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  • Papua over 1,400 islands, large and small, scattered between the Equator and north Australia.

  • Many of these islands are tiny, uninhabited coral atolls.

  • The majority are of volcanic formation.

  • Geologically, Papua is a transition zone between the islands of Indonesia and the smaller ones of Oceania.

  • In caves like this one on the island of Kiriguina, in the Trobriand archipelago,

  • remains have been found of the first human inhabitants of these islands.

  • As a result of the last glaciation, the water level went down,

  • and some Polynesian peoples were able to cross to these small islands.

  • But then, when the ice melted and the sea level rose again, these communities were cut off.

  • Dating of the oldest human remains shows that these islands were inhabited over 40,000 years ago.

  • The different ethnic groups that live on the islands of Papua

  • were greatly feared by the sailors who dared to navigate the waters of theseaccursedislands.

  • Head-hunters and cannibals, these fierce warriors of the sea remained isolated until well into the twentieth century.

  • Their bloodthirsty fame meant that, for a long time, their territory remained unexplored by Europeans.

  • Still today there are isolated areas where there are cases of cannibalism and ritual decapitations,

  • especially along the border with Irian-Jaya, on the island of New Guinea.

  • Traditional customs and rituals remain strong among the inhabitants of these islands,

  • though now it is unusual to find a village without a mission of one of the over 100 different churches,

  • which compete for converts among the Papuan natives.

  • But though they attend worship and prayers to these imported gods,

  • the Papuans continue to follow their traditional laws and age-old customs.

  • These young Tolais, from the island of New Britain,

  • have to undergo a severe initiation before being able to sail alone.

  • They have togo to see the fish”, as this ceremony is called;

  • it is a test of their courage and capacity for suffering.

  • If they bear the pain without flinching, a string of shells

  • is placed around their necks, symbolising the passage to adulthood.

  • They are now ready to face the dangers of the sea, protected by the spirits of the forest.

  • That is why, during the initiation, they cover their bodies with green sap.

  • Fishing is the main activity of the Tolai.

  • They use hooks, nets and harpoons.

  • The most important journeys are those to trade with other neighbouring islands.

  • These crossings are subject to the traditional laws, which regulate relations among the different tribes.

  • The villages do not have a well-defined structure.

  • The stilt houses are arranged in family groups.

  • The meeting place is normally the open area opposite the house of the village chief.

  • As well as fishers, they are also gatherers and farmers.

  • The pace of life is slow, no one rushes, there is no stress.

  • The women are responsible for household chores and looking after the children,

  • as well as gathering fruits from the forest.

  • The men plant the yam fields, take care of the pigs and go fishing.

  • They are very hierarchical societies.

  • For example, in the Trobriand islands, above the village chiefs stands the figure of the Paramon Chif,

  • who is responsible for everything that happens on the islands.

  • As in much of Melanesia, the society is matrilineal

  • the children of the marriage belong to the woman’s clan.

  • In Papua, there are over 900 different languages and more than 1,000 different ethnic groups.

  • Communication would be impossible if it were not for pidgin english,

  • a language with elements of both English and the native languages.

  • Yams are the most important crop in the Trobriand islands

  • In fact, they are a symbol of wealth, both personal and of the clan.

  • Every man must build a yam house for each one of his wives.

  • This is where the tubers are stored after the harvest.

  • They are constructions which can quickly be taken down then rebuilt,

  • and protect the yams from the humidity during the rainy season.

  • Between June and July the harvest rites take place.

  • The largest yams are put on display before being stored.

  • No one can begin harvesting until the crop of the Paramon Chif has been gathered in.

  • This is when the most important ritual celebrations on these islands are held.

  • Each family has to give part of their crop to the Paramon Chif.

  • This is a tax, which varies from year to year,

  • depending on the results of the harvest.

  • While they are storing the yams, the families ask the magic man to carry out a small ceremony,

  • so the yams will be under the protection of the spirits,

  • who will make sure they do not rot.

  • The yam houses are administered by the brothers-in-law of the owners,

  • or by someone from the woman’s clan,

  • further evidence of the matrilineal nature of this society.

  • The houses of the Paramon Chif are richly decorated with wood carvings which symbolise his power.

  • The importance of these carvings is such that those who make them, occupy a very high position in society.

  • Magic occupies a central position in the lives of these people.

  • No one does anything without first consulting the witch doctors,

  • who will prescribe, according to the case, the actions and ceremonies

  • that will have to be performed in order to ensure success.

  • Illness and misfortune have their origins in magic,

  • either because you have offended a spirit, or because someone else has cast a spell against you.

  • When they are ill, or when they believe they are the victims of a spell because things are going badly,

  • they turn to the magic men to cure them or solve their problems.

  • The world of the dead is just as real as that of the living.

  • It exists at the same time, but in a parallel, hermetic sphere,

  • only accessible through the rituals and knowledge of magic of the witch doctors and medicine men.

  • As in all animist societies, nothing happens by chance.

  • Everything, good and bad, is the result of the intervention of beings from the other world.

  • On the island of Kiriwina we attend a purifying ceremony.

  • The participants, under the protection of the medicine man,

  • invoke their ancestors to fight and drive out the evil spirits which have caused a bad harvest.

  • When the medicine man senses that the protective spirits have arrived,

  • he orders the participants to move away,

  • to the edge of the forest, to exorcise the evil they have inside them.

  • Then, they receive his blessing, which will protect them form malign influences.

  • In the dead of night, on the island of New Britain,

  • the Tumbuan mask dances to the beat of the canes.

  • They invoke it to ask it to intervene between men and the gods.

  • It is a messenger spirit who brings and takes communications from the other world.

  • Each village has its own masks.

  • The initiated gather together in the forest with the carver and tell him what the mask should look like,

  • and how it should be decorated.

  • Then, they have to bless it, through a complicated liturgical process

  • which lasts for around three months.

  • During this time, only those in authority can see it.

  • When it is completed, one night without warning,

  • the mask suddenly appears in the village

  • for the women and the non-initiated it was created by the spirit of the forest itself.

  • Pigs are very important in Papua.

  • They are a symbol of wealth.

  • The more pigs a family has, the higher their social level.

  • There is no celebration at which pigs are not sacrificed.

  • Among the majority of the island peoples,

  • the dowry consists of a certain number of pigs.

  • They are also used as compensation for any possible wrong a clan may have committed against another.

  • The coconut is the other important element in their diet,

  • and one of the main economic resources.

  • When, at the start of the twentieth century,

  • it was discovered that copra oil greatly reduced the cost of steel manufacture,

  • these islands became extremely important places for European industry.

  • This is one of the reasons for the rapid colonisation of the region.

  • To obtain the oil, they dry the copra, or pith of the coconut in these ovens.

  • Then, they grind and press it.

  • By squeezing the pulp of the coconut, they also obtain the highly nutritious milk.

  • They use it as a drink, and to cook the cassava, wrapped in banana leaves.

  • The coconut palm is one of the most valuable trees for the inhabitants of Papua.

  • Virtually every part of it is used.

  • From the husk, they make ropes and fabrics,

  • and with the inner shell, which is much harder, they make all types of utensils.

  • After extracting the oil, the copra is used as cattle feed.

  • The juice of the flowers is boiled to obtain sugar.

  • They also eat the young shoots, which have very high energy value.

  • From the bark they obtain resin, and with the leaves make baskets,

  • hats and the roofs of their houses.

  • Finally, the wood is used to make furniture and oars, and in construction.

  • Another extremely useful plant in these latitudes is the banana tree.

  • Apart from the fruit, which is present at most meals,

  • the leaves are used to wrap foods to be cooked or fermented.

  • Dried in the sun, they make skirts and costumes with them.

  • They also serve as tablecloths and even as umbrellas.

  • The canoe builders are very important in these communities

  • They have the same social status as the carvers of yam houses.

  • A man may not have a house,

  • but if he does not have a boat he virtually does not exist for the community.

  • Even the old men, though they can no longer sail, keep their canoes,

  • riddled with woodworm, at the side of their houses.

  • Their souls will travel in them when they die.

  • They are a symbol of life, which mystically unites them with the sea

  • and maintains them in contact with the world of the living.

  • When they die, their canoes are abandoned far from the shore,

  • so the currents will carry them out to sea,

  • to the mermaids who will accompany their spirit

  • on its final voyage to the realm of the gods.

  • They believe their boats bear the traces of all the acts and deeds of this life.

  • They are the summary of everything they have been and everything they have done.

  • When the canoes reach their final destination,

  • the gods can read them and decide the fate of their souls.

  • In the Trobriand islands, hundreds of defiant warriors await the arrival of their enemies.

  • They have emerged from the forest at the first light of day,

  • after performing the ceremony to invoke the god of war.

  • These cruel headhunters have become sportsmen in a strange game,

  • Trobriand cricket, which is an important social event.

  • It was the British missionaries who taught them this game,

  • in an attempt to channel the innate aggressiveness of these people into sport.

  • The cricket teams are made up of 11 players,

  • but here they are all from the same tribe or village.

  • Sometimes, each side can have a hundred or a hundred and fifty men,

  • and the match can last for days.

  • Before the game begins, the rival teams sing old songs, which speak of their warrior exploits.

  • It is a way to incite and impress the rival team.

  • Then, they exchange betel nuts, as a symbol of fraternity.

  • These nuts, also called baual, are slightly narcotic.

  • The Papuans eat them all the time, mixed with burnt coral dust, which increases the stimulant effects.

  • The cricket bats are decorated with clan and magic symbols

  • similar to those that decorate the bodies of the players.

  • The regulation dress is the same as they used in the past when going to war:

  • shorts made from dried banana leaves,

  • coloured bands around legs and arms, and feather headdresses.

  • The original rules of the game have been altered over time

  • and have incorporated the old warrior rituals.

  • The only similarity with cricket as we know it

  • is the fact that the ball is hit with the bat,

  • and players run from one wicket to the other.

  • All the rest is magical and ancestral liturgy.

  • For these cricket warriors, a defeat at the hands of another village is a real tragedy.

  • When a player is out, he is considered dead, and they cry as if he had really died.

  • In the same way, every certain number of runs is celebrated like a major victory.

  • During the three or four days that the match lasts,

  • the women of the host village are in charge of preparing the food for the visiting team,

  • and organising the farewell ceremony, at which the Paramon Chif will give out the prizes,

  • in the form of betel nuts and yams, to the most outstanding players.

  • On the islands of Papua there are many volcanoes, a lot of them active,

  • like Turvurvur, which in 1994 destroyed the city of Rabaul, the capital of the island of New Britain.

  • Thanks to a false alarm in 1984, the city was ready for evacuation,

  • and there were no victims.

  • A week before the eruption, there was an earthquake, which alerted the authorities.

  • For four days, Turvurvur spat out lava and red hot rocks which set alight many houses.

  • Everything was covered in ash.

  • But the worst was to come later.

  • When reconstruction work had begun, the rains arrived,

  • and the ash that had been deposited on the mountain slopes was washed down by the waters,

  • flooding and burying the city.

  • Since then, the Turvurvur volcano has continued to spew out toxic gases,

  • and the smoke warns of the constant danger.

  • Any plans to rebuild the city and the port seem to have abandoned forever.

  • The people moved to nearby Kokopo, which is now the administrative capital.

  • Old Rabaul is for the time being buried beneath the ash,

  • a reminder of what the force of nature is capable of, and how man is powerless against it.

  • Rabaul was an important military enclave for the Japanese during the Second World War.

  • A strategic place, fundamental for such famous battles as those of Guadalcanal or the Coral Sea.

  • The north of this island of New Britain quickly became a fortress.

  • The bay was mined, the roads concealed with trees,

  • and some 580 kilometres of underground passages were dug,

  • linking the different barracks and encampments,

  • where they would not be seen by the allied airforces.

  • There are still some Japanese ships moored inside the tunnels

  • built along the coast, opening directly into the sea.

  • It is calculated that in Rabaul and the surrounding area over 20,000 tonnes of bombs fell.

  • In the bay, many remains of ships have been found, and thousands of torpedo shells.

  • In time, these metal structures have been populated by algae and corals,

  • which are home to a large number of marine species.

  • Scuba divers from all over the world come here to see them.

  • In any corner of the island we can find rusted war remains and cemeteries

  • which tell of the horror that war brought to these islands in paradise.

  • Dances are an essential part of the spirituality of these people.

  • Through dance, they invoke the spirits, to ask them for protection and favour.

  • The Tolai who, numbering around 180,000, are the most numerous group on the island of New Britain,

  • invoke the duk-duk and the tumbuan, which are spirits of the forest.

  • It would seem these people originally came from the Duke of York islands,

  • which are in the entrance to the bay of Rabaul.

  • On their headdresses they place small carvings

  • which represent the protective spirits of each clan of initiates.

  • These clans are governed by a council of ancients and by a chief chosen by this council.

  • The dancers remain apart from the rest of the people,

  • in a magical area which no one can enter.

  • They have taken on the identity of the invoked spirits

  • and now are not of this world.

  • If someone who has not been initiated disobeyed this prohibition,