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Pathways of change

Anton Ploeg

Chapter 4. Lani

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1. Overview

1The Lani were the most populous ethnic group in all western New Guinea. In a book published in 1980, Hayward estimated their number at 134,000 (1980: 5-6). This figure may be an overestimate, since Silzer & Heikkinen Clouse put their number at 129,000 in their 1991 language index, while it seems likely that the partial abandonment of warfare and the equally partial provision of elementary medical services since first contact in the early 1960s had resulted in some population increase. Moreover since a number of ethnographers have worked among and with Lani, and in a number of localities, this chapter has become the longest ethnographic chapter in the book. At first contact, the Lani lived in a number of river valleys, often narrow, unlike the Grand Valley of the Baliem, with wide catchments and dense populations. I first mention the valleys of the North Baliem, the Boko, the Toli and the Yamo rivers. In these valleys, the Lani were the exclusive or near-exclusive inhabitants, but farther north and west, in the valleys of the Ilaga, the Beoga, the Doga and the Kema rivers, they shared the land with members of other ethnic groups, notably the Damal and the Moni. The ethnic mix farther north and west resulted from the vigorous westward and northward expansion of the Lani that was in progress when the colonial incorporation started in the mid-1950s. In all likelihood boundaries between the ethnic groups were shifting (Larson 1987: 15-16; Gibbons 1981: 106-107). At the time, the boundary between Hubula and Lani in the basin of the Baliem was just west of the Grand Valley (Draper & Draper 2007: 135). As regards the western tributaries that join the Baliem in the Grand Valley, the situation then current has not become clear.

Pict. 6. The lower North Baliem valley

Pict. 6. The lower North Baliem valley

The North Baliem follows the direction of the main range, like the Kema river does (see pict. 2). Unlike the Kema, it flows to the east. The picture was taken in 1991, at the lower end of the valley, facing west, upstream. The river runs here at about 1,700 meters. The picture only shows a small stretch of the valley. Tiom, the base of Norman and Sheila Draper, is already invisible.

Source: Anton Ploeg

2Gordon Larson, a long-time missionary based in Ilaga, reported in his dissertation a distinction that the Lani made between “broad” or “grassy valley” people, and “narrow valley” people (1987: 14-15). The former lived in the southern valleys at higher altitude, such as the North Baliem and Ilaga valleys, where settlement occurred at over 2,000 metres; and the latter, in the northern, lower valleys, such as the Boko, the Toli and the Yamo, with settlement as low as 1,000 metres. The distinction included further contrasts: population densities were higher in the south, in high-altitude valleys, than in the north, and agriculture tended to be more intensive in the south. But since the northern valleys are at lower altitudes, the range of crops is accordingly larger. In her comparative discussion of highlanders in Papua New Guinea, Paula Brown drew a similar contrast (1978: 18-19).

3Paul Wirz was the first anthropologist to do fieldwork among the Lani, in 1921 as a staff member of the Kremer-Van Overeem expedition (Ploeg 1997: 212). In a few months he managed to bring together “a surprising amount of information” (O’Brien 1969a: 71) about people whose language was then almost completely unknown. However it was only in the early 1960s that Denise O’Brien and I myself resumed fieldwork among them. My own field research took place among Lani whom I called Wanggulam, living in the north-eastern corner of the Lani habitat, near Bokondini, in Bokoga, the valley of the Boko, a minor river that drains to the northeast, to the eastern section of the Lake Plain. Below I refer to this area as Bokondini, a Lani toponym meaning “the flat area near the Boko”. It became the site of the mission and administrative stations, and its name came to stand for the entire valley. O’Brien worked in the Konda Valley, at the headwaters of the Toli, which flows from southeast to northwest and drains in the western section of the Lake Plain. The two areas, separated by a single watershed, were one day’s walk apart. It might seem incongruous that two researchers worked geographically so close while so much of western New Guinea was anthropologically unknown, but at the time of our research, outsiders were unaware of just how widespread the territories of the Lani were.

4Several Protestant missionaries with anthropological training – Norman and Shirley Draper in the North Baliem Valley, from 1956 (Draper & Draper 1990: 205), Gordon Larson in Ilaga, also from 1956 (Larson 1987: iii), and Douglas Hayward in Mulia, from 1967 (Hayward 1997: 16) – added significantly to the anthropological record. They worked in different parts of the Lani territories and spent long periods among the people, Larson spending over 30 years. He and the Drapers were the first Europeans to settle among them, establishing mission stations in un-administered areas (Larson 1987: 31; Draper & Draper 2007: 157). Archaeologists also contributed to the corpus of data. I refer here again to the work of the Pétrequins, primarily their investigations of the origins and subsequent distribution of the stone artefacts that highlanders used at the time of first contact, and that they had quarried or found in or near the highlands (1993, 2006).

5The Lani spoke a single language, also called Lani, which is closely related to the language, or languages, of the Hubula. Hence, as I did above with regard to the Me and the Moni, I presume that, for some time in the past, Lani and Hubula spoke a single language and, moreover, that at that time they shared a single way of life. At the time of first contact, the Lani language had a number of mutually intelligible dialects. Larson has analysed differences between their vocabularies and found that, in this respect, the Bokondini dialect was the most aberrant (1977: 14). He did not attempt an explanation. But given our lack of knowledge of Lani prehistory, such an explanation could only have been quite speculative.

6At first sight, Hubula and Lani ways of life showed many similarities in terms of their dress and finery, the way they built their houses and fences, and the wealth items that they used, in other words cultural elements that were visible. They also spoke languages belonging to a single family. But they lived in different ecotopes: while the Hubula practised agriculture in a single valley, on both the valley floor and the surrounding slopes, the river valleys that the Lani inhabited differed markedly in altitude: from above 2000 to below 1000 meters. Many were v-shaped, while relatively flat land occurred sparsely and grand valleys were absent. Consequently the Lani did not practise wetland agriculture, and water control was applied to a very small extent. The account that Larson provides of the agriculture practised by the Lani in the Ilaga Valley at the time of his stay there has remained the most elaborate one available. Larson reports three methods of cultivation:

1) with raised beds and shallow ditching in moderate terrain…, 2) without raised beds on steep-sloped terrain with rudimentary terracing… and 3) without raised beds in rich humus soil where taro is planted and irrigation is practised as the crop matures (1987: 96).

7The first of these methods was the most prevalent by far. Among other Lani groups, cultivation methods were less intensive. While Ilaga was then in the south-western corner of their habitat, in the Bokondini area, in the north-eastern corner, where I did fieldwork I the early 1960s (Ploeg 1969: 11, Larson 1987: 326-327), the Lani cultivated swiddens without terracing. The botanist Lam also remarked on the variety in Lani agriculture. He regarded Lani agriculture in the mid-Toli Valley, which he observed in 1921, as quite unsustainable. In his view it had resulted in the extensive areas of grassland in the valley. However he added that elsewhere the Lani practised a better-tended form of agriculture with “better looked-after gardens properly weeded and drained by a system of ditches at right angles with each other” (1927-1929: 338, 1945: 161). That observation must have been made in the North Baliem Valley, the only settled valley that a team of expedition members, not including Lam, crossed twice, on their way to and from Mount Trikora. About Lani agriculture in the Yamo Valley, the Pétrequins reported (1993: 139, 141 Plate 116) that it compared well with Grand Valley agriculture, presumably the agriculture that the Hubula practised on the slopes of the Grand Valley. At the time, the middle Toli and the Yamo valleys were at or close to the northern edge of the Lani territories. The occurrence of grasslands in the mid-Toli Valley in the early 1920s suggests that Lani had lived there in sizeable numbers for several generations, pace Szalay, who opined some 75 years later that Lani settlement “of high elevations between the Grand Valley and Ilaga appears… to have occurred within the past 60 to 100 years” (1999: 138).

Pict. 7. Fallow garden up from Tiom

Pict. 7. Fallow garden up from Tiom

Pierre Pétrequin took the picture in 2010, at an altitude of 2,500 meters. The garden appears to be at the upper limit of the cultivated area.

Source: Pierre Pétrequin & Anne-Marie Pétrequin

8Notwithstanding the cultural resemblances, I became almost straightaway after arrival in Bokondini impressed by reports by other colonials about cultural contrasts between Hubula and Lani, and accordingly, in my publications I have attempted to demonstrate that cultural variety among highlanders in western New Guinea is greater than is suggested by the contrast perceived early on between the Me and the Moni, and the Me and the Hubula. It seems plausible that the differences between Hubula and Lani ways of life resulted in part from the quite different environments in which they lived, but, as appears below, other cultural differences cannot be so easily explained. My first effort was a paper comparing the differences between Hubula and the Lani I had worked among in the Boko Valley (Ploeg 1966), which prompted a reply from Heider (1975). Subsequent accounts and analyses of western New Guinea highlands cultures, discussed in this book, but especially the rich analyses of highland cultures in Papua New Guinea, enabled me to extend my comparative research. In this book I sum up and extend my previous analyses.

9Cultural differences between Hubula and Lani rapidly became apparent in their very different responses to colonial incorporation. As related above, the Hubula resisted imposition of the colonial peace and the efforts of missionaries to convert them to Christianity (Butt 1998). Not so the Lani. Within a few years after first contact, they gave up their fighting and converted en masse. Accordingly, when Denise O’Brien and I started our field research, we arrived among people who were deliberately abandoning much of their former way of life (O’Brien & Ploeg 1964; Ploeg 2007). However, in my perception, it would be a mistake to conclude from these two sharply contrasting reactions that both Grand Valley Dani and Lani were two culturally homogeneous ethnic groups.

10I mention first the opinion of Norman Draper, an early observer who helped found the mission post in Bokondini in 1956 and later that year established the post in Tiom in the North Baliem Valley. Soon after his arrival in Tiom, he perceived a tri-partition among Dani speakers: Hubula – maybe rather northern Hubula –, Bokondini Lani and Tiom Lani. These concerned the three areas he was best acquainted with, so his perception by no means rules out further differentiation. Yet it is noteworthy that he did not simply contrast Hubula and Lani (Draper & Draper 2007: 173).

11As regards the Hubula, I drew, in the above, attention to statements about cultural differences between people living in the southern part of the valley and those elsewhere. And thanks to the number of Lani ethnographers, a complex picture has emerged of cultural differentiation among them. The extant corpus of data allows me to compare the Lani and Hubula ways of life but, in addition, to make an internal comparison of the five Lani groups about whom we have information. In my view – yet another speculation – the growing geographic dispersal of the Lani was accompanied by a growing cultural differentiation, which, but for the colonial interference, may have led to the emergence of separate ethnic groups.

12In the remainder of this chapter, I first discuss what has so far become known about the Lani migrations, subsequently I present ethnographic data pointing both to differences with the Hubula way of life and to internal differences. In the next chapter, I continue with a discussion of the way of life of the Damal. They were, like the Lani, inhabitants of Ilaga, and they had been obliged to give up land to encroaching Lani. That discussion enables me to turn to the recent history of the Ilaga Lani, especially their taking over a large part of Ilaga from the Damal, the earlier residents. In the process, members of the two ethnic groups have come to adopt cultural elements from each other.

2. Lani migrations

13The ongoing migrations of Lani have been documented by several ethnographers. Larson reported rapid expansion, in the course of the twentieth century, from North Baliem and upper Sinak into Ilaga and, from there, farther west and north-west (Larson 1987). About the Konda Valley O’Brien wrote (1969a: 24) that the Lani there claimed that the area had been “largely settled by people from Tiom”, in the North Baliem Valley, according to the geographer Robert Mitton (1983) located due south of the Konda. O’Brien took blood samples, compared the gene frequencies with those of samples taken among other Dani groups and among Me, and found them consistent with the Konda Dani claim. However she did not discuss the time-depth of these migrations. It is noteworthy that she described migrations that I call “internal”, because they took place in areas that were already settled by Lani. In this respect they differed from many of the migrations described by Larson.

14Maarten Van Rhijn and Douglas Hayward reported instances of recent Lani migrations in areas farther west, in the catchment of the Yamo. Van Rhijn was a medical researcher assigned to investigate the prevalent occurrence of goitre and cretinism in the valley of the Mulia River, a tributary of the Yamo. He worked there from 1961 to 1962 and made a census. He reported that people had migrated to Mulia from the “Baliem” River and the surrounding valleys (1969: 50-51). Given his wording, he was referring most likely to the North Baliem. Hayward was a Protestant missionary who worked from 1967 to the late 1980s (1997: 16) in Mulia and environs and who wrote and published a Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology (1997) on the basis of his work there. That people migrated to the Mulia Valley is remarkable, since it was such an unhealthy place to live, a circumstance that was probably known to potential migrants, given that the area is close to the quarries from which Lani got many of their stone artefacts. The unhealthy state of the local population became known to the colonial authorities soon after first contact, and that was the reason for Van Rhijn’s research. Hayward had, moreover, to deal with a third type of migration: periodic movements to and from high-altitude areas, especially those in the valleys of the West and East Baliem rivers, that could not be settled permanently because of the harsh climate. He claimed that Kwiyawagi, at an altitude of 2,680 metres, was permanently settled (1997: 7; Larson 1987: 102, 327, 390), but Ballard reported (2000: 132-133) that the area and its inhabitants were affected, probably severely, during the ENSO related frosts in 1997-1998 and also because the people had lacked access to potential host communities at lower altitudes.

15The data of Larson, O’Brien, Van Rhijn and Hayward, taken together, showed that, in the first half of the twentieth century and quite possibly earlier, the North Baliem Valley was a place where people moved away from to the north and the west. South of the valley was the high country of the main range, unsuitable for permanent settlement by farmers growing tropical crops. The Drapers were unfortunately brief about population movements into, within and from the North Baliem. They viewed fighting and soil exhaustion as the major reasons for migrations. Some groups had more than one territory they could make use of (Draper & Draper 2007: 135). Their remark reminded me of the second territory that the Wanggulam made use of, in a valley north of Bokondini (Ploeg 1969: 2, 20, map 4).

16In the Bokondini area and in the Yamo Valley, Lani territories bordered to the north on lightly populated or unpopulated areas. Philip Temple, a mountaineer who trekked through large parts of the Lani territories in the early 1960s, has provided an example of ongoing migration by Lani into these areas. After his expedition, in 1962, to the above-mentioned quarries on the northern fringe of the highlands, also researched by the Pétrequins, he made another trek, first down the valley of the Kiray, a westerly tributary of the Toli, and subsequently up the Toli Valley as far as the Konda. He found pioneer Lani settlers in the Kiray Valley and was struck by the hardship of their lives:

When I squeezed in [the ramshackle lean-to], saw the poverty of the hut’s interior and the young woman almost crying with mortification in the corner, the significance of the new hut and the recent clearing was brought home to me. Here was a newly married couple, pioneering by themselves in virgin country. The master of the house acted host as well as he could but the paucity of his ornaments and the meagre range of food he offered gave the lie to his generously brave front (Temple 2002: 144).

17Larson recorded that, according to the Ilaga Lani, their ancestors had originated in the southern part of the Grand Valley. Larson accepted the historical accuracy of this account of their origin: he viewed the migrations into and through Ilaga as a sequel of migrations out of the Grand Valley and into the North Baliem of the people whose descendants became the Lani (1987: 75, 82, 327). The Ilaga Lani traditions of origin fit in with those of other ethnic groups in the western New Guinea highlands such as the Me and the Moni. For instance, as mentioned, the Me and the Moni also sited their origin in areas east of their current habitat. Given these widespread migrations, many Lani groups were pioneer populations, or descendants of pioneer populations, which had left the work of their ancestors behind and for which accordingly ancestor worship was less compelling than it was for the Hubula. I have concluded that this was one reason that the Lani abandoned their ancestor worship within five years after missionaries settled among them, while the Hubula held on to it (Ploeg 2007).

18According to Larson, the earlier Lani migrations had followed the adoption of sweet potato cultivation (1987: 388-389). That could happen because the North Baliem Valley was well suited for its cultivation. Szalay echoed Larson’s speculative reconstruction. For her, the Grand Valley, with its wetland agriculture, is one of the two “core” settlement areas in the highlands of western New Guinea. As demonstrated by archaeological research carried out in 1986 and 1987, agriculture may have been practised there for thousands of years (Haberle, Hope & de Fretes 1991; Haberle 2003). As regards the valleys surrounding the Grand Valley, Szalay wrote:

Permanent settlement of high elevations valleys between the Grand Valley and Ilaga appears – based on the extent of localised deforestation as a measure of a sustained human presence – to have occurred within the past 60 to 100 years (1999: 138).

19She continued: “these valleys were always ‘owned’ and they were periodically visited for hunting and the harvesting of pandanus trees” (ibidem). While she stated that permanent settlement in these valleys had existed since the introduction of sweet potato cultivation, the time span that she mentioned presupposes a very late sweet potato introduction. She did not discuss the start of permanent settlement in valleys farther away from the Grand Valley: especially the northerly, downstream section of the Toli River and the Yamo and its tributaries, at the time of first contact settled by Lani.

20Larson and Szalay had to speculate, since the prehistory of the West New Guinea highlands is so little known. Most scholars now accept the post-Magellanic, prehistorical adoption of sweet potato cultivation in New Guinea (Ballard 2005: 7). And since agriculture in the Grand Valley may well date back thousands of years, a corollary of Szalay’s view is that the irrigated agriculture there, with a sizeable population matching the intensity of their cultivation practices, has co-existed for millennia with a sparsely populated North Baliem Valley.

21Larson recorded the Ilaga Dani belief that “sweet potato grew out of the heart of… the first man to appear on earth” (1987: 49), thus implicitly denying that they held that the crop was introduced from elsewhere, in the course of their history. In contrast, highlanders in Papua New Guinea, such as the Enga (Wiessner & Tumu 1998: 110-111; Wiessner 2005: 123-125) and the Huli (Ballard 1995: 84-85; 2005: 9) have reported indigenous accounts of its introduction. In contrast to what Larson argued (1987: 388-389, n. 8), the adoption of sweet potato cultivation in western New Guinea may well have happened earlier than in Papua New Guinea, since the cultigen arrived from eastern Indonesia (Boomgaard 2003). Terence Hays has investigated and mapped the names for sweet potato, and other tubers, as used by ethnic groups in the West New Guinea highlands, and concluded (2005: 653-654) that they point to a “long-term process of diffusion”, presumably from west to east.

22It does not seem self-evident to me that adoption of the sweet potato was the primary reason for the departure of people from the Grand Valley. That is because the adoption of the new crop likely resulted in larger harvests that could have fed a larger number of people. I grant however that this point is not decisive, since the Hubula may instead have fed the increased number of tubers to an increased number of pigs, while they themselves consumed the sweet potato leaves. As mentioned, the early ethnographers noticed that Hubula sacrificed large numbers of pigs during their rituals so more pigs meant an enrichment, I suppose a desired enrichment, of their ritual life. In my view Larson and Szalay underrated another reason for migration out of the Grand Valley, namely the effects of ongoing hostilities – fighting, and malicious sorcery or witchcraft –, in the twentieth century the primary reason for migration into Ilaga (see also Draper & Draper 2007: 135). There is no reason to suppose that such hostilities did not occur before the adoption of the sweet potato.

23It is also questionable that the North Baliem Valley was ill suited for agriculture during the “taro era”. The Baliem River enters the Grand Valley at an altitude of about 1,650 metres, so for a long stretch of the North Baliem Valley, its bottom is below 2,000 metres. Hence altitude did not prevent taro cultivation (Bourke 2005, Wiessner & Tumu 1998: 62). Techniques available could have included irrigated fields as described at first contact by Ellenberger (1996: 147) and Gibbons (1981: 275). Such techniques made intensive cultivation a possibility on selected tracks. The Dani might in addition have cultivated other tuber species, such as Pueraria lobata, observed by Bromley (1990: 7) in the lower Grand Valley in the early contact era. Watson supposed that the crop was more widely cultivated before the adoption of the sweet potato (1964), and Wiessner and Tumu (1998: 63) mentioned it as a minor crop among the Enga (see also Sillitoe 1983: 46-48). Moreover the area gave access to crayfish, a prized food (S. Draper 1958: 50; Temple 1962: 50-54, Flannery 1998: 232). Accordingly people may not just have been pushed out of the Grand Valley, but may also have felt attracted to migrate to the North Baliem even before the sweet potato revolution. The availability of the sweet potato, however, made a larger range of tracts suitable for cultivation so, from that time on, migration into the North Baliem could indeed have grown.

24Larson has presented the most extensive case study of recent Lani migrations. His account referred to migrations that took place into and in Ilaga, the valley where he worked as a missionary from 1956 to the early 1980s (Larson 1987: iii, 4). Ilaga is a rather isolated, high-altitude valley just north of the main range, to the west of the catchment of the Baliem and east of the catchment of the Kema. The valley floor lies at an altitude of about 2,100 metres and upwards (1987: 19, 327). In 1956, the valley was populated by both Lani and Damal. Adding to the picture of migration within the highlands, Damal told Larson (ibidem: 330) that their ancestors “five generations ago immigrated either from south of the range, or from the Pina side-valley in the lower Yamo Valley”, hence also from the north-east. Lani settlement in Ilaga was more recent, starting shortly before 1900 (ibidem: 328), and speeding up in the 1920s and afterwards (Larson 1987: 340). Settlement was probably preceded by temporary stays of groups of Lani, primarily from the North and West Baliem valleys, who had come to trade for shells, salt and other valuable goods. Larson was prompted to formulate this hypothesis by the occurrence of such trading and salt-making expeditions to the Kemandoga and the Dugindoga, which he witnessed in the mid-1950s when he was posted there as a missionary (Larson 1987: 3, 329). At the time, Lani built temporary settlements in this valley, used by one expedition after another (also Le Roux 1948-1950: 247-248; De Bruijn 1978: 102, based on observations made in 1939; A. & M. Pétrequin 2006: 188-189).

25Reports by the Drapers give a plausible reason for Lani interest in making expeditions to valleys farther west. They noticed that the North Baliem Lani had enriched their way of life with items acquired by trade from western areas, such as cowries, high quality salt, a few worn steel axe blades and the art of corn cultivation. In exchange they had pigs to offer. Moni and Damal traders travelled to the North Baliem to trade. Especially since the settlement of colonial administrators and missionaries in the Paniai area, the Ilaga had become a source of riches for the local Lani. Sheila Draper commented:

Tiom people came to regard the Ilaka as their Mecca, the centre of all wealth […]. Later, as Christianity made its way through the same route [in the form of a massive revitalisation movement (Ploeg 2007)], the Ilaka Valley was believed to be the place where the Son of God appeared in human form, and lived (n.d. b: 21).

26Hayward noticed that also in Mulia trade goods came from the west (1997: 11). Van Eechoud (1954: 52-54) accounted for the process from the perspective of the Me and the Moni. Finally, concerning the Toli Valley to the east of Mulia, Wirz noted in 1921 (1924: 124-125) that the Lani there traded with people in the Lake Plain. When he returned from the Toli to the coast, after his fieldwork, he was accompanied by several Lani men, a woman and children. In the Lake Plain they offered tobacco to obtain cowries. Wirz claimed (ibidem) that they were prepared to trade one of the children for cowries.

27In Larson’s estimate (1987: 322-323), about 1,350 Damal and 650 Lani lived in Ilaga in 1910, while in 1979 he counted 1,113 Damal and 6,346 Lani living there. Moreover an unknown number of both Lani and Damal had moved on from Ilaga, in the case of the Lani predominantly farther west and north-west to the Kema and Doga valleys, but also back to their earlier areas of residence in the North or West Baliem or the Sinak. Damal had moved both to the west and north-west, and to the south across the main range (Cook 1995: 65-66). These moves had happened both voluntarily and involuntarily, in the latter case due to warfare. Lani had partly displaced the resident Damal. As a result, the number of resident Damal had decreased. Larson inquired twice, in 1961 and in 1979, why Lani had moved out of the North Baliem into Ilaga (1987: 336-337). On both occasions his Lani respondents mentioned land shortage in a minority of cases only, while a majority mentioned “warfare and disputation”. The data provided by Norman and Sheila Draper demonstrate that fighting was indeed frequent there, yet, they were of the opinion (2007: 135) that people often fought to acquire tracts with better soil. In their view, apparently, the two issues were linked.

28The examples that Larson provided (1987: 339-340) of migrations into Ilaga show little time-depth. His case studies suggest that Lani moved in two to three generations from the northern tip of the Grand Valley to Ilaga. The Drapers however wrote (2007: 210) that in Tiom Lani believed their ancestors had emerged from a sink-hole south of Tiom. The Pétrequins (2006: 85) reported similarly and apparently independently, since in their books they did not refer to the Drapers and their publications and other documents. Such a belief suggests that the Lani there had resided much longer in the area. So possibly recent migrants from the Grand Valley had had to traverse the North Baliem in search of land. An alternative explanation is that Lani historicity considerably foreshortened how long ago past events took place, as Ballard notes for the Huli (2014: 106).

29While Lani migrated to Ilaga to escape from quarrelling and fighting, in that valley warfare, fights and disputation were also frequent. In his dissertation Larson included a detailed reconstruction of seventeen wars that took place in Ilaga between about 1910 and 1977 (1987: ch. 6, appendix A). His account made it clear that that number was exhaustive. The earliest three wars were fought between Damal, another ten, hence a majority, between Lani and, strikingly, only four between Lani and Damal. Larson presented war and peace in Ilaga as a four-phase cycle: tension and feuding preceded actual warfare. Warfare was ended by formal transfer of compensation, which was followed by peace. But after a while, tension would rise again. The actual account is less mechanistic than may seem, since Larson pointed out that the periods of peace were very different in length, while the wars differed in intensity. In the course of the period considered, the wars became more frequent and more violent (1987: 346). More importantly, Larson argued that these cycles occurred in a rapidly changing social scene, with a quickly increasing population, with Lani migrating both into and out of Ilaga, and with Damal migrating out, both to the north, to Beoga and beyond, and to south of the main range. I present further discussion of Ilaga warfare in the comparative analysis of Lani ethnography in section 4 of this chapter.

30Given the numbers of Lani in the 1950s, outmigration from the Grand Valley, according to the scenario devised by both Larson and Szalay, must have been sizeable. Yet the valley was still densely populated at first contact, in 1938 (Brass 1941; Meiselas: 2003: 13-14, where she quotes various early authors). As regards the early 1960s, Heider arrived very tentatively at a density of 160 per km² (1970a: 59-60). For the same period, Heider (1970a: 73), Broekhuyse (1967: 32) and Peters (1965: 37, 1975: 30) reported low birth figures. Hence, in the early 1960s, the population increased slowly, if at all, and accordingly there was little reason to fear land shortage, or its increase. Whether practising low fertility was meant to answer such concerns is however unclear and, if it did, it is still hard to establish how long it had been in existence.

31That Lani prehistory has not progressed beyond informed speculation, results also from the paucity of field research since the 1960s. Wiessner & Tumu, and Ballard have shown that research into New Guinean oral history can yield important clues about the past. As I mentioned in the Introduction, Wiessner & Tumu constructed a persuasive prehistory of the Enga (1998) by piecing together the information gained from spokesmen belonging to a large number of their many polities. If an analogous approach were followed in the case of the Lani, it would likely uncover important data about their past.

32In the remainder of this chapter, I present my account of the Lani as follows. I first focus on the way of life of the Wanggulam, the Lani at Bokondini, among whom I did fieldwork. I point to differences with the way of life of the Hubula. Then I present cultural differences between the Wanggulam and other Lani groups. So as to present the migrations of the Lani into Ilaga and beyond, I continue first with a chapter on the Damal, the earlier inhabitants of Ilaga. I end that chapter by continuing my discussion of the Ilaga Lani.

3. Wanggulam

33Like the Hubula, the Lani at Bokondini considered themselves to be divided into exogamous moieties, which they called Weya and Wonda. However, what counted for far more in their social organisation was that they had organised themselves into paired, local exogamous clans or sub-clans, united by preferential marriage. Accordingly they tended to marry friends. Other, smaller clan units might join the pair. Together they formed a political confederation that I termed “parishes” in my dissertation, like “phyle” a term coined by Hogbin & Wedgwood (1953). A census of the Wanggulam showed that, at the time of my fieldwork and in the preceding generations, a sizeable proportion of marriages had followed the preference (Ploeg 1969: 17).

34The marriage arrangement was similar in the Hubula confederations. However, while in the Grand Valley confederations were united into alliances, this feature did not at the time occur in Bokondini, probably apart from ad hoc coalitions. In 1960-1962 Wanggulam polity had close to 500 members (Ploeg 1969: 14-15). Regrettably, I did not census other Bokondini polities, but it is my impression that they did not differ markedly in numbers. So it seems that Bokondini confederations were smaller than those in the Grand Valley.

35In sharp contrast to the Hubula, the Bokondini Lani practised “low-intensity” agriculture with a forest-fallow regime and little tillage (Brookfield & Hart 1971: 101, Golson & Gardner 1990: 399). The territories of most, if not all, confederations included up slope forest that at the time had not been part of the forest-fallow cycle, so their inhabitants could extend their area under cultivation. Another example of the outward migration of the Lani is that the Wanggulam claimed and used land in the valley immediately north of the Boko Valley, at a lower altitude and almost uninhabited. Some men had planted oil pandanus, Pandanus conoideus, there, a prised asset.

36The preferential marriage rule among the Bokondini Lani entailed that the members of the two paired sub-clans exchanged brides and that people married cousins or classificatory cousins. They combined these marriages with transfers of wealth items (Ploeg 1969: 10).

37These were pigs; ye, or yao, oblong, polished stones; cowry shells, both odd shells and shells attached to long, narrow, tightly looped bands; looped carrying bags; and strips of tightly looped and often decorated thread used in women’s skirts. The last two items were made and donated by women. The Wanggulam, then, used several categories of wealth items, as did the Hubula. During the first stage of my field research, the oblong stones “seemed to have been the most cherished”. They were polished with pig grease, which enhanced their shine and colour, and were displayed and fondled, by men (Ploeg 2008: 210-211). The Bokondini Lani distinguished these stones into male and female ones, and accorded them greatly differing values, with the most valuable ones in short supply. The criteria according to which they graded yao have escaped me, given my limited linguistic command. But the practice appears to have resembled the Me grading of cowries. Whether or not there was a prehistorical connection or common root is unclear. The Pétrequins found that yao stones came from the Yeleme quarries, north of the Lani territories in the fringe of the highlands (1993: 195-196, 2006: 238-239). According to their findings, the quarries have been used for at least 5,000 years (Pétrequin, pers. comm. 2018). However the Lani also acquired axe blades from these quarries, and it has so far remained unclear which use was the more ancient.

Pict. 8. Distribution of wealth among Lani

Pict. 8. Distribution of wealth among Lani

I took the picture in 1960, during my fieldwork among the Wanggulam. The distribution took place in the yard of a hamlet and the payment concerned is a bride price. The father of the bride hands items, in the picture a couple of yao, to a much younger man, who hands them on to the donee. Next to the bride’s father sits her mother, and to her right, the bride. The groom is absent.

Source: Anton Ploeg

38Cognatic kin assisted each other in assembling life-cycle payments on the occasions of marriage and death. These payments were sizeable, so there were many contributors. Contributions created claims on the beneficiaries, who at some future stage had to reciprocate. As a result, transfer of a payment was followed by its distribution, since the person or persons who had received it had to reimburse his or their own creditors. Social life was punctuated, and reinforced, by series of gifts and counter-gifts. Hayward’s 1997 book contains a reconstruction of part of the pre-Christian way of life of the Lani. In this context Hayward has written (1997: 11-12):

In brief, the[y] used their wealth to build community solidarity, loyalty, goodwill and social amity through a series of cyclical prestations that effectively redistributed wealth throughout their communities. This is a point that is well documented by Denise O’Brien in her [1969] study The Economics of [L]ani marriage for the Toli valley Dani just east of the Mulia region.

39But among the Bokondini Lani, the families of bride and groom set the agenda. They had the right to do so, unlike what was the case among the Hubula, who had made weddings a part of their major ritual declared by the alliance leader. Thus they had synchronised them at the level of the alliance, while in Bokondini they occurred at irregular intervals. Also the assembling and distribution of the marriage payments were family affairs.

40Bokondini Lani used the same set of wealth items for compensation, apparently to compensate both killed enemies and killed allies. This procedure is another contrast with Hubula, who, as mentioned, did not compensate killed enemies and compensated killed allies in an oblique manner, namely by a disproportionately large contribution to the mortuary payment (Heider 1970a: 113). I did not witness such a transfer, but was told that they were big, unruly and festive events, in part, I suppose, because they demonstrated the capacity of the donor group to produce and to assemble wealth. Nor did I witness the Bokondini Lani mode of “pig feasts”, reportedly also large, festive gatherings, celebrated together by an entire confederation, at intervals of a number of years. Such feasts occasioned slaughter of pigs and cooking of pork by the members of an entire confederation, in their own hamlets. People donated pork to each other and also to guests from other confederations (Ploeg 1966: 266-267, 1969: 119-120). Initiation ritual was absent, in line with what obtained among some other Lani groups.

41As regards leadership, the Wanggulam asserted in 1960-1962 that leaders were those men who had killed, in warfare. They named these leaders ap nggwok, “big men”. The impression I gained from more extensive information was, however, that in addition to killing, successful fight leadership was crucial (1969: 75-76). This information may have been influenced by the recent past in which they had been routed by Yikwanak, a great fight leader, a Melanesian war lord, and his followers. I see this leader as another Huge Man who deeply influenced the course of events in the Bokondini area (1996: 217). That the Wanggulam had been able to return was due to the fight leadership of one their own. Apart from the warriors/fighters, there were ritual specialists among the Wanggulam, apparently all men, and each with his specific expertise (Ploeg 1969: 129-130). Viewing this mode of leadership in the light of Lemonnier’s tri-partition, it is clear to me that Bokondini Lani leaders were not Big Men, or Great Men. They resembled Leaders, the warrior-organisers. However their role as organisers of exchanges seems to have been smaller than Lemonnier presumes. An important matter was to get people to agree on holding an exchange, and setting a date. Participants were knowledgeable about the proceedings, so did not need further guidance. And individual contributions to the pool of resources derived from production rather than finance (A. Strathern 1969). But polygyny occurred to a limited extent. During my stay among the Wanggulam, only one man was married to three wives, the other polygynists had two wives, which limited their productive capacity. I return to the matter at the end of this chapter when considering leadership among other Lani groups

  • 1 Evans-Pritchard wrote that witchcraft is “a supposed psychic emanation from witchcraft-substance [ (...)

42Another contrast with the Hubula was the fear of mum, women’s lethal sorcery. That fear was pervasive and indignant, both among men and among women. The Wanggulam attributed many cases of death to women’s sorcery. During my field enquiries, women almost always professed ignorance of the practice. Once a woman told me that she had brought about the death of a person by following him with her eyes. Her statement was in accordance with other comments by Wanggulam that women practised their lethal capacity deliberately. These statements induced me to use the term “sorcery” for the phenomenon, since according to Evans-Pritchard’s influential contrast between sorcery and witchcraft, the latter refers to an “unconscious capacity to hurt others” (Stephen 1987: 251).1 She added that Melanesianists “usually followed” this conceptualisation (ibidem). In her overview of sorcery and witchcraft in Melanesia, she tabulated the contrasts between witch and sorcerer, concluding that sorcerers were “active”, but also that they acted in “support of the moral order”, belonged to “the socially influential” and were “socially rewarded.” These qualifications did not apply to the practitioners or supposed practitioners of mum, and accordingly I use the term “sorcery” in an idiosyncratic way.

4. Other Lani groups

43The ethnography of other Lani groups shows a number of minor but also two, maybe three, in my view major differences with the Bokondini Lani way of life. These concern the marriage regulations, the occurrence, or not, of initiation, and the variations in sorcery beliefs that touched also on political organisation. Among the minor differences, I place the size of political units, the range of wealth items used and the different ways people rated them. I discuss first the differences, which I regard as minor.

44Lani polities were smaller, often far smaller than those among the Hubula. Their confederations also tended to be smaller than Hubula ones. The smallest Lani polities reported were in the Konda Valley, where the confederation that hosted O’Brien had about 150 members (O’Brien 1969a: 187); the largest was in Ilaga, where Larson reports the existence of in total three alliances, two of which had over 2,000 members in 1961-1964 (Larson 1987: 140-141). Hence they had fewer members than most Hubula alliances at that time. Each consisted of several confederations with at the time a population range of 224 to 694 (1987: 143). The alliances had remained in existence over the twentieth century, notwithstanding the continuous population shifts into and out of the valley (1987: 142, 161). As mentioned, the Wanggulam numbered close to 500 people during the time of my research. O’Brien (1969a: 238) and Hayward (1997: 76) mentioned the occurrence of ad hoc coalitions of Lani confederations.

45As regards leadership, other Lani groups presented a more varied picture than I have for the Wanggulam. The variations concern the position of shaman and the role of leaders in the circulation of the wealth items that all Lani used for making marriage payments and for compensation. Under the heading “shaman”, O’Brien (1969a: 61-62) and Hayward (1997: 77) discussed first ritual specialists, both men and women. Some warriors and war leaders were also shamans. For Mulia, Hayward aptly distinguished shamans from “clandestine” magicians who used their craft “generally without social approval” (1997: 77). For Ilaga, Larson discusses rituals performed by shamans in the context of warfare (1987: 251-252). Among the Lani, at least some shamans were also healers. The Drapers intimated that, among the Tiom Lani, shamans were more prominent holders of power than among other Lani groups (1958: 30-31, 40). They wrote that their presence and their work there mixed them up in a power struggle with the most prominent shaman/healer in the area: the power of western medicine, the Drapers’ “passport to safety” among the Tiom Lani, outdid the healing rites of the shaman and so threatened his position of power (2007: 173-174, ch. 15, 267-268). The Drapers distinguished three leadership roles among the Tiom Lani: “powerful sorcerers [shamans], headmen and fight leaders”, and added that individual men often combined these tasks (2007: 169). They did not specify the tasks of headmen. But it matters, it seems to me, that they arrived in Tiom at a time when fighting had been intense and people had become wary of it (Draper & Draper 2007: 234, 275-276). The shaman who felt his power threatened by their presence was the “self-appointed “keeper of the peace’” (2007: 234). They concluded that the shaman appeared to hold “the real powerful role… now that war seem[ed] over.”

46About the Mulia Lani, Hayward reported leadership with regard to the organisation and direction of “feasts and prestations” such as male initiation, “pig feasts” and compensation payments, furthermore with regard to fighting and the forging of alliances, and also to the promotion of well-being by magic (1997: 74-75). O’Brien wrote about the Konda Lani that the leader of a confederation had to be both a shaman and a fighter (1969a: 62-63, 240-241, 265-266). The task of the shaman was to promote the well-being of the confederation and its members by his special knowledge. She also noted that these leaders had married more wives, and owned more pigs and more steel axes, than their followers.

47O’Brien has written that, among the Konda Lani, polygyny “provided an avenue to wealth and prestige for an ambitious man” and accordingly was a “traditional… ideal” (1969a: 161). Her data showed that leaders indeed were more often polygynists than other men (1969a: 269). Szalay, too, emphasised the link between polygyny and male status. She has tabulated the extant data for the Lani (1999: 332). They show that numerous Lani men had two or three wives. Among the inhabitants of eleven hamlets in Ilaga, Larson counted 26 men living monogamously as against fourteen with two wives and two with three wives (quoted in Hayward 1997: 87, 107 n.7).

48Larson settled in Ilaga in 1956 when fighting there was intense, more intense than had ever been the case in the course of the twentieth century (Larson 1987: 4, 274-285). He actually witnessed Lani warfare, and made its conduct and its links with migration the major subjects of his Ph.D. dissertation (1987: 1). Armed conflicts ranged from skirmishes and feuding via “ritual” war to “total” war. Ritual war was, he argued, “a device to bring order out of political chaos”, including bloodshed: “formalised fighting in order to prevent what would otherwise become unrestrained violence and rampant revenge killing” (1987: 246). A ritual war took place on a demarcated battlefield (1987: 255). I note that they were often costly in terms of human life, since they might last for several months and result in the deaths of more than twenty warriors on each side (1987: 263). What, in my understanding, was also at stake was that the conflict had become such that an armed confrontation carrying the risk of death had become appropriate and, hence, only avoidable with loss of face.

49Total warfare followed when ritual warfare failed to settle the conflict. In total warfare, fighting might take place anywhere in the valley. It included “pillage and plunder”, burning houses, killing pigs, and routing people out of Ilaga (Larson 1987: 271-272, 276). Although Larson did not refer at this point to the Hubula ethnography, the contrast resembles that between “ritual” and “non-ritual” fighting, as reported especially by Heider. Ilaga Lani restrained ritual fighting by deliberately choosing a restricted field of battle the extent of which they sometimes demarcated by the erection of fences, while a third party might prevent fighters from leaving it with the intention of waging a sneak attack. Fighting continued until both parties had suffered equal or almost equal losses. Allies joined the main contenders, I suppose for the occasion, and accordingly during ritual warfare the parties facing each other were members of two alliances.

50Total war prevailed in Ilaga from March 1955 to April 1957, in a series of episodes. The local population called it the Taganit war, after the major war leader. Its effects extended beyond Ilaga: people were routed from that valley, and fights occurred in neighbouring valleys. Larson wrote that the war took the lives of over 165 people (1987: 274-275). Rumours about the heavy fighting reached the Paniai area and delayed the colonial exploration of the highlands (Gibbons 1981: 144). Temple (1962: 61) and the North Baliem catechists, Amonen and Kaiser Wakerkwa (in Draper & Draper 1990: 213, 245), related the effects of the hostilities as they occurred in the North and West Baliem valleys. Gibbons mentioned its effects in the Beoga Valley (1981: ch. 8) and among Nduga speakers south of the main range (1981: 308; Cook 1995: 65). I have characterised Taganit as another of the few Huge Men mentioned in the ethnography of the western New Guinea highlands (1996: 214). It is worth noting that he is the only such man mentioned in Larson’s account of war in Ilaga over a period of some 70 years. Hence my surmise that, among Lani, Huge Men were occasional phenomena, in contrast to what obtained among the Hubula. In passing remarks, Larson makes it clear that Taganit’s leadership amounted to more than warrior hood. He led a band of warriors, the third party, that ensured that a ritual fight remained confined to its designated field (1987: 257, 450); he organised the payment of compensation (1987: 375-376); and in the 1970s he exercised “extensive power” in Ilaga (1987: 466). The Huge Men I have mentioned in this book owed their position in part to their role in fights and wars. But in the highlands of western New Guinea, this was not always the case. Auki, a Huge Man among the Me in the 1930s, owed his prominence in large part to his inter-tribal trading (Ploeg 1996: 218-219).

51The other Lani ethnographers did not witness large-scale fighting. Norman and Sheila Draper wrote that no “significant fight occurred within an area of two hours’ walk” from their station in the North Baliem (2007: 233). But previously fighting had been prevalent and had resulted in the burning of houses and garden fences, and in killing or taking women and pigs (2007: 234). Sheila Draper mentioned further the occurrence of “pitched battles” to which “both sides had to be agreeable” and of about equal size (1958: 47). These battles seem to have resembled the “ritual wars” in Ilaga.

52As mentioned, all Lani groups on record used a range of wealth items to make life-cycle and compensatory payments (S. Draper 1958: 9-10; O’Brien 1969a: 212-213, 1969b: 42-43; Ploeg 1969: 10; Hayward 1980: 32-33; Larson 1987: 159-160). However Lani groups did not all use the same items, and the ways they rated these items differed. Most groups on record used cowries and long, looped bands set with cowries (Ploeg 1969: 10; O’Brien 1969a: 407-408, 1969b: 212; Hayward 1997: 141-142; S. Draper 1958: 6; Larson 1987: 72, 150). In 1921, Wirz noticed “the eagerness” with which the Lani in the middle Toli Valley sought to acquire cowries (1924: 40, 1932). In 1960-1962, I came across the same phenomenon among the Wanggulam. In Tiom as well, the Drapers met with “acute shell [i.e. cowry] hunger” (Draper 1958: 7). But they also noticed that at that same time in Maki, downstream from Tiom in the North Baliem Valley, the Lani were disinterested in cowries and used nassa shells and beads instead (1958: 7). In Tiom, Lani said that in the past cowries had been traded in from the west, but in such small numbers that they were owned by prominent men only. While the Wanggulam did not grade cowries into named categories, the Tiom Lani did (Draper & Draper 2007: 212; Nawimban, in Draper & Draper 1990: 234), as did the Ilaga Lani (Larson 1987: 305, 460). In passing Larson mentioned an intriguing detail about the cowry-shell bands that the Ilaga Lani used (1987: 73). They attached the shells to the looped band in order of “importance”. The statement recalls a comparable practise among the Me (Hylkema 2012: 54-55). However it referred to cowry bands used in ancestor worship, while Larson’s term “importance” may refer to the importance of the ancestor or ancestors concerned and not to the value of the shells. My impression is that the most valuable shells were not attached to bands, but were kept and transacted individually (Larson 1987: 460), as was also the case among the Me and the Moni (Hylkema 2012: 54 n.3; Van Nunen 1966: 87-88, 1973: 74-75; Van der Horst n.d.: 72). But it remains unclear whether and if so in what ways the Ilaga Dani had adopted their practices relating to cowries from the Me.

53Both the Bokondini and the Konda Lani used ye, or, in the local dialects, yao. Both groups distinguished between male and female stones, and the Bokondini Lani perceived differential value in them (O’Brien 1969a: 407, 1969b: 212). Simultaneously O’Brien reported that farther west, but still in the catchment of the Toli and also in the Yamo Valley, ye were not in use (1969a: 408). But Hayward mentioned that they were used in the Mulia Valley, farther west (1997: 141). However, while in the Konda Valley and in Bokondini, Lani distinguished between male and female stones, in Mulia they did not do so (1997: 127). Also as regards wealth items, the North Baliem Lani were exceptional. In the Tiom area, Lani had not included ye among their wealth items. They did use cowries, and while for Lani in Tiom and in Ilaga cowries had greatly differing values, for Lani at Bokondini this was the case with ye. Hayward reported that the Mulia Lani were surprised to hear that other Lani categorised ye into male and female (1997: 127 n1), but otherwise I do not know how much Lani knew about which wealth items their various neighbours used and how they classified and rated them. In any case, these differences seem minor to me, since they did not concern the occurrence of the paired (sub-)clans and hence the composition of the confederations, the most important political groups.

54Lani also used wealth items for compensation after killings in warfare. For Ilaga, Larson distinguished between payments compensating pre-war killings and those following ritual warfare (1987: 298-299). The former were made between enemies and had to be made hurriedly, to forestall further fighting. The latter were events that required years of preparations so as to assemble the wealth required. Donors often received help from people newly migrated to the Ilaga. The transfers were also festive occasions, attended by crowds of “2,000 to 3,000” people (ibidem). Gibbons gave a short account of an equally festive compensation transfer among Lani living in Beoga (1981: 158). The Drapers wrote similarly about the Tiom Lani (2007: 215-216). I suppose these events were so festive because they were not agonistic. Instead they confirmed continued solidarity between allies, and simultaneously the donors’ collective capacity to produce, assemble and transfer a large amount of wealth. Larson concluded that Lani and Damal were “excessive in their fighting”, but that this was “equally so in their peace making” (1987: 5). Also as regards the North Baliem, the Drapers commented on the scale and the festiveness of these events (2007: 215-216). As mentioned, I did not witness a transfer of compensation among the Bokondini Lani, but from oral accounts I concluded that here, too, they were large-scale, festive occasions (Ploeg 1969: 147-148). O’Brien provided an account of compensation among the Konda Lani (1969a: 324-325) and Hayward for Mulia (1997: 154, 189).

55Whereas the transfer of wealth items in the case of marriages and as compensation for a person killed entails that the Lani accepted non-equivalence in their transactions, they apparently had not accepted the idea to its full extent. Regarding the Ilaga Lani and the Damal Larson wrote:

Central to Dani and Damal thinking, is that life of a member of one’s own patrilineage killed in battle or ambush must be avenged. There are exceptions to this, however. For instance, in place of revenge, agnates of a victim killed in pre-war fighting may accept a yewam indemnity payment… (1987: 262).

56Larson wrote in addition that one party in a war fought in 1974-1976 refused the offer of compensation, since a “highly revered” man had been killed. “His life… could not be avenged except by a prominent leader of equal status” (1987: 460-461).

57Turning now to what I regard as a major difference, namely: moiety organisation combined with marriage regulations, it appears that the Lani in the Konda and the neighbouring Kanggime valleys were exceptional in that they did not acknowledge the existence of moieties (O’Brien 1969a: 177-178, 1969b: 201 n.3), against the reports from all other Lani groups (Wirz 1924: 47; Hayward 1997: 11; Larson 1987: 145; Draper & Draper 2007: 223; Ploeg 1969: 116-117). However the Tiom Lani were exceptional in that they followed a prescriptive rather than preferential marriage rule. The rule stated that people had to marry in the opposite moiety, so it gave moiety affiliation the major role in regulating marriage. Other Lani groups foregrounded the pairing of (sub)-clans by preferential inter-marriage, thus de-emphasising that the two members of a pair belonged to different moieties. Moreover, as mentioned, the Tiom Lani married members of enemy groups, whereas the other Lani preferred marrying members of a friendly group (Ploeg 2007: 214).

58The Drapers’ report is the more puzzling, since so many Lani, or their parents or grandparents, migrated from the North Baliem to the areas where O’Brien, Hayward and Larson have reported the occurrence of paired clans or sub-clans. O’Brien and Larson have provided numerical data on the extent to which the preference is actually followed. O’Brien tabulated that, in a sample of 342 marriages, 10% of the men and 17% of the women had followed the preferential marriage rule, while 23% of the men and 29% of the women had married within their own confederation (1969b: 209). In her unpublished dissertation, she arranged her figures slightly differently (1969a: 375-376). Larson reported that, also among Ilaga Lani, there was no prescriptive marriage rule (1987: 145). He took a sample in 1964 and found that then “just over one-third of Ilaga [L]ani marriages were endogamous” within the confederation (1987: 147, 411). It should be noted that in Ilaga confederations were larger than in the Konda Valley.

59Equally puzzling is that those Tiom Lani who had migrated to the Konda apparently lost their moiety affiliation. Nevertheless I give credence to the Drapers, given the overall reliability of their accounts and the evidence they have produced to document this particular claim. For instance, in unpublished notes, Sheila Draper wrote that during violent encounters men might have to fight their affines (Draper & Draper 2007: 214). And in one of their books, they presented short, “unadorned, unelaborated” (1990: 279), but for all that presumably slightly edited, life histories of pastors whom they had trained. One of them, Amonen, wrote “choosing and courting a wife was an important yet dangerous time for we married into enemy clans” (1990: 213). His colleagues David, Peter and Gilbert reported similarly (1990: 261).

60Given the occurrence of paired (sub-)clans among all other ethnographically known Lani and Hubula groups, their absence among the Lani in and around Tiom is striking. It seems plausible that their occurrence was part of the proto-Dani way of life, in other words the way of life in existence when the ancestors of Lani and Dani spoke the same language, and hence that, at some stage in the past, groups of Lani, of whom the Tiom Lani became the descendants, had decided to stop the practise, or to phase it out. An alternative model to be followed might have been the marriage arrangements found among the Yahuli Yali, farther east, discussed in chapter 6. I will return to the matter there. And if the assertion is correct that the Lani were descendants of people who once lived in the Grand Valley, the question remains open whether the Lani way of life at the time of the first encounters with colonials was a response to living away from the Grand Valley or whether it reflected a pre-ipomoean way of life in that valley.

61The Tiom Lani marriage regulations opened the possibility of marriage dispersal (Barnes 1962: 8), instead of the marriage concentration practised by other Lani and by the Hubula. The possibility is all the greater given that the ethnography intimates a measure of freedom in choosing a marriage partner. In the case of marriage dispersal, kinship networks and the accompanying exchanges of wealth items extended among a wider range of people, resulting in social interdependence over a greater area. That is the reason that I see the difference between the marriage regulations of the Tiom Lani and those of the other Lani groups as a major one. I should add, however, that among other Lani groups, too, there were numerous marriages with partners who were not members of the paired clans. Related to this matter are comments by Andrew & Marilyn Strathern about dispersal and concentration of marriages among the Melpa in Hagen, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea:

In Hagen there is both concentration and dispersion. A certain spread of affinal ties is useful, in order to draw in wealth from different sources when it is needed. But the shape of political relations and the need for security of investment both induce a clustering of marriages between paired clans and ex-minor enemies (1969: 156).

62As regards the Lani, the extant ethnography, including my own, has unfortunately not discussed the social effects of the dispersed marriages, especially with regard to military alliances and the severity of hostilities. Also worth noting is Godelier’s comment that the Baruya combined sister exchange with marriage dispersal (1991: 278). As mentioned, the Baruya had Great Men, in contrast to the Lani and the Hubula. Hence these ethnic groups showed divergent combinations of leadership and marriage practises.

63Another major divergence among the several Lani groups concerned sorcery beliefs and practices. Injurious sorcery and the fear it provoked are reported in all Lani groups. An important difference is whether it was believed to be practised by both men and women, or primarily by women. As happened to me among the Wanggulam, O’Brien started hearing about sorcery “only days after arriving in Konda” (1969a: 80). As among the Wanggulam, the prime suspects were women. During her stay, but in her absence, one woman was “shot full of arrows and thrust into a hut which was set afire” for having practised sorcery (1969a: 82-83). In seeming contrast, with regard to sorcery among the Mulia Lani, Hayward writes that they distinguished between sorcery practised by men, and that practised by women. Nevertheless, to account for the situation that prevailed among the Mulia Lani, he quoted my account of the Wanggulam, apparently in agreement:

Mum, the injurious activities of women, preoccupies people far more than the magic practised by men: […] and all people, men more than women are afraid that they may succumb to the activities of women… [They] believe that women are inclined to work mum on the slightest provocation… [and they] dislike the insecurity with which it surrounds their lives. Men see mum as the counterpart of their weapons like spears and bows and arrows. They say that men kill with the latter type of weapons and that women kill with mum (Ploeg 1969: 52-54, quoted in Hayward 1997: 56).

64So it seems that the Mulia Dani, too, were most apprehensive of sorcery practised by women. In partial contrast, the Ilaga Lani imagined that both women and men were able to perform black magic and that they did so with the help of spirits (Larson 1987: 60-61). So in Ilaga belief in black magic did not set men and women apart. Larson made it clear that these men and women were sorcerers, as conceptualised by Evans-Pritchard, since they employed what the latter called “medicines”, objects in which “mystical” – that is: “imagined but not actually existing” – power is supposed to reside (1937: 9, 12). In this case the medicines were pieces of quartz believed to date back to primeval times (Larson 1987: 61-62). Strikingly the Drapers have provided few data about widespread sorcery in Tiom. Briefly they noted that the “threat of poisoning from disgruntled spouses was a very real fear to many men” (2007: 214-215). Sheila Draper’s unpublished ethnographic notes also dealt with “sorcery”, but they concerned the important position of shamans among the Tiom Lani (1958: 30-31).

65Among the Lani, warrior hood was an important qualification for leadership (O’Brien 1969a: 249; Hayward 1997: 73-74; Larson 1987: 141, 274-275). It seems likely to me that these warriors were also war leaders, as appears to have been the case among the Wanggulam. But O’Brien added (1969a, Tables 9 and 10, p. 267 and 269) that these leaders also tended to be polygynists owning above average numbers of pigs. In comparison, among the Wanggulam the rate of polygyny among leaders was lower, and so were the numbers of pigs they owned (Ploeg 1969: 77). As warriors, these leaders sought power, “apart from” women. I owe this formulation to Dan Jorgensen, who used it to contrast Great Men societies and Big Men societies, arguing that in the latter men appropriated the results of work done by women so as to further their own careers and to reproduce social units, while in Great Men societies men created a “distinct sphere of masculine action” independent from women (1991: 263, 270), via rituals and by specific forms of garden work (1991: 266).

66Jorgensen built on conceptualisations first formulated by Shirley Lindenbaum, who posited that in Big Men societies men achieved dominance by “mask[ing] women’s productive labors”, because men achieved that dominance by transacting pigs produced in part by women, who, however, were excluded from achieving dominance (1984: 340). While Lindenbaum contrasted this state of affairs with the masking of women’s reproductive powers as it occurred in especially southern lowlands groups, Jorgensen employed her dichotomy to clarify contrasts between various highlands ways of life, primarily as regards relationships between women and men. However, in my view the Hubula and the Lani had added another mode to these contrasts, since among them men had created their distinct sphere of masculine action and had sought to achieve renown and dominance by employing their weapons, in Jack Goody’s characterisation “the means of destruction” (1971: ch. 3). Whereas among the Hubula, men enjoyed a monopoly on the means of destruction, among many Lani groups people believed that men did not do so, and hence had not really achieved dominance, since women effectively handled their own brand of means of destruction.

67In the following paragraphs I discuss initiation and “pig feasts” simultaneously, since the Mulia Lani celebrated these events together. I already mentioned the absence of initiation among the Wanggulam. Hayward found similarly among Lani in valleys east of Mulia. However the Lani in the Mulia valley and to the west of Mulia did practise male initiation (1997: 131-132). For the Konda Lani, O’Brien’s information is tantalising (1969a: 65-74; 1969b: 206 n.7). She was told about “wyt”, her spelling, shortly before the end of her field research. I mentioned that term while discussing Hubula male initiation. O’Brien was the earliest of the Lani ethnographers to use the term. Although the information she got was conflicting and far from precise, she concluded that wyt was an initiation ritual for boys, held in secret, which included the donning of penis gourds and promoted the health of the participants. Since there had been “a sizeable immigration of people, including two of her main spokesmen, from the northern tip of the Grand Valley”, she reasoned that one of these migrants had introduced the ritual to the Konda. That probably happened before 1921, the year marked by the presence of the Kremer-Van Overeem expedition in the Toli Valley. People had discontinued the practice when converting to Christianity. Whether by then other Lani in the Toli Valley had adopted it has not become known. In Kanggime, just as in the Konda Valley, located in the upper catchment of the Toli River, it was not practised.

68The Mulia Lani also called the initiation ritual wit. Hayward’s account of the ritual was based on oral information that he gained after its discontinuation (1997: 132-133). The account is brief, but it does make it clear that in many respects Mulia initiation resembled the practices followed by the Hubula, as recorded by Heider and Peters. First it was part of a larger ritual, a “pig feast” that included the same institutions as the Hubula ebe akho. The Mulia Lani are the only Lani group for which this similarity has been reported. Secondly the age of the novices differed greatly, more than the interval between successive initiations explains. Thirdly the procedure can be characterised as a rite de passage, as defined by Van Gennep. Finally those not initiated, hence also women, were excluded. During the novices’ seclusion in a long house in the forest, their initiators told them names of their ancestors and of other spirits, and they had to confront Nggimbi, the impersonation of an ancestor, who revealed further secrets to them.

69The Ilaga Lani, too, used the term wit for their initiation ritual. But Larson’s account is brief and he did not state whether he had witnessed the proceedings (1987: 74-75). Of the features that Hayward mentioned for the Mulia Lani, Larson mentioned exclusion of women, revealing of names of ancestors, and the appearance of “Nggiimbu”, in Larson’s spelling. He described him as “an animal-like, half-human ancestral personage… who reveals the name of the sacred mountain of Parawe in the Grand Valley”, close to their mythical place of origin. Hence he was an actor who impressed upon the novices their origins away from Ilaga. While Hayward suggested that, for the Mulia Lani, wit was an alliance affair (1997: 143) and did not mention an appropriate season, Larson wrote that in Ilaga the ritual was performed valley wide, hence by the three alliances at the same time, but by each community in “its own area made sacred for the occasion” (Larson 1987: 74). It took place at either the June or the December solstice. While he did not mention its inclusion in a wider ritual, he emphasised the slaughtering of “hundreds of pigs” and the display – but for the non-initiated as well? – of sacred objects kept secure in men’s houses. Women and children were strictly excluded (1987: 75).

70In Ilaga wit inducted the novices into what Larson called “the exclusively male cult” by which expression he appeared to mean ancestor worship (1987: 74). And among the Ilaga these ancestors included “only the males and their spouses of one’s patriline” (1987: 70). He commented:

The appeasement and conciliation of ancestral spirits is the most central feature of [L]ani magic and ritual. More pigs are killed for them, more sacred objects consecrated to them and more rituals performed in their name than for all other spirits in the hierarchy of beings in the supernatural world of the [L]ani. (1987: 68).

71Larson discussed wit under the heading of “ancestral spirits”, so for him it was part of ancestor worship. The ritual took four days. Major purposes were to insure the novices of “good health, virility and bravery in battle” (ibidem: 75).

72The Drapers provided little information about initiation among the Tiom Lani. In an appendix to her ethnographic notes, Sheila Draper writes that its focus was “ceremoniously” donning penis gourds at age eight to ten, followed years later by exchanging it for a longer one (n.d. a, 1958). The feature recalls initiation among the Konda Lani. The Drapers did mention pig feasts in Tiom but, as among the Wanggulam, and unlike the case among the Mulia Lani, these seemed to have consisted primarily of exchanging pork (2007: 216-217). They took place consecutively, in a geographic cycle. It is noteworthy that both Hayward and Larson mentioned the appearance of the ancestral personage Nggiimbu, or, in Hayward’s spelling, Nggimbu (1997: 134). Since Ilaga and Mulia Lani have common origins in the North Baliem, it appears likely that this personage also occurred there, whether in initiation rites or not. However the Drapers did not mention him. Also noteworthy is Hayward’s report about the constitution of the Mulia “pig feast” (2007: 142-143), since it closely resembled the constitution of the Hubula ebe akho. Did the Mulia Dani retain this feature over generations, after their ancestors had left the Grand Valley, while other migrants did not? Or was the resemblance instead a chance occurrence? In the absence of historical data, the resemblance seems inexplicable to me.

73Finally I return to the matter of Lani leadership. Comparing the Lani modes of leadership with those encompassed within the “social logics” identified by Godelier and Lemonnier, it is clear to me that Lani leaders were not Great Men. Although warrior hood was an important qualification for leadership, there was little compartmentalisation of leadership positions. The sociocultural prominence of shamans among Tiom Lani was a partial exception. But the use of wealth items in contracting marriages and in compensation did not fit a “Great Man logic”. It also seems clear that Lani leaders were not Big Men, while I am reluctant to characterise them as Leaders because that would entail that the Lani were shifting their way of life towards a Big Man configuration. That seems doubtful: on the one hand there is the “shell hunger” reported for several Lani groups, but on the other, there is their readiness to destroy wealth items when converting to Christianity soon after first contact, thus restricting their scope to exchange (Ploeg 2008: 220). I therefore leave the issue open.


1 Evans-Pritchard wrote that witchcraft is “a supposed psychic emanation from witchcraft-substance [in the bodies of certain persons] which is believed to cause injury to health and property”, while sorcery is magic, which is a “technique that is supposed to achieve its purpose by the use of […] objects that the practitioners accord […] supra-sensible qualities […] which they [the objects] do not possess” (1937: 9‑12).

Table des illustrations

Titre Pict. 6. The lower North Baliem valley
Légende The North Baliem follows the direction of the main range, like the Kema river does (see pict. 2). Unlike the Kema, it flows to the east. The picture was taken in 1991, at the lower end of the valley, facing west, upstream. The river runs here at about 1,700 meters. The picture only shows a small stretch of the valley. Tiom, the base of Norman and Sheila Draper, is already invisible.
Crédits Source: Anton Ploeg
Fichier image/jpeg, 718k
Titre Pict. 7. Fallow garden up from Tiom
Légende Pierre Pétrequin took the picture in 2010, at an altitude of 2,500 meters. The garden appears to be at the upper limit of the cultivated area.
Crédits Source: Pierre Pétrequin & Anne-Marie Pétrequin
Fichier image/jpeg, 816k
Titre Pict. 8. Distribution of wealth among Lani
Légende I took the picture in 1960, during my fieldwork among the Wanggulam. The distribution took place in the yard of a hamlet and the payment concerned is a bride price. The father of the bride hands items, in the picture a couple of yao, to a much younger man, who hands them on to the donee. Next to the bride’s father sits her mother, and to her right, the bride. The groom is absent.
Crédits Source: Anton Ploeg
Fichier image/jpeg, 358k

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