figureheads.

Trade. Trade is primarily with neighboring island societies and societies on the mainland of Papua New Guinea. Every five or six years about six Wogeo canoes head out on extended trading expeditions loaded with almonds and other nuts, fishing nets, and small, woven baskets. They return with clay pots, produce bags, bamboo for flutes, and ornaments such as shell rings and pigeon feathers. In between the Wogeo expeditions, other island groups launch similar trips, which include stops at Wogeo. These trading expeditions are an important activity on Wogeo and involve communal building of large seagoing canoes, accumulation of the trade goods, magical ceremonies, and gift exchanges between trading partners.

Division of Labor. Division of labor is mainly by sex, although some men enjoy increased status because they are better craftsmen or manifest better control of magical forces. Women care for the children (men have almost no contact with infants), keep house, cook, plant taro, make their clothes, and collect shellfish. Men do the heavy gardening work, gather nuts, build houses, make most tools and utensils, catch fish, and make their own clothes. Despite the task segregation, men and women cooperate closely in the planning and working of the gardens, although their lives are mostly separate otherwise.

Land Tenure. Each district controls the forest area in its boundaries with all district residents having equal access to the forest and its products. Entry by a nonresident into the forest often leads to suspicion of adultery or sorcery and to vengeance raids. Rights to marshland are shared by village residents and rights to the beach are divided among the two or three clans in each village. Every man has the right to build a house in the village nearest the gardens he has a right to cultivate. This village is usually his father's, as gardens are Usually inherited patrilineally. Gardens are allotted to villages and clans, although once a man works a plot he "owns" it. Men generally "own" between ten and twenty garden plots. Ownership of a plot rests as much on paying tribute to the headman and clan inheritance rules as on individual claims based on use. All objects are owned by individuals and it is considered a serious breach of etiquette to use someone else' s property without their permission.


Kin Groups and Descent. Wogeo society is divided into two exogamous moieties, associated with the bat and the hawk. Beyond providing marriage partners, moieties play a major ceremonial role, with mutual ceremonial obligations existing between members of each moiety. Wogeo is described as having a double descent system, as the matrilineal moieties are accompanied by primarily patrilineal rules of Descent, inheritance, and political succession. Each village Population is aggregated into two or sometimes three clans. While mostly patrilineal, clan membership really rests on ties (not always through descent) to the clan headman.

Kinship Terminology. Kin terms follow the Iroquois system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages are made through betrothal, elopement, bride capture, or simply setting up a household. Elopement is most common, except for firstborn boys and girls, whose marriages are arranged by their parents. Marriages are prohibited with members of one's moiety, one's clan, and cross cousins. About one-third of all marriages are polygynous, although few men have more than two wives. These Marriages, effected mostly by older, wealthier men, are described as considerably more contentious than monogamous ones. Postmarital residence is typically patrilocalto be near the husband's father's gardensbut after two years most couples form their own households. In the early years of marriage, separation and divorce are common, but after the birth of the first child divorce is discouraged. However, adultery by the husband, which is quite common, is seen as a reasonable ground for divorce for wives.

Domestic Unit. The basic residential unit is the husband, the wife, and their children, although other relatives may also be present. In polygynous families, each wife has her own dwelling.

Inheritance. Sons generally inherit land from their Fathers, with decisions about the size of the inheritance made when the sons are still children. Eldest sons generally inherit the most land. When there are no sons, land is left to the daughters, who in turn leave it to their sons. Succession to clan leadership and family magic are also inherited by sons.

Socialization. Infants are raised by their mothers, with Fathers having little to do with their offspring until the children can walk. The mother's and father's sisters have a special relationship with their siblings' children, and grandmothers and unmarried girls often help care for children. Children are indulged until about age 3, after which much of their time is spent in play and assisting adults. Boys' initiation begins with piercing of their ears during infancy, followed by residence in the men's house during childhood, scarification of the tongue at puberty, the first self-incision of the penis after puberty., and finally the wearing of the adult headdress. A girl's first: menstruation is often marked by body ornamentation, feasting, and the planting of extra gardens. Adoption of children is quite common.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social and Political Organization. As described above, Wogeo society is organized into residential districts, villages, and clans with an overlay of the two exogamous moieties. Wealth and status differences are reflected in the number of garden plots "owned" by a man and in polygynous marriage. The village is the primary sociopolitical unit, with much Contact and cooperation occurring between residents of the same village. Each clan has a headman (kokwal ) who adjudicates disputes and controls magic; the most respected clan headman serves as the village leader. Headman succession usually, though not always, is to the oldest son.

Social Control and Conflict. Violation of marriage and incest rules, the stealing of pigs, and adultery are serious offenses. Sanctions include supernatural punishments achieved through sorcery, individual retribution, payment of compensation, change of residence, shunning, and gossip. Which method is used depends on the seriousness of the offense, the reputation of the offender, and the relationship between the offender and the victim. District rivalries are intense and short-lived battles often occur over charges of adultery and theft.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Like many Oceanic groups, the Wogeo distinguish between those things that can be handled rationallythe secularand those things that must be approached with caution because of their religious nature. Three categories of supernaturals are found among the Wogeo: the culture heroes (nanarang )the creators and shapers of the world and the ultimate arbitrators of the rules of daily conduct; the spirit monsterslewa, whose power is called upon during District food distributions, and nibek, who is called upon during interdistrict festivals; and the souls of the dead (mariap ), who actually play little part in the affairs of the living. Magic plays a central role in daily affairs, and it is used by headmen to prevent misfortune and bring good luck. Additionally, there is a strong belief in sorcery as a major cause of illness and death.

Religious Practitioners. Headmen are the key religious practitioners and lead the local, distici, and interdistrict Ceremonies, using flutes to call the power of the lewa. The headman's power comes from his proven ability to use magic to provide favorable results for the clan or village, and thus he often has a monopoly on magic used for group activitiessuch as trading, planting, raiding, etc.which is passed on to his sons.

Ceremonies. Religious practices focus on the ritual involved in the use of magic. Considerable mystery surrounds the use of sorcery. Much attention has been given to the practice of "male menstruation" in which men cut their penises to make them bleed or "menstruate."

Arts. Music, especially singing and the playing of flutes, drums, and slit gongs, is of ceremonial and recreational importance. Costumed dancing is an important component of rituals. Bamboo flutes of various lengths made from imported bamboo are the primary musical instruments.

Medicine. Illness is generally attributed to sorcery or, less often, to having trespassed on another's property or having failed to incise one's penis recently. In the latter cases, an apology to the property owner or an immediate incision should cure the illness. Each illness is associated with a specific magical system and at least one person in each Community knows the rites for that illness. Thus, people generally know whom to blame for their ailments and from whom to seek relief.

Death and Afterlife. Death is almost always ascribed to yabou sorcery (intended to be lethal rather than simply cause illness or misfortune), and the relatives of the deceased demand an inquest to identify and punish the culprit. However, these demands are short-lived, and in most cases death is ultimately blamed instead on some violation of incest or menstrual taboos by the deceased. When a person dies, the event is announced to the community and spread to other communities by tolling a slit gong. The length and elaboration of ceremonies depend on the status of the deceased, with Ceremonies for a headman being the most elaborate. Gift giving, displays of anger, taboos on touching the corpse and eating, and ritualized wailing all lead up to the actual burial, which is followed by various purification rituals for the relatives of the deceased. While there is the notion of an afterlife, it is not particularly important, as reflected in the little influence ascribed to the spirits of the dead.

See alsoManam, Murik


Hogbin, H. Ian (1970). The Island of Menstruating Men: Religion in Wogeo, New Guinea. Scranton: Chandler Publishing Company.

Hogbin, H. Ian (1978). The Leaders and the Led: Social Control in Wogeo. Carlton: Melbourne University Press.