Identification. At the time of their first recorded contact with Westerners, in 1872, the Austronesian-speaking people known as Motu lived in thirteen nucleated seaside villages on the south coast of the New Guinea mainland, immediately east and west of Port Moresby (9°29′ S, 147°8′ E), the first center of European settlement and the present capital of Papua New Guinea. One further Motu village was established subsequently. Three Motu villages, Elevala, Tanobada, and Hanuabada, were located close together on the shore of Port Moresby harbor, only a mile or so to the west of the present city's docks and commercial center. The Motu shared this coastline and its hinterland with a non-Austronesian-speaking people, the Koita, who occupied small residential enclaves in a number of Motu villages in addition to their own independent villages in the immediate hinterland. Today, Motu still inhabit the same fourteen seaside villages, though many of them have migrated from villages outside Port Moresby into its suburban residential areas. Most Motu villages were traditionally built over the water in tidal shallows, facing a barrier reef some distance offshore.
Location. From about April to November, when the southeast trade winds blow in from the sea, the Motu coast is hot and dry. Between November and March, the northwest monsoon brings some rain and increased humidity. The slopes, low hills, swamps, and valleys of the immediate hinterland behind and between Motu villages, where traditionally the Motu maintained gardens and occasionally hunted game, were sparsely covered with humid tropical savanna, mainly dry grass and stunted eucalypti. At the edges of the barrier reef, along the inshore beaches, and in the waters between, Motu fished.
Demography. Although no precise figures are available, from the random observations of early missionaries and other visitors the total population of all Motu villages at the time of first contact, including the small Koita minorities in some Villages, has been estimated at between 4,000 and 5,000. Subsequently, in the early decades of colonization, there were increases and decreases in particular villages and a slight but not spectacular increase overall. After World War II, However, with rapid urbanization, a shift from a subsistence Economy to wage labor, and improved medical services, the Motu population began to increase rapidly. For example, village population records show that the total population resident in the fourteen Motu villages increased between 1954 and 1968 from approximately 7,500 to 13,500. Precise figures on a Village basis are no longer available, but the Motu population has continued to increase rapidly and may now number more than 25,000. Doubtless because of their proximity to Port Moresby, the Motu have played a role in the history and development of Papua New Guinea disproportionate to their numbers.
Linguistic Affiliation. In common with some other Peoples scattered over Papua New Guinea's coastal periphery and offshore islands, the Motu speak an Austronesian Language, classified in the Central Family, Eastern Subgroup.
History and Cultural Relations
Available archaeological evidence suggests that the Motu, seafarers with their own distinctive maritime culture and ceramic tradition, first occupied their present habitat Comparatively recently in the history of settlement on New Guinea's southern shores. From 1872, when the first Christian missionaries arrived, through the entire colonial period inaugurated in 1884 with the establishment of a British Protectorate, Motu—particularly in the Port Moresby villages—participated actively and significantly in the social, Economic, and political developments that culminated in the establishment of Papua New Guinea as an independent nation-state in 1975. The early colonial government employed Motu speakers—including policemen recruited from the Solomon Islands who acquired a knowledge of simplified Motu when stationed in Port Moresby and, subsequently, Motu themselves—in remoter administrative Districts. As a result, a simplified version of the Motu language, at first called "Police Motu," but now known officially as "Hiri Motu," became established as a lingua franca in Papua. Motu from Port Moresby villages, educated in English at their mission school, were also recruited to clerical or commercial jobs in Port Moresby. Nevertheless, before World War II, only a small proportion of Motu in the Port Moresby villages and almost none from other villages worked for wages, and most villagers made their living from traditional subsistence activities. Since World War II, Motu—first from the Port Moresby villages and then from the remoter villages as they were connected to the town by road—have increasingly entered the work force of Port Moresby's expanding commercial, industrial, and service economy, until today almost all Motu men and many women work full-time for wages in the town; those from nearer villages commute daily, and those from remoter Villages live in town during the working week and return home at the weekends. As the Motu work force was absorbed into the urban economy, traditional economic enterprises Declined and eventually disappeared. Apart from a few Commercial fishermen, most able-bodied Motu men and many women are today urban workers: entrepreneurial, professional, white-collar, and blue-collar. Traditionally, Motu maintained trading relationships and lived in peace with some of their immediate inland neighbors, with whom they traded mainly fish for vegetables and fruit, and with the Erema and Toaripi peoples some distance west across the Gulf of Papua, to whose villages they made annual overseas trading expeditions (known as hiri ), exchanging pottery and ceremonial ornaments for sago, canoe hulls, and areca nuts. Outside of these exchange relationships, contacts with other neighboring peoples prior to colonization were fortuitous and hostile.
Motu villages were traditionally closely nucleated, the houses typically built out in lines over the water. Wooden walkways linked the houses in each line. Each of the independent, localized descent groups (iduhu ), which together constituted the village polity, occupied its own line of houses. Although large numbers of Motu still live over the water in this way, many others have now built houses ashore. Traditionally, Motu traveled between villages by canoe or on foot, but now all Motu villages are linked to Port Moresby, and they can thus be reached from each other, by road.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditionally, Motu grew yams and bananas, with other minor crops, in Garden plots scattered along the shore and over the coastal hillsides, maintained clusters of coconut palms near their Villages, reared pigs (primarily for ceremonial purposes), fished, and gathered shellfish and crabs. They did not, however, produce enough staple food to meet their needs, so they augmented their food stores by trading fish, pottery, and Ceremonial ornaments with their neighbors and overseas trading partners.
Industrial Arts and Division of Labor. Traditionally, there were no specialist craft workers among the Motu. The only division of labor was sexual. All men fished, sailed on the hiri, and constructed canoes, houses, and fishing nets. All women gathered crabs and shellfish, manufactured pottery, cooked, and fetched water. In the gardens, the soil was first broken by men and then weeded and cleared by women, but crops were planted, tended, and harvested by both sexes together.
Trade. Trade transactions usually took the form of reciprocal gift exchanges, but on the hiri direct baiter supplemented gift exchange. Gift exchanges involving ceremonial valuables (mainly arm shells and other ornaments, pigs, and yams) occurred between individuals and groups in different villages or iduhu at feasts with dancing, often associated with mortuary rites, and between kin and affines during marriage ceremonies. Except for a few commercial fishermen, Motu have not tried to find commercial markets for their traditional produce or to introduce new cash crops.
Land Tenure. In theory, Motu hold that rights to use or alienate any piece of land are shared by all descendants, through males or females or both, of the person who is known to have first cultivated or occupied it. In practice traditional rights to residential or garden land were mainly exercised by agnatic descendants, since males and their immediate Families tended to live in the residential section (iduhu) and cultivate the land of their fathers, whereas females married out. In colonial and postcolonial times, however, when Motu sold land for cash sums that were easily divisible, all descendants of the original occupant shared in the proceeds.
Kin Groups and Descent. There are two significant corporate groups in a Motu village: the household, comprising one or more nuclear families; and the iduhu, comprising a number of households located together in their own residential section of the village. Nuclear families within a Household, and households within an iduhu, are usually linked by agnatic ties: between fathers, sons, and brothers in a Household, and between agnatic descendants of its founder in an iduhu. Some rights (e.g., to share in an iduhu's fishing catch) extend also to sisters and their children, and some (e.g., to land) extend to further descendants bilaterally, but the core members of the iduhu with the strongest claims to its scarce material and ritual resources are agnates. Females marry out, but subsequently retain close bonds with their fathers and brothers.
Kinship Terminology. With one complication, Motu Kinship terminology is of the so-called "Hawaiian" type, distinguishing cognates of one's own generation only by age (kaka, older; tadi, younger) or sex (taihu, opposite sex) and applying only one term (tubu ) to all cognates of one's grandparents' or grandchildren's generation. The complication occurs in the terms used by proximate generations: In the generation of one's parents, mother's male cognates and husbands of Father's female cognates (both called vava ) and father's female cognates and the wives of mother's male cognates (lala ) are distinguished from father and his male cognates (tama) and mother and her female cognates (sina ), and these distinctions operate reciprocally for cognates of one's children's Generation. This type of terminology, sometimes called bifurcate-merging, is associated with classificatory brother-sister exchange marriage, which was traditionally not uncommon among the Motu.
Marriage. Although, traditionally, important men sometimes married several wives, Motu marriages today are monogamous. There is a rule against marrying any cognate but traditionally marriage within the village was preferred, which sometimes severely limited the range of choices and encouraged relaxation of the rule in the case of distant cognates. Traditionally, too, marriages were arranged, and childhood betrothals were common, but nowadays young people are mainly free to choose their own spouses. Gift exchanges traditionally accompanied various stages in the process of betrothal and marriage, culminating in the main presentation of bride-wealth (in the past consisting mainly of arm shells but now including substantial sums of money). In recent times, bride-wealth inflation, led by wealthier Motu, has delayed or impeded this final legitimation of marriages according to
Motu custom among the less wealthy. Residence after Marriage was traditionally viripatrilocal. Divorce, involving a Return of bride-wealth, was possible but infrequent.
Domestic Unit. Traditionally, household members pooled foodstuffs and cooked together, but component nuclear Families ate separately. Households, or sometimes component Nuclear families within households, maintained their own Garden plots. Each household had its own small fishing nets, though larger nets were owned and operated by the whole iduhu.
Inheritance. Houses and major household effects were (and are) usually inherited by the householder's oldest son. Other sons and their families might continue to live there, but they would seek eventually to establish their own separate households.
Socialization. All members of the household help in caring for and raising children, but mothers undertake the major chores. Traditional skills were learned by boys from their Fathers and other senior men of the household, and by girls from their mothers and other senior women.
Although there are perceived to be specific historical links Between certain Motu villages, traditionally all villages were Politically independent and there was no formal sociopolitical organization above the village level.
Social Organization. Normally, the senior married male agnate is recognized within an iduhu as its leader, and within a household as its head, and the status of other male Members is determined by genealogical seniority both between and within generations. At the village level, there was Traditionally no formal status hierarchy, but prominent men, for the most part iduhu leaders, competed for status and influence through the sponsorship and management of enterprises that conferred prestige, such as hiri expeditions, feasts with dancing, bride-wealth payments, and (in precolonial times) feats of military leadership. Nowadays, in the cash economy, Motu men of outstanding achievement seek—through bride-wealth payments, hospitality, and other forms of conspicuous consumption—to convert wealth into status, influence, and, ultimately, public office.
Political Organization. Political decisions at the village level were traditionally achieved and maintained through public debate, in which political leaders (big-men) used a rhetoric invoking their superior achievements and prestige, which in turn reflected the range and size of their support networks, to "shame" other participants out of contention until a clear victor or a winning consensus emerged. In the modern postindependence polity, important decisions affecting the Motu are made by politicians who build on local support to pursue power through formal organizations (including Political parties) and informal alliances, all operating within a wider structure of democratically elected local, regional, and national legislatures and their supporting bureaucracies.
Conflict. At the village level, competition and conflict were endemic and essential features of the traditional Motu way of life: ultimately, victory over their rivals in the rhetoric of the political arena motivated individuals and groups to work, compete, and achieve to their maximum capacity. Victory was never complete, defeat rarely absolute; the pursuit of advantage was never-ending. Consensus—or, in its absence and as a last resort, physical confrontation—might temporarily give victory in a dispute to one party over the other, and the loser might offer a gift to placate the winner for the time being, but most losers withdrew only to fight again another day. Beyond the village, oral traditions and early historical Records suggest that Motu engaged in warfare or conducted raids intermittently against other neighboring peoples and even sometimes against other Motu villages. Such warfare, endemic in this area, was eventually suppressed by the British administration after its establishment in 1884.
Social Control. Within the iduhu, traditionally, social control was usually maintained and conflict avoided or resolved through the exercise of agnatic authority, supported by ancestral ritual sanctions.
Religion and Expressive Culture
The Motu were the first people in mainland Papua New Guinea to receive Christian missionaries, and most Motu are now church members. For some generations, however, Christianity and traditional religious beliefs coexisted.
Religious Beliefs. Motu traditionally believed that their well-being depended on the continued support of their ancestral spirits, who were believed to go after death to a place of plenty over the sea, to the west, but who were thought also to maintain a concern for, and spiritual contact with, their living descendants in the village. Households and iduhu regularly performed mystical rites instituted by their ancestors to promote success in such enterprises as gardening, fishing, and the hiri. The ancestors of a household or iduhu were thought to monitor the behavior of members and to punish misbehavior by inflicting illness or misfortune.
Religious Practitioners. There were no specialist religious practitioners in traditional Motu society, except for diviners who could identify certain illnesses and calamities as punishments for particular infringements of the ancestral code or as the effects of sorcery (mea ) or witchcraft (vada ). The Motu believed that, in general, only Koita and other neighboring peoples practiced sorcery and witchcraft, but individual Motu could buy or otherwise enlist their services or skills.
Ceremonies. To gain the ancestors' support or to placate them, Motu traditionally held private ceremonies at the sacred place (irutahuna ) of a house or canoe. Following the death of an important household member, to ensure a successful transition to the world of ancestral spirits, a series of public ceremonies took place over several years or more, culminating in a major feast with dancing (turia ) during which the deceased's bones were disinterred.
Arts. Traditionally, Motu women were elaborately tattooed, but the practice has now ceased. Their ceramics (cooking pots, water jars, and food platters) were elegant but plain, with little decoration. Motu achieved their most spectacular artistic expression in their dances in which, with elaborate feather headdresses, brightly painted faces, arm shells and plaited amulets, colorful grass skirts on the women, and elegant perineal bands on the men, they danced in various formations to the percussion rhythms of wooden hourglass drums. Early missionaries viewed Motu dancing as a prelude to sexual abandon, and they forbade it. For some generations, Motu were divided between Christians, who did not dance, and pagans, who did. Although the Christians eventually won, some of the dance forms still survive, but only as cultural relics performed occasionally for tourists or in historical pageants.
See also Koiari, Namau, Orokolo
Belshaw, Cyril S. (1957). The Great Village. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Dutton, Tom, ed. (1982). The Hiri in History. Pacific Research Monograph no. 8. Canberra: Australian National University.
Groves, Murray (1960). "Western Motu Descent Groups." Ethnology 1:15-30.
Seligmann, C. G. (1910). The Melanesians of British New Guinea. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
PRONUNCIATION : MOH-too
LOCATION : Papua New Guinea
LANGUAGE : Motu (Hiri Motu); Tok Pisin; English
RELIGION : Christianity
The Motu are an Austronesian-speaking group who live on the southern coast of the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. They occupy a stretch of coastline that was the first area of permanent European settlement on the island of New Guinea. The Motu are well represented in literature because of their elaborate annual trading expeditions in distant parts of the Gulf of Papua. The Motu men constructed large sailing craft called lagatoi. The lagatoi were multihulled rafts built out of large logs and lashed together. These rafts were propelled by crab claw-shaped sails made of coconut fiber. The crew needed to sail one of these vessels was around 30 men. Although the annual hiri expeditions are no longer undertaken by the Motu, there are annual ceremonies and events that commemorate the tradition.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Motu homeland is in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea has been an independent nation since 1975 and occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, the third largest island in the world. The capital of Papua New Guinea is Port Moresby, a city that divides the traditional Motu territory in half. Port Moresby is built on the land traditionally belonging to two peoples, the Motu and the Koitabu. The Motu were the subject of one of the earliest ethnologies of the region that was published in the latter half of the 19th century. The first European accounts of the Motu record the same 14 villages that are still occupied by the Motu today. The Motu coastline has two distinct seasons: a hot, dry period from April to November, and a wet, humid period from November to March. Some Motu have left their villages and moved to small settlements on the outskirts of Port Moresby, while others live in the city itself in modern homes with running water and electricity.
The language of the Motu is related to the other Austronesian languages of New Guinea and the South Pacific region. Austronesian languages are in the minority in Papua New Guinea, and speakers of these languages are usually only found in coastal regions. The Papuan languages are the majority languages of this island nation and found mostly in non-coastal areas. The distribution of these two language families reflects the prehistoric migration of these two populations to the island. The ancestors of the present-day Austronesian speaking populations, such as the Motu, were later migrants to the island.
During their annual trading expeditions, the Motu used a special form of their language referred to now as "Hiri Motu." Recognizing the importance of this language in the south coastal region of the country, the government made Hiri Motu one of the three official languages of Papua New Guinea. Hiri Motu is losing ground to Tok Pisin, another one of the official languages of the country.
The existing body of folklore and mythology of the Motu is dwindling at a rapid rate due to urbanization and, in some cases, education. In many cases, children no longer have the opportunity to learn the traditional stories of the past. Many Motu stories recount conflict between the Motu and their neighbors. Stories of the successes of ancestors in raiding neighboring villages are still remembered by some older Motu. Traditional myths concerning the origins of the Motu, the development of fire, the history of the hiri trading expeditions, and others have been written down and published as small booklets. Many other groups in Papua New Guinea have done the same thing in an effort to preserve the traditions, although in an altered form.
The vast majority of Motu are regular church-going Christians. Missionaries have been active in the area since the earliest history of Motu-European contact and the London Missionary Society dominated this activity. While some of the traditional beliefs and ceremonies are maintained in Motu society, the United Church—the descendant of the London Missionary Society—has transformed much of traditional Motu practice. For instance, the Motu once believed in witchcraft and sorcery, but they did not practice it; instead, they believed that neighboring groups had this power and the Motu would have to enlist the services of outsiders if they wanted to inflict illness or death on one of their own.
The Motu celebrate Christian holidays. Most Motu also recognize and, in some cases, celebrate the secular national holidays since they participate in the nation's wage-earning work force. The Hiri Festival is also an important holiday. It gives the Motu a chance to celebrate their traditional heritage and enjoy the dress and entertainment of traditional Motu society.
RITES OF PASSAGE
The Motu have experienced the effects of modernization more than many other groups in Papua New Guinea. As a result, many of the traditional aspects of their culture have been lost. The traditional stages of life that were part and parcel of Motu traditional society no longer exist. Only the payment of "bride price" still exists as part of a traditional rite of passage. The transitions from infant to adolescent, adult, and then onwards to death, are marked more in the European manner. Birthdays are celebrated in Motu homes in Port Moresby. Traditional mortuary practices are no longer observed, although a traditional mourning period of about four weeks is observed in regards to non-essential activities.
Since many Motus live and work in the capital city, greetings and leave-takings are based on urban patterns of social interaction. The choice of language for the greetings is the most important aspect of the interaction. Motus will usually greet each other in Hiri Motu. They can choose other languages as well, usually choosing either English or Tok Pisin. In each case, the choice of language directly reflects the nature of the social relationship between the parties involved.
The kinship terminology of the Motu is the "Hawaiian" type. A kinship terminology is the set of terms that a person uses to refer to or address a relative. In American English, one distinguishes between one's mother and one's aunts, but typically does not distinguish between maternal aunts and paternal aunts. In the Motu system, there is no distinctive word for "mother" and another for "aunt." Instead, both are referred to by the same term. The Motus do distinguish between relatives on the father's side from relatives on the mother's side.
Traditionally, the Motu built their houses in lines connected to each other by walkways over the tidal shallows. The line of houses corresponded to a descent group—that is, a group of people related to each other by shared descent from a common ancestor. Some Motus have chosen to remain in the village area but have built houses on land. Motu village houses often have corrugated sheet metal walls and thatched roofs with plank floors. Some of the Motu who live in traditional villages do not have electricity and rely on kerosene lanterns for lighting and battery-operated radios to keep in touch with the larger society and the outside world. The urban Motus live in a range of styles of house. Wealthy, professional Motus have large houses with all of the amenities that most Americans are accustomed to having in their homes.
Before Europeans colonized the Motu region, transportation between Motu villages was by canoe and sometimes by foot. Now, all Motu villages are connected by road to Port Moresby. Many Motus still use canoes to visit other villages. The Motus are well known to anthropologists for their large ceremonial canoes used in the hiri trading expeditions.
The nuclear family is the basic unit of social organization among the Motu. Households were linked together by a shared walkway and a shared cooking area.
Marriage among the Motu today has changed from when Europeans first encountered them. Today, the Motus are monogamous. In pre-colonial times, men of status and wealth often had several wives. Motu marriages were arranged in traditional times, and there were many restrictions on potential spouses. Child betrothal was quite common, and gift exchange occurred often until the final bride price was paid and the marriage was finalized. The modern Motus are free to choose their marriage partners; however, wealthy Motu families have inflated bride prices and it now often takes quite some time for a marriage transaction to become finalized. The Motu have garnered a reputation in Papua New Guinea for demanding the highest cash bride prices in the country, topping 60,000 kina.
Traditional clothing for Motu women consists of a grass fiber skirt. They did not wear any footwear or any covering on their upper bodies, which were frequently tattooed. For ceremonies and other important occasions, both men and women would oil their skin. Feathers, flowers, and the leaves of croton plants were used to decorate women's hair and were also placed in armbands that they wore on their upper arms. Traditional dress is still used by the Motu for ceremonial events such as bride price payments, weddings, and canoe races. Urban Motus wear Western-style clothing all the time.
The traditional foods of the Motu were fish, yams, and bananas. They also collected shellfish and crabs. The Motu traded with their neighbors and also on trading expeditions to farther villages for food. A vibrant tuna fishing industry exists in some Western Motu villages, based on an important myth regarding its origins. Nowadays, Western foodstuffs have become staples. Tinned fish and canned Indonesian curry dishes are popular foods. Rice and tea are also important foods that are purchased in local shops and grocery stores in Port Moresby. American food products such as boxed cereals, soft drinks, and hot dogs can be purchased in the Port Moresby stores. Although families often pool their foodstuffs and cook communally, the Motu nuclear families eat separately.
Traditional education was structured along sex lines. Boys learned adult male activities from their male relatives and females learned adult female activities from their female relatives. Nowadays, public education is available to the Motu and almost all families take advantage of it. Some Motus go on to college at one of the national colleges or universities, such as the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.
Traditional Motu dances were very impressive. Men and women wore elaborate face paint and feather headdresses. The dancers performed intricate group dances. Dancing was accompanied by drumming and sometimes singing. The Motu use hand-held, hourglass-shaped drums called kundu throughout Papua New Guinea. Dancing was discouraged by Christian missionaries, and, as a result, many of the traditional ceremonial dances are no longer performed and are lost to memory. Some dances are still performed on important occasions and for the tourists that regularly visit Motu villages.
The traditional division of labor in Motu society was along sex lines. Men built houses and canoes, constructed fishing nets, and did the fishing and participated in the trading expeditions. Women made the pottery that the men took to trade on the hiri voyages. Women also cooked, fetched water, and gathered terrestrial foodstuffs and marine resources. Both men and women tended the garden where the Motu grew limited crops. Today, both men and women seek wage labor outside the village, usually in nearby Port Moresby. Many of the Motus hold white-collar professional jobs. Traditional industries are all but lost and only few still remain for resuscitation at festivals and ceremonies.
Rugby is both a spectator and participant sport all over Papua New Guinea. The Motus are able to watch league (semi-professional) rugby since many of them either live or work in Port Moresby.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Canoe races are an important form of recreation for the Motu. The canoes are modeled on the traditional styles, but are constructed out of modern materials. For the Motu who live in the surrounding areas of Port Moresby, movie houses, clubs, and pubs are places for entertainment of various sorts. The national beauty pageant that crowns "Miss Papua New Guinea" for her competition in larger, regional pageants is an important event for all of those living in Port Moresby. The Motus are always well represented in this event.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Art among the Motu was limited to the styles of pottery that were manufactured by women and the elaborate body tattoos of women. Although many Pacific societies have given up the practice of tattooing, some Motu girls and young women are still being tattooed. Patterns are geometric in nature with some Christian motifs having become part of the imagery.
Maintaining the distinctiveness of their culture in the shadow of urbanization and modernization represented by the capital city of Port Moresby is a challenge for the present-day Motu. Their language has lost some ground to the popularity of Tok Pisin among young people, especially those that migrate to the city and its suburbs. Larger problems that face the entire nation are alcohol and drug abuse, the spread of HIV, and enforcement of laws which forbid the importation, sale, or possession of ammunition and pornography of any kind. The law against pornography exists in an effort to maintain respect for the traditional dress of women. In fact, every participant in the Miss Papua New Guinea must dress in traditional attire as part of the competition. For most, this will mean that they will have to appear topless. The government and society are striving to maintain the appreciation of this form of dress for its cultural value, and to not allow for its objectification.
The Motu Koitabu are the group of people indigenous to areas in and around the coastal city of Port Moresby and the National Capital District. They are the traditional owners of the land upon which the city of Port Moresby is located, and number about 30,000. After Papua New Guinea (PNG) obtained its independence from Australia, on 16 September 1975, Port Moresby became the nation's capital. Large numbers of people from other provinces moved into the city, making it the business, commercial and administrative center of the nation. Increasingly all aspects of the lives of the Motu Koitabu—political, economic, social and cultural—have become marginalized. In 1999 the Inaugural Summit on Motu Koitabu was held in Baruni village. Recommendations for social, economic, and ecological change were unanimously agreed upon and adopted by the members of the summit, and those are now referred to as "The Baruni Declaration."
Garbage build-up and pollution are increasingly serious problems in Port Moresby and in the surrounding villages. These problems directly impact the Motu Koitabu.
As a coastal culture of Papua New Guinea, the Motu do not evidence the types of sexual antagonism and segregation that are common in the Highlands cultures of the nation (see the Dani and Melpa). The extensive tattooing of Motu women is particularly noteworthy. While men were only tattooed across their chests in recognition of exploits in headhunting raids, Motu women were tattooed from head to toe. The elaborate patterns of the tattoos are handed down from mothers to daughters. As early as the age of five, Motu girls would receive the first tattoos on the backs of their hands. From then on, and following a strict age pattern, further tattoos were added to a girl's body until she would be completely tattooed by the time the girl married after puberty. Nowadays, many Motu girls use felt markers to draw the elaborate designs on their bodies instead of undergoing the painful and permanent traditional inking.
Men and women had distinct roles in the important hiri trading expeditions. Women would make the pots that were in turn traded for sago as part of the trade. While the men were away on a hiri trading expedition, the unmarried females would remain secluded in their homes until the men returned. During that time, these girls would continue receiving elaborate tattoos and they would be instructed in the ways of being a proper Motu woman by their elderly female relatives. During their seclusion, the young women were not allowed to bathe, comb their hair, and were required to eat only vegetables using special chopstick-like utensils called diniga in Motu.
Dutton, Tom. Police Motu: Iena Sivari. Port Moresby: University of Papua New Guinea Press, 1985.
Groves, M. "Hiri." In The Encyclopedia of Papua New Guinea, ed. P. Ryan. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1972.
Holdsworth, David. Festivals and Celebrations in Papua New Guinea. Bathurst: Robert Brown & Associates, 1982.
Lister-Turner, R. A Dictionary of the Motu Language of Papua. 2d ed. Sydney, A. H. Pettifer, 1941?
—by J. Williams
LOCATION: Southern coast of Papua New Guinea
LANGUAGE: Motu (Hiri Motu); Tok Pisin; English
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Motu are a group who live on the southern coast of Papua New Guinea. They occupy a stretch of coastline that was the first area of permanent European settlement on the island of New Guinea. The Motu are well chronicled because of their elaborate annual trading expeditions to distant parts of the Gulf of Papua. The Motu men built large sailing boats called lagatoi, which were multihulled rafts built out of large logs that were lashed together. These rafts were propelled by crab-claw-shaped sails made of coconut fiber. A crew of thirty men was needed to sail one of these vessels. Although the annual hiri (trade) expeditions are no longer undertaken by the Motu, annual ceremonies and events commemorate the tradition.
2 • LOCATION
The Motu homeland is in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea has been an independent nation since 1975. It occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, the third-largest island in the world. The capital of Papua New Guinea is Port Moresby, a city that divides the traditional Motu territory in half. The first European accounts of the Motu record the same fourteen villages that are still occupied by the Motu today. The Motu coastline has two distinct seasons: a hot, dry period from April to November; and a wet, humid period from November to March. Some Motu have left their villages and moved to small settlements on the outskirts of Port Moresby. Others live in the city itself in modern homes with running water and electricity.
3 • LANGUAGE
The language of the Motu is related to the other Austronesian languages of New Guinea and the South Pacific region. Austronesian languages are in the minority in Papua New Guinea, and speakers of these languages are usually only found in coastal regions. (The Papuan languages are the majority languages of this island nation.) During their annual trading expeditions, the Motu used a special form of their language referred to now as "Hiri Motu." Some Motu also speak Tok Pisin (an English-based pidgin language) and English.
4 • FOLKLORE
The existing body of folklore and mythology of the Motu is being lost at a rapid rate due to urbanization and, in some cases, education. In many cases, children no longer have the opportunity to learn the traditional stories of the past. Many Motu stories tell of conflict between the Motu and their neighbors. Stories of the successes of ancestors in raiding neighboring villages are still remembered by some older Motu. Traditional myths tell the origins of the Motu, the development of fire, and the history of the hiri (trading expeditions). These myths and others have been written down and published as small booklets.
5 • RELIGION
Christian missionaries have been active in the area since the earliest Motu-European contact during the 1930s. The vast majority of Motu are Christians. However, some of the traditional beliefs and ceremonies are still maintained in Motu society. The Motu believed in witchcraft and sorcery, but they did not practice it. Instead, they believed that neighboring groups had this power, and the Motu would have to enlist the services of outsiders if they wanted to inflict illness or death on one of their own.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
The Motu celebrate Christian holidays. Most Motu participate in the nation's wage-earning work force. Therefore, they also recognize and, in some cases, celebrate the secular (nonreligious) national holidays. The Hiri Festival (commemorating the Motu trade expeditions) is also an important holiday. It gives the Motu a chance to celebrate their traditional heritage and enjoy their traditional dress and entertainment.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
The Motu have experienced the effects of modernization more than many other groups in Papua New Guinea. As a result, many of the traditional aspects of their culture have been lost. The stages of life that were integral to traditional Motu society no longer exist. Only the payment of "bride price" (payment by the groom's family to the bride's family) still exists as part of a rite of passage. The transitions from infant to adolescent, adult, and then onward to death, are marked more in the European manner. Birthdays are celebrated by Motu who live in Port Moresby.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
The choice of language for Motu greetings is the most important aspect of an interaction. Motus will usually greet each other in Hiri Motu, but also use English and Tok Pisin with some frequency. The choice of language directly reflects the nature of the social relationship between the parties involved.
The kinship terminology of the Motu is the Hawaiian type. (A kinship terminology is the set of terms that a person uses to refer to or address a relative.) In American English, one distinguishes between one's mother and one's aunts, but typically does not distinguish between maternal aunts and paternal aunts. In the Motu system, there are no distinctive words for "mother" and "aunt." Instead, both are referred to by the same term. However, the Motus do distinguish between relatives on the father's side and relatives on the mother's side.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Traditionally, the Motu built their houses in lines that were connected to each other by walkways built over the tidal shallows. A line of houses corresponded to a particular descent group—that is, a group of people related to each other by a common ancestor. Some Motu have chosen to remain in village areas such as these, but have built houses on land. Motu village houses often have corrugated sheet-metal walls, thatched roofs, and plank floors. Some of the Motu who live in traditional villages do not have electricity. They rely on kerosene lanterns for lighting and on battery-operated radios for keeping in touch with the outside world. Urban Motu live in a range of house styles. Wealthy, professional Motu have large houses with all the comforts that most Americans are accustomed to having.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
The nuclear family is the basic unit of social organization among the Motu. Households were traditionally linked together by a shared walkway and a shared cooking area.
Marriage among the Motu today has changed from when Europeans first encountered them. Today, the Motu are monogamous. In precolonial times, men of status and wealth often had several wives. Motu marriages were arranged in traditional times, and there were many restrictions on potential spouses. Child betrothal (engagement) was quite common. Gift exchange occurred frequently until the final bride price (goods given by the groom's family to the bride's family) was paid and the marriage was finalized. The modern Motu are free to choose their marriage partners. Wealthy Motu families have inflated bride prices, which has lengthened the time it takes for a marriage to become finalized.
11 • CLOTHING
Traditional clothing for Motu women consisted of a grass fiber skirt. They did not wear any footwear or any covering on their upper bodies, which were frequently tattooed. For ceremonies and other important occasions, both men and women would oil their skin. Feathers, flowers, and the leaves of croton plants were used to decorate women's hair, and were also placed in arm-bands (worn on the upper arms). Traditional dress is still used by the Motu for ceremonial events such as bride-price payments, weddings, and canoe races. Urban Motus wear Western-style clothing.
12 • FOOD
The traditional foods of the Motu were fish, yams, and bananas. They also collected shellfish and crabs. The Motu traded with their neighbors and also went on trading expeditions to far-away villages. Nowadays, Western foodstuffs have become staples. Tinned fish and canned Indonesian curry dishes are popular foods. Rice and tea are also important foods that are purchased in shops and grocery stores, where American products such as boxed cereals, soft drinks, and hot dogs are also sold. Although village families often cook together, Motu nuclear families eat separately.
13 • EDUCATION
Traditional education was structured along sex lines. Boys learned adult male activities from their male relatives; females learned adult female activities from their females relatives. Nowadays, public education is available to the Motu and almost all families take advantage of it. Some Motu go on to college at one of the national colleges or universities, such as the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Traditional dances were very impressive. They often were intricate group dances. Men and women wore elaborate face paint and feather headdresses. Dancing was accompanied by drumming, and sometimes, singing. The Motu use hand-held, hourglass-shaped drums called kundu. Dancing was discouraged by Christian missionaries. As a result, many of the traditional ceremonial dances are no longer performed and are forgotten. Some dances are still performed on important occasions and for tourists who visit Motu villages.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
The traditional division of labor in Motu society was along sex lines. Men built houses and canoes, constructed fishing nets, fished, and participated in trading expeditions. Women made the pottery that the men took to trade on the hiri (trading) voyages. Women also cooked, fetched water, and gathered foodstuffs. Both men and women tended the garden where limited crops were grown. Today, both men and women seek wage labor outside their villages, usually in Port Moresby. Many Motu hold white-collar (professional) jobs. Traditional industries are all but lost, with only a few still remaining for demonstration at festivals and ceremonies.
16 • SPORTS
Rugby is both a spectator and participant sport throughout Papua New Guinea. Motu who live or work in Port Moresby watch league (semiprofessional) rugby. Canoe races are an important form of recreation for the Motu. The canoes are modeled on traditional styles, but are constructed of modern materials.
17 • RECREATION
For Motu who live in or near Port Moresby, movie houses, clubs, and pubs are places for entertainment. The national beauty pageant that crowns "Miss Papua New Guinea" for competition in larger, regional pageants is an important event for those living in Port Moresby. Motu are always well represented in this event.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Art among the Motu was limited to pottery made by women, and to the elaborate body tattoos of women. Many Pacific societies have given up the practice of tattooing. However, some Motu girls and young women are still being tattooed. Patterns are geometric in nature, with some Christian motifs having become part of the imagery.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Maintaining the distinctiveness of their culture in the face of urbanization and modernization is a challenge for the present-day Motu. The Motu language has lost some ground to the popularity of Tok Pisin among young people. Larger problems are alcohol and drug abuse, and the spread of HIV (the AIDS virus).
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Groves, M. "Hiri." In The Encyclopedia of Papua New Guinea, ed. P. Ryan. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 1972.
Holdsworth, David. Festivals and Celebrations in Papua New Guinea. Bathurst, Australia: Robert Brown & Associates, 1982.
Interknowledge Corp. [Online] Available http://www.interknowledge.com/papua-newguinea/, 1998.
World Travel Guide. Papua New Guinea. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/pg/gen.html, 1998.