LORRAINE BASSE | The Crocodile Prize
Manam, a volcanic island, has fifteen villages and only one language which is Manam Motu. The people of Manam are fun loving, warm-hearted, caring, and hospitable and take pride in their chieftain society. One thing they love to do is to keep their traditions alive and one such tradition is Barasi.
Barasi is a festival about becoming a new person again and is a transitional rebirth from the old self to the new. It falls every year in the months of May, June and July, is a time of plenty and a celebration of a new year and a new beginning.
However, this cultural celebration is slowly dying at each passing year as Manam islanders have been displaced after the 2004 volcanic eruption and are now living at Potsdam, Moumba, Daigul, Asuramba and Mangem care centres located at old coconut plantations in Bogia District.
The festival starts when the elders of the village beat the garamut (slit drum) at about four o’clock in the morning as they see a group of stars (Pleiades or Seven Sisters) rise just over the top of the island to announce its commencement.
The 15 villages on the island are then divided into three areas to cater for the months of May, June and July. After celebrating in one area they move on to the next area until the whole three months are over.
Here, there and everywhere hustling and noises of people can be heard as they rush into the central area. Grandparents who can walk, and parents and children all go down to the gathering area as it is custom that everyone should be present in order to be blessed by the spirits of riches, wealth, long life and whatever good the New Year might bring.
A huge fire is then lit for the elders to welcome the people and to drive away evil spirits. After that the people sing, shout and dance with the children towards the slowly advancing elders. As they get closer, some elders quickly grab a child for whipping as it is part of the cleansing ceremony.
The girls and small boys are whipped with the tanget leaves while the bigger boys are whipped with a betel nut trunk. Sometimes some boys fall unconscious when the elders beat them hard enough to knock some sense into them because of misbehaving and disobedience.
The elders then put special leaves close to their noses so they inhale and become conscious again. This act helps them to behave and obey the people and the elders.
The girls and smaller children go to another group of dancers to be whipped with the tanget leaves while the boys are normally carried by two elders. While this is going on the people sing and dance to this song:
Goposi, posi be taengru o.
Goposi, posi be taengru o.
E –e – e – o – o – o kau
When they sing ‘kau’ that is the time the tanget leaf or betel nut trunk falls on the participants. The song means:
Come and let us fight.
The child of the Queen.
The child of the King
After the whipping ceremony everyone goes down to the beach to wash away the dirt of the past year. Young men and women swim out deep into the sea close to the horizon. They tease each other with songs, while the small children and elders swim closer to the shore.
After swimming for some hours they return to the beach. Sometimes the tired ones are taken back to the shore by canoes.
While the children are still swimming the parents go to their homes to prepare food and traditional items for the main celebration.
The parents then prepare for their hungry and tired children a big feast on the beach. After the feast the children are then decorated with their traditional attire and stay the whole day on the beach enjoying themselves with games, singsings and food.
This time of enjoyment is also a time of socializing as friends visit each other and tell stories or share jokes, eat food and dance traditional dances. It is also a time of betrothal and engagement. Thus, most traditional arranged marriages on Manam Island were formed during this time of the year and have a greater value than today.
This is how the marriages are arranged. The parents of a boy would send some food on a big plate to the girl’s parents. If the girl’s parents agree then they will accept the food.
They in turn will send back the plate of food with a tanget leaf covering the food. From then on the boy’s relatives would know that they had accepted their request and will help to look after the girl.
If the girl’s parents do not agree then they will not accept the food. The food will be taken back without the tanget leaf. This makes the boy’s relatives look for another girl in the next New Year’s celebrations.
Meanwhile, among all the excitement and enjoyment, the men in their clan groups go out to get their fish traps which are laid a week earlier. The traps are made from split bamboo and bush rope.
Children are not allowed to play near the people who are making the nets as the net makers might not concentrate and will make some mistakes with the weaving. The mistakes they believe will cause the fish to swim out and not be trapped in the net.
When a conch shell is blown from the canoes it means that they have caught plenty of fish. The women then go down to the beach to help the men bring the fish back to the village. The fish are cooked and shared among everyone present.
After a week, the celebrations end.
Lorraine Evangeline Basse (25) comes from Manam Island. She was born and raised in Goroka. She has just completed four years of studies at Divine Word University and will be graduating this year with a Bachelor in Communication Arts (Journalism)