An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing
THE dancers gather at the fringes of the hamlet where the new house is located. They’re not far from the new and still unoccupied home.
The suddenly charge at the house hysterically singing the Nasioi songs known as the uuva and the whole world comes to life as everyone around cheers, laughs, sings and dances around the new house to officially declare it open for use by the owner.
All of these practices of the Nasioi people are is connected to the spiritual realm of a life that has existed since time immemorial. And pabaa-bere (sometimes referred to as pabaa-kenaa) is the ceremony that declares a newly completed home open for use by its owner.
A Nasioi individual or family building its house anywhere in the Kietaarea bears in mind that a pabaa-bere must be held at the end of the project and they must be prepared for this small but epistemologically significant occasion involving the surrounding community awaiting to celebrate the new addition to their communal life.
The Nasioi term pabaa means ‘house’ and bere means ‘to open’; the added version, pabaa-kenaa, means ‘to sing songs to the house.’
The pabaa-bere ceremony is led by an appointed female or male elder who has the respect of the area. Mostly the elder comes from the new house owner’s extended family. For the Oune people of the Panguna District, it is always a grandmother or great grandmother of the house owner who ministers the ceremony.
Once the building of the house is complete, the family cleans up and prepares some small foodstuffs that they will eat as a community together with the dancers who come for the opening ceremony.
That done, the person responsible for administering the pabaa-bere ritual goes out to collect special fine smelling herbs - laru, sisika, oneaa and sirivi. These herbs in Nasioi society have healing and protective powers against harmful spirits.
After the herbs are gathered (most Nasioi people have them planted around their homes or in their gardens), the elder has to get a tuking (young coconut fruit) and cuts a tiny opening at its base into which the herbs are pushed into the coconut juice inside.
Having done that, the elder gets a piece of piiko, a dry clay reddish soil traded to most parts of Kieta from areas around Torokina and Wakunai. Piiko is always available in dry bamboo tubes on the mantelpiece of every Nasioi household as a protection and aid to rituals.
The piiko is the centre of gravity for rituals that have significant outcomes for people and their connections to the spiritual realm. A ritual without the application of the piiko is deemed powerless; and bad administration of the piiko brings disaster.
With the piiko placed in the coconut juice with the herbs, the hole sealed by placing a banana leaf. The elder, with a karamani (traditional mat) locked under the armpit, joins the singers and dancers of the uuva. The uuva are composed songs connected to the owner of the house. As the dancers sing. they also dramatize the lyrics. There is laughter and joy.
In the modern age, the Nasioi people have adapted their uuva songs and dances. If the owner of the new house is a teacher, the uuva singers and dancers will dress like a teacher and dance acting as teachers teaching in a classroom; getting paid and building a house. They will dance the whole process from the classroom to the completed house.
There will be dancers dressed and acting as a teacher, a banker, a carpenter and so on making sure that every person or individual involved in the house is included.
The uuva singers and dancers enter the house singing and dancing inside every corner. Once satisfied, the elder calls on all the immediate relatives to gather in front of the house and the uuva dancers and singers are called to halt as a karamani is thrown over the gathered family.
From the verandah a speech is made to the gods, spirits and the gathered people of the land thanking them for all the good things the land has offered to make the people happy.
After the speech, the elder pours the spiritually protective and sacred coconut juice on the karamani and the uuva now picks up new songs to declare the house open and dances and sings around the family.
Laughter and jubilation ensure until nightfall as people share food and sing and dance around the house until the pabaa-bere is complete and the family moves their belongings into the house.