THE heritage award inside the Crocodile Prize was initiated and funded by Bob Cleland in 2012 to address his concern at the way cultural traditions were being lost in Papua New Guinea.
Lorraine Basse won the first Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing for her story Barasi - The Manam Way.
At first the judges wrestled with this award because the entries were a mix of heritage, historical and modern themes, often containing errors and misinterpretations. It was a dilemma that served to endorse Bob’s concerns.
Other entries came across as too anthropological or academic, with confusing jargon and unnecessary references to obscure ples tok.
In contrast, Lorraine’s entry offered a neat balance between popular and academic writing. It was well researched and provided a readable account of an age-old tradition which had survived the perilous journey to modern times largely intact.
Lorraine interviewed people from Manam Island and recorded their oral histories so the piece resonated with factual authority, not least because of its rendering of traditional song.
Her article also highlighted the place of women in tradition life, an aspect that is sometimes overlooked in favour of the men’s role.
SITUATED 25 kilometres away from the township of Madang, along the fringes of the north coast drive and a 30 minute journey by boat from mainland Bogia, is Manam Island.
Manam is a volcanic island with 15 villages and one language, Manam Motu. The people of Manam are fun loving, warm-hearted, caring and hospitable and take pride in their chieftain society.
They love to keep their traditions alive and one such tradition is called Barasi.
Barasi is a festival about becoming a new person - representing a transitional rebirth from the old self to the new - which falls every year in the months of May, June and July.
It is a time of plenty and celebration of a new year and a new beginning. It is, however, a tradition slowly dying with each passing year, especially since Manam Islanders were displaced to the mainland after a 2004 volcanic eruption.
They now live at Potsdam, Moumba, Daigul, Asuramba and Mangem care centres, located on old coconut plantations in the Bogia District.
The festival starts when the elders of the village beat the garamut at around four o’clock in the morning when they spot the Pleiades or Seven Sisters group of stars rising over the island. The garamut beat announces the commencement of celebrations.
The 15 villages are divided into three areas with each catering for one of the months of May, June and July. After celebrating in one area, people move on to the next until the three months are over.
Everywhere is hustle and bustle and the excitement of people can be heard as they rush into a central area to celebrate.
Grandparents, parents and children go to the gathering place as it is the custom that everyone should be present to be blessed by the spirits of riches, wealth, long life and whatever good the new year might bring.
A huge fire is lit for the elders to welcome the people and to drive away evil spirits. After that everyone including the children sings, shouts and dances towards the slowly advancing elders. As the groups get closer, some elders quickly grab a child for whipping – which is part of the cleansing ceremony.
The girls and small boys are gently whipped with tanget leaves while the bigger boys are whipped with a betel nut trunk. Sometimes boys fall unconscious when elders take the opportunity to knock some sense into them because of previous misbehaviour and disobedience.
The elders then put special leaves close to the boys’ noses so, when they inhale, they regain consciousness. This action teaches 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 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’, the tanget leaf or betel nut trunk falls on participants.
The song translates as:
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 far out to sea so it seems they are close to the horizon. They tease each other with songs. The small children and elders swim closer to the shore.
After swimming for some hours, everyone s to the beach. Sometimes 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 articles for the main celebration.
After the feast the children are decorated in traditional attire and spend the whole day on the beach enjoying themselves with games, singsings and food.
This time of enjoyment is a time of socialising as friends visit each other and tell stories and share jokes, eat food and dance traditional dances.
This is also a time of engagement and betrothal. Most traditional arranged marriages on Manam Island were formed at this time of the year and tended to have a greater value than today.
The marriages were arranged like this. The parents of a boy would send some food on a big plate to the girl’s parents. If the girl’s parents agreed to the betrothal, they would accept the food. Then they would send it back with a tanget leaf covering the food.
From then on, the boy’s relatives know their request has been accepted and they will help look after the girl.
If the girl’s parents do not agree, they do not accept the food. The food is taken back without the tanget leaf. This results in the boy’s relatives looking for another girl in the next new year celebrations.
Meanwhile, amongst all the excitement and enjoyment, the men in their clan groups go out to get the fish traps, which have been laid a week earlier. The traps are made from split bamboo and bush rope.
Children are not allowed to play near the people making the nets as the net makers might not concentrate and make some mistakes with the weaving. It is believed the mistakes 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 plenty of fish have been caught. The women 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.