It can be as lengthy a business as anywhere in the world
for a young girl to prepare for a dance in this Motu village on the outskirts
of Port Moresby. First, flowers or some colorful foliage can only be obtained
by the permission of a white man who has them planted around his residence.
For none of the "flash" blooms
seen on natives and which we assume to be of tropical origin … hibiscus,
gardenias, franjapani and the variegated croton .. are indigenous to these
Personal decoration always begins and ends with the hair.
The sun bronzed top of the girl's is touched up with liquid show blacking
which is stocked in the "trade" store. Then the face and all
exposed skin are liberally smeared with handfuls of shredded coconut to
make it gleam with highlights and bring out the blue tattooing. After which
the oily fingers are fun up through the hair several times, and then a
long pronged bamboo comb used to comb it to still greater height.
Now the "grass" skirts go on, usually two thick
ones. The skirts are made of shredded pandanus palm and are dyed in a wide
range of vivid colors with vegetable and fish dyes, each locality having
its own identifying color or combination. The everyday skirt is coarsely
shredded, those for the dance are fine and glisten like water in the hip
The next stage is the family heirlooms which, in this case, were brought
forth from a tin cash box with a warning bell in the lid. There were several
feet of black seeds, a string of yellowed canine teeth, heavy armlets of
cIamshell [sic] with pendants of large hollow nuts and, finally, the radiant
crescent of gold lipped mother of pearl, a neck ornament laboriously shaped
from the solid shell by hand grinding with hard stone. These and the armlets
were used for trade even before white islanders began buying them up so puttinga
dollar value on them.
Final ornamentation is the fragrant franjapani, precisely placed, and large
wads of pungent violet herb inserted in the holes of the ear lobes, the scent
of which is said to make a girl irresistible to the male dance partners.
The figure on the right is a sorceress, her powers limited by the Government
today to harmless witchcraft like rain making and counsel rather than potions
to the lovelorn. Where once her specialties were abortions and hexing enemies
to their death, she was now midwife and tattoo artist, with a bit of quackery
bootlegging in the form of contraceptive information.
If her hair-do was not the trademark of witches … it was not seen
elsewhere … it could not have been a happier accident. This hair was
never cut and never washed except by the rain. As it grew it was forced into
ropes by packing with red clay, more clay being added toward the scalp as
it lengthened. The clay was now dried and had cracked into segments, and
the curtain of ropes completely hid the witch's face. When it was parted
(under protest) for the portrait, it was a witch's face, shrewd squinty little
eyes, only two long brown teeth.
In the net bag hanging from her head is an infant. When what was thought
to be a bag of coconuts began to leak, the woman took it from her head and
hung it on the projection of the pile behind her where it swayed happily
in the motion of the structure.
Before the days of the white Protectorate, the Melanesians
living along this southeast coast of New Guinea built their villages on
piles well out from shore as a protection against raiders from inland who
had no canoes. The custom persists but now the hamlets are close to shore
and some, like Hanuabada, are merely a number of long piers extending out
from the beach with the houses built above them. The pier deck is for "street" traffic
and the floor of the house if about a crouching white man's height above
The background here was painted from under one of the
houses, a hazardous spot as it developed. The motion of the tides wagged
the loosely jointed structure to the end of its tail and every footfall
vibrated the grease-slippery rounded planks of the deck surface. A mat
was spread to keep materials from bounding to the water below and the canvas
was roped to a pile, but traffic was heavy, a score of little black Indians
shinnying up and down the piles, inquisitive adults and some disinterested
but very large and belligerent pigs who trotted back and forth through
the "studio". By-products
were sea sickness and centipedes which like marine villages.