Sailing for Survival
Mennis, Mary R.
Sailing for Survival is a comparative study of the trading systems and canoes of two groups of people in Papua New Guinea: the Bel people of Bilbil/Yabob on the North Coast, near Madang and the Motu people on the South Coast, near Port Moresby. There is now no doubt that they shared a common ancestry in West New Britain. They both belong to Austronesian language groups but had no contact with each other on their trade routes, separated as they were by twisting coastlines and rugged mountain ranges, nor did any trade items [apart from obsidian] pass from one trading zone to the other for over two thousand years. Yet the trade systems they developed independently have an amazing array of commonality harking back to their common ancestry in the Bismarck Archipelago. The association between archaeological and linguistic distributions suggests that the movement of Papuan Tip Cluster speakers to the west along the Papuan Coast took place about 2800 years ago, and the time depth for the spread out of the Bismarcks area of North New Guinea cluster languages may be within the last 1500 years. The members of each group, the Bel and the Motu evolved their own system of survival through trading pots on long trading voyages which became a focal point of their culture, beliefs and ritual. In their response to their environmental conditions and, influenced by introduced technological features, they developed quite different trading vessels: the lagatoi of the Motu people and the lalong and balangut of the Madang people. One of the aims of this report is to relate the construction of each of these vessels and compare and contrast them with the conclusion that form follows function. Many of the characteristics of the two trading systems the dadeng/waing of the Madang area and the hiri of the Motu are comparable: the need to trade because of infertile soil; the clay pots that the women made; the position of the women in the trading system; the mythology and origin myths of the trading system; the belief in magic to protect the traders and enhance the weather; the use of geographic points; the winds; and the stars to aid navigation. Their similar ancestral origins and culture was adapted to the environmental conditions in which the people found themselves. Although there were cultural and social reasons for the trading trips, the primary reason was economic - the men were Sailing for Survival.
Publisher: Department of Anthropology & Archaeology; University of Otago
Series number: 2
Research Type: Working Paper