Snakes, adulterers, and the loss of paradise in Kaliai

Dorothy Ayers Counts
University of Waterloo

(May, 1993 version)

1994. Counts, Dorothy Ayers. Snakes, adulterers, and the loss of paradise in Kaliai. In Children of Kilibob, special issue of Pacific Studies, Alice Pomponio, David R. Counts and Thomas G. Harding guest editors. Pacific Studies 17: 109-151. This manuscript differs slightly from the published version. Please cite from the published version.

In a paper published posthumously in Oceania, Peter Lawrence reemphasized his position -- stated in the Introduction to Gods, Ghosts and Men in Melanesia -- that religion dominates the intellectual life of the people of the New Guinea seaboard (Lawrence 1988). Using the people of the southern Madang Province as his prototype, Lawrence argued that although they are deeply religious, coastal New Guineans are also pragmatic and assume that gods and spirits are as real as are human beings. They spend much time considering the meaning of both their own myths and Christian scripture, hoping to involve both deities and ghosts in human affairs in ways that are to their advantage. He thought other coastal people shared the Madang peoples' obsession with religion. To support this idea, he traced the spread of the Kilibob-Manup myth -- a tale central to southern Madang cosmology and cargo belief -- to areas far beyond southern Madang. Some versions of the story primarily are traditional in content. These account for customary practices and explain the existence of items -- such as promontories, mountains and large boulders -- in the local landscape. Other versions explain why Australians and North Americans have access to manufactured goods that are unavailable to Melanesians. These versions may legitimize cargo cults. Lawrence argues that the co-existence of both versions of a narrative such as the story of Kilibob-Manup suggests continuity of belief and an interest in religion "both as an explanatory mode and a technology". Our work in this collection extends Lawrence's thesis beyond Madang into Siassi and Northwest New Britain. It also supports the work of other scholars who report the articulation of oral narratives with social, cosmological, and physical landscapes throughout the Pacific (see, for example, Denoon and Lacey 1981; LeRoy 1985; Kahn 1990; Lindstrom 1990; Rodman 1992). These chapters also lay the groundwork for other scholars to test Lawrence's thesis in other Pacific societies where narratives focusing on common themes both explore the origins of traditional society and explain the technological dominance of colonial powers.

When he wrote about Melanesian religion, Lawrence used the term "to mean man's beliefs about deities, spirits, and totems, whom he regarded as superhuman or extra-human beings living with him in his own physical environment..." (1964:12). Melanesian religion explains how cosmic order began and assures humans that through ritual they can maintain correct relationships with spirits. These relationships enable humans master their world. Lawrence considered myths to be both the repository of religious belief and the text that allows people to understand how the cosmos works and how they might turn this to their advantage.

Other scholars have found that oral narratives enable people to understand and interpret all their experience.(1) They help people to remember and comprehend the effects of important historic events(2)

. They enable them to recover pre-Christian religious beliefs (Trompf 1981). The intertextual dimension of related tales may disclose existential truths and force awareness of the paradoxes and dilemmas of human relations (Burridge 1969; LeRoy 1985:23).

As Edmond Leach noted almost three decades ago, the relationships explored in myth are often those that lead to conflict and tension. Myths identify contradictions that are not easily reconciled and relationships where social balance is tenuous. They permit people to explore areas of tension where society is most vulnerable (Leach 1966:80). The stories of the Lusi-Kaliai people of the north coast of West New Britain focus on the consequences of immoral behavior and on specific sets of problematic relationships. These include the ambiguities inherent in relations between affines, the potential for rivalry and cooperation between same-sex siblings, and the results if parents and children do not meet their obligations to each other. Lusi-Kaliai myths also explore the paradox that people must cooperate with and marry outsiders if society is to survive.

In this chapter I combine Lawrence's approach with one suggested by Stephen (1987:269): in the Melanesian world view order, predictability and morality characterize human society. In contrast, these restraints do not bind the world of spirits and forces. As both Lawrence and Stephen argue, Melanesians try through religious ritual to impose order, predictability, and morality on others and to establish reciprocal (moral) relationships with amoral beings. These relationships provide opportunity, power, and access to otherwise unavailable goods that allow humans to control their world.

It may appear that Stephen's approach contradicts Lawrence who consistently argued that the Western distinction between empirical and non-empirical realms does not apply to Melanesian thought. However, the seeming contradiction may be a problem of terminology. The words 'empirical' and 'non-empirical' may inadequately describe the significant oppositions of Melanesian cosmology. Indeed, there may be no appropriate English term that does not distort Melanesian cosmology. Kaliai recognize the existence of beings who are not human in the usual sense. These beings may take human form and interact with normal people, but they are not truly human: they are Other.

In Melanesia, humans share their world with an assortment of non-human Others including spirits, animal/spirit changelings, and Whites. The same natural and social rules that restrict human behavior do not bind these Others. They have superhuman powers and creative abilities. They can change both their own form and that of others. They do not behave in a moral, reciprocal and predictable way in their interactions with each other or with humans. Finally, their control over life and death gives them an immortality beyond the capability of mortals. For instance, the villages where Kaliai spirits go after death exist in space. They are invisible but they are not non-empirical. People who go to the top of Mount Andewa can hear roosters crowing and smell the smoke of cooking fires from the spirit village there. These things exist, but humans cannot see them and they are barred from entering the village(3). Similarly, there are creatures with powers far superior to those of any human, snake, pig, or other ordinary animal. These Others are not of this world, exactly, but they are in this world and humans may have to deal with them. Kaliai do not perceive the boundaries between spirit and flesh, between human and non-human in the same way as do Westerners. For Kaliai these boundaries are permeable, shifting, and indistinct. This creates a problem for mortals who may behave appropriately toward an apparent human or animal and then discover with horror that they are dealing with a spirit whose behavior they can neither predict nor control. This is truly a difficulty of mythic proportions.

Kaliai stories strongly suggest that moral behaviour defines humanness. One is never sure where Others -- whether they are affines, strangers, or Whites -- fit in. They appear to be human, but they may not behave morally. They may be inhuman. They may be animal changelings, spirits, sorcerers,(4) or Whites. Kaliai tales explore the nature and identity of beings whose behavior is either immoral or amoral and the results of their behavior. For the Lusi-Kaliai moral behavior is as follows:

1) Moral behavior reinforces and validates ties of kinship and community. Immoral behavior causes strife among people, especially kinsmen, who should support each other. It leads to social chaos and the destruction of community. A man who seduces his brother's wife, for instance, risks intra-lineage conflict and the fission of his kin group. Lusi-Kaliai consider such adultery to be inhuman, animal-like behavior (Counts and Counts 1991). Its consequences are explored in "Aragas" and "Titikolo".

2) Moral persons meet their social obligations. Mothers who neglect their children, fathers who fail to provide their sons with wives, villagers who refuse to feed and care for orphans and the dependent elderly are behaving immorally. The result is the collapse of social order.

3) Reciprocity is the basis of moral behavior. It is the foundation of human society. Nonreciprocal behavior is immoral. Kaliai expect that people will reciprocate both good and evil, ideally with a bonus. Gifts, contributions of wealth and labour, and acts of kindness should be repaid with interest when the donor has need. Similarly, hostile acts should be returned in kind and preferably with abundance.

4) Sociality and reciprocity require that people behave predictably. One cannot engage in reciprocal exchange or social intercourse with someone whose behavior is unpredictable. Such behavior is immoral behavior; immoral behavior is unpredictable.

All the myths analyzed here share assumptions about the origins of culture, the ways by which people gain access to new ideas and technology, and the processes of change. These assumptions are identical to those that underlie cargo movements. Scholars have supported Lawrence's insight that cargo belief expresses an epistemological system widely held in Melanesia. For instance, Wagner (1981:31-34) argues that cargo is a Melanesian metaphor for culture. Counts and Counts (1976) discuss the similar assumptions made by both members and non-members of a Kaliai cargo movement about the nature of change. McDowell says:

analyzing how cargo cults interpenetrate with a people's ideological or cultural construction of change yields more understanding than treating the cults as a manifestation of some cross-cultural category.... As totemism did not exist, being merely an example of how people classify the world around them, cargo cults too do not exist, being merely an example of how people conceptualize and experience change in the world (1988:122).

Through myths people explore how they can manipulate their relationships with non-moral beings and control their world. In this chapter I analyze four Kaliai myths that explore behavior of amoral spirits and the consequences of their behavior for humans.

Kaliai Stories: Titikolo, Aragas, and Moro

According to Lawrence, the Kaliai tell the story of Kilibob and Manup to explain the presence and production of material wealth. I have recorded several Lusi-Kaliai stories containing thematic elements similar to those in "Kilibob and Manup". These do explain the origins of aspects of Kaliai culture. However, none is identical to the myths Lawrence summarizes in Road Belong Cargo, and none focuses on the specialized production of wealth items in the same way as do versions from the Siassi Islands, Kilenge, and Bariai (see Pomponio chapter 00, McPherson chapter 00, and Thurston chapter 00). Two stories I analyze here -- "Titikolo" and "Aragas" -- are versions of the same story. The third and fourth are about the adventures of Moro and his sons. They are similar to stories from neighbouring societies analyzed by other contributors to this collection. Names are irrelevant. The hero's may be called Namor, Moro, Ava, Titikolo, or Aragas. His son/younger brother may be Gura, Aisapel, or Aikiukiu. West New Britain raconteurs emphasis this point. Tuki, who told the story of Aragas, specifically changed the hero's name when he entered a new area. So Aragas becomes Ava, Titikolo, and finally Namor. Although the main characters have several names, and the legends recount different adventures of the hero or his son(s), my informants agreed that all are about the same spirit being.

Although the four tales analyzed here are not identical to each other or to other versions told in the region, this does not disadvantage our analysis. One goal of the study of the oral literature of a society or a group of neighbouring societies who share related languages or similar cultures or history is to gain insight into the paradoxes in their conceptual categories. This is to understand the "meaning" of myth. This goal can be accomplished by identifying common elements in different versions of one story -- or in myths with similar themes from related societies -- and discovering how these elements are combined (Lévi-Strauss 1963:210). These combinations of elements are, to use Lévi-Straus' term "relations". It is the "bundle of relations" organized and reorganized in different ways that, all together, produce the "meaning" of mythology (1963:210-211). By exploring the relationships in the myths of West New Britain and the Vitiaz Straits, we may understand something of what these stories "mean" to the people who tell them.

Lévi-Strauss (1963:) and others (Hammel 1972; Leach 1970) have persuasively argued that myths may identify the social contradictions that are not simple to reconcile and the areas where social balance is not easily maintained. They are preoccupied with those areas of strain where the web of the social fabric is weakest and where society is most vulnerable. These points may be particularly fragile because society places irreconcilable demands upon its members, or because persons whose cooperation is essential for the survival of society may be put into situations where conflict is inevitable. The resolutions that myths seem to offer, or the models of behavior that they propose, are not the ones that the society instills in its members. Instead myths may explore alternative ways of dealing with social paradox and, as a result, legitimize society's solutions to basically insoluble dilemmas by illustrating the disastrous results of other approaches (Lévi-Strauss 1967:24).

Oral literature is an important source of information about the Kaliai world view because the people consider their stories to contain historical, cultural, or sociological truths. Their myths reflect and reconstruct experienced reality. Stories told around the fire after the evening meal introduce children to their social and physical world. The Lusi-speaking Kaliai have three named types of tales: ninipunga, nasinga, and pelunga.(5)

A ninipunga does not contain historical or legendary truth and may be created by a talented raconteur. Some are told for entertainment while others educate as well as amuse. A nasinga is a true account of historic events. Nasinga is derived from the verb -nasi, 'to follow' or 'to recount truthfully'. The actors in a nasinga may have living descendants. Although people may hotly dispute the facts and the interpretation of events, people consider the stories to be history. They are subject to the same problems of accuracy as are participants' accounts of the atrocities of any war or political campaign.

A pelunga recounts incidents and persons who have no direct, traceable ties with living individuals or current events. The primary characters of a pelunga may be humans, spirits, culture heroes, or pura, 'powerful beings' who take either human or animal form. Moro is a pura who has the body of a snake. White people are pura; the Kaliai who first met them thought they were inhuman. Pelunga are stories from the mythic past. Lusi-Kaliai believe them to be true stories told about a definite -- whether real or fabulous -- person, event, or place (see Jason 1972:134). Although it may deal with supernatural events, a pelunga contains truths about the experienced world.

Both nasinga and pelunga are germane to contemporary events and have consequences for day-to-day life. Either, for example, may be evidence in a land dispute. Competing groups tell myths that support their claim to primary disposal and use rights in an area because their ancestors were the first to settle there. The stories discussed here are all pelunga.

Lukas Suksuk, an Anem-Kaliai from an interior village,(6) told "Titikolo" and "Moro and Gura". Suksuk worked for many years at Iboki Plantation in Kaliai, he spoke Lusi fluently, and he was close kin to many people living in Lusi-speaking villages. Tuki of Lauvori told the story of Aragas. His version of "Titikolo" contains episodes missing in Suksuk's account. Aragas is a powerful trickster figure whose name changes to Ava, Titikolo, and Namor as he moves westward along the north coast of New Britain. Tuki's story explains how people discovered the proper way to have sexual intercourse and to chew areca-betel pepper-lime mixture. It also draws parallels between the hero and Jesus. As his account suggests, Tuki suspected that Jesus was another name, one known by Whites, for the New Britain mythic hero.

Suksuk's "Titikoko" is less detailed than "Aragas", and both are shorter versions of Thurston's "Titikolo" (chapter 00). Like Thurston's version of the myth, Sukusk's account explains that during Titikolo's tenure the world was like the starry heavens and humans got food without working.

Jakob Mua recorded "Moro", the adventures of Moro's sons Aikiukiu and Aisapel,(7) in 1967. He heard it from two Kove named Moro and Mopi who travelled down coastal northwest New Britain in the mid-1960s telling the story while trying to organize a cargo cult. The final episode of "Moro" explains why Americans have a superior technology and standard of living.

All of these pelunga have common themes. In this paper I focus on their treatment of the permeable boundaries between human and non-human; between one's own group and others; and between Papua New Guineans and Whites. The myths explore the difference between Us and Them and ask what kind of relationship is possible between Us and the Others with whom we must interact, trade, and marry if we are to survive. They suggest that non-humans are non-moral beings who are equivalent to Others (affines or Whites), while humans are moral beings who are equivalent to me, my kinsmen, or the people of Papua New Guinea).(8) Thus, non-humans (im- or amoral beings)=Others=affines=Whites: humans (moral beings) = my kin(d) = kinsmen = PNG people.

The following discussion is in four sections: The Scene is Set, The Problem With Sex, The Dangers of Marriage, Snakes, Whites and the Loss of Paradise. Each section analyzes episodes from the four myths. Translated myth texts are in the appendix of this collection.

The Scene is Set

MORO AND GURA: Moro approaches a human settlement.

MORO: Moro was a solitary [non-human] being from Kove. He moved west, married and fathered two sons Aikiukiu and Aisapel.

TITIKOLO: Titikolo originated in the Kaliai interior. Food appears without human effort.

ARAGAS/AVA/TITIKOLO/NAMOR: God sent Aragas to teach people how to give mortuary and first-born ceremonies. Aragas lives with the bigman Sapulo.(9) Their followers eat the bigmen's fish and then quarrel. Sapulo observes that conflict is the result when two bigmen try to share space. Aragas leaves and, appearing as a young boy, he goes to live with a bigman named Alu.


At the beginning of "Moro and Gura", "Moro", and "Titikolo" the spirit-hero lives separately from humans.(10) In "Moro" he is a solitary figure who even refuses to eat the food people leave for him. "Moro and Aragas" begins with Moro approaching a human settlement. We are not told where he has come from but we learn that he is not a member of human society. In "Titikolo" he lives at the headwaters of the Vanu river. Today a visitor can see the large flat stone shaped like a bed where he slept and the carvings on the rock shelter where he dwelled. His presence there is coincident with, and seems to be a precondition for, the time of paradise when people got food without working.

Only "Aragas" begins with the hero as a bigman who, together with his followers, shares a village with another powerful leader. This does not last. The bigmen's followers quarrel, and Aragas leaves after Sapulo rightly observes that dissention results when two powerful leaders try to live together. Thereafter Aragas ceases to live normally in human society.

This view of spirits living apart from society (human or spirit) accurately reflects Lusi-Kaliai ideas about the spirit world. They recognize several, sometimes anthropomorphic, foci of power. These include the following:

A. the ghosts of the recently dead who linger near their graves while their corpses deteriorate. They appear to relatives if the person met an untimely and unavenged death. A ghost may participate in divination rituals and inform its kin of the identity of the person(s) responsible for the death.(11)

B. The 'ancestral dead' or antu (12) are represented by masked dancers who participate in mortuary feasts and wealth distributions for important men. They live in villages located on mountain tops and in whirlpools, and caves. A human who ventures too near a spirit village is in danger. The spirits may call up a fog or confuse the mind so the human becomes lost and wanders around until he or she dies. Spirits also sometimes take a fancy to a small child or attractive young person, especially if the youth has used love magic. They either lure the victim away or steal one of the aspects of the desired person's spirit, thereby causing illness and death. (13) Small children are especially vulnerable, but adults are also seduced into the spirit world from which it is difficult to return (Counts 1980).

C. Bush spirits, iriau are solitary beings who occupy natural formations such as large trees, reefs, sandbars, deep pools and peculiarly shaped or large stones(14). A 'bush spirit' may steal the spirit of an individual who has annoyed it or for whom it feels lust. Also it may enter a woman's womb if she copulates near its dwelling place. The result is a congenitally deformed child. In earlier days people thought such an infant was inhuman and buried it alive at birth.

D. 'Foci of power' known as pura may take human, White, or herpetanthropoid form (I borrow this term from Thurston, chapter 00). They usually live alone on isolated mountain tops, beneath whirlpools, in caves, and near or in other unusual natural formations. Moro/Titikolo is a pura.

All of these creatures ordinarily take no interest in human affairs and, if left alone, are benign. Because they are inhuman, however, their behavior is amoral and unpredictable. It is the topic of many Kaliai myths.

The Problem with Sex

TITIKOLO tattoos his design on the genital area of the wife of Alu, his mother's brother. Alu discovers the design is Titikolo's by comparing a design he paints on Alu's men's house centre post. Alu then commissions Titikolo to decorate the men's house posts, planning to crush him in the post hole. Rat saves Titikolo by digging an escape tunnel and preparing a blood-like mixture to fool the humans(15)

ARAGAS tattoos his design on the genitals of the bigman Alu's first wife and has intercourse with her. Alu discovers the owner of the design is Aragas (now called Ava) using the same procedure as in "Titikolo" and prepares to crush Ava in the post hole. Wasp saves Ava who taunts the humans with his escape. Then the hero (now called Titikolo) goes to interior Kilenge where he lives alone briefly. Then, as Namor, he goes to a Kilenge hamlet. While the bigman of the hamlet is fishing, Namor asks his wife for crushed lime to chew. She offers her vagina. Namor teaches her the proper methods of betel chewing and sexual intercourse. The result is red spittle and menstruation. The bigman discovers his wife's bloody genitals and asks her for lime. She teachers him about copulation and the proper way to chew betel.

MORO is asked by his affines for his special, large pig. He agrees to give them the pig but insists that they return the head to him. Instead they eat the pig and then kill and butcher him. Moro's affines then trick his first-born, Aikiukiu, into eating Moro's liver, transforming him into a snake-man. Moro's vengeful spirit pursues Aikiukiu as his mother flees west to Bariai with him in a basket on her head. Aikiukiu destroys his father then creates gardens, pigs, and chickens for his younger brother, Aragas. Humans have all their needs met without work. Then Aikiukiu marries two women. The first wife is obedient and does not demand to see her husband. The second wife, Aveta, is dissatisfied with the arrangement and insists on her conjugal rights. She ignores the warnings of her mother-in-law and husband and is destroyed when she breaks into his house.16) Concurrently, Aragas is on a trading voyage to collect pigs to hold a mortuary ceremony for their father. Aveta's disobedience aborts the ceremony, and Aikiukiu and Aragas leave Bariai.

MORO and GURA Moro sees the woman Galue and desires her. She refuses his advances and he turns her into a tree so she will agree to copulate with him. He forces her to leave with him and, although she leaves a trail, her friends are unable to rescue her. Moro and Galue's son Gura reaches adolescence and, goes to the village of his maternal relatives to participate in a ceremony, performing miracles on the way. Gura decorates his face with lime and dances at the ceremony. His mother's relatives recognize and honour him. When he returns home he goes to his men's house to sleep. Moro finds him there, sees the lime on his face and realizes he's been visiting his mother's kin. Angrily he reminds Gura that he belongs to his father's kin group and charges him with breaking the rule separating spirits from humans. Then Moro turns Gura into a snake and Galue into a crab. The story explains that Anem people offer food and valuables to any crab that enters their village because she is a kinswoman.


Sex and lust are sources of grief for Kaliai men who would appreciate the concerns of General Jack Ripper in the film Dr. Strangelove. General Ripper understood about vital bodily fluids. Lusi men say that sexual intercourse spills a man's essence. Profligate sexual activity causes weakness, desiccation and premature aging. Exposure to menstrual blood results in respiratory disease and death. This is not a 'natural' condition of women but one created by the hero. According to "Aragas", women originally did not menstruate and their sexuality was not dangerous to men. It was safe for a man to place betel peppers first in a woman's vagina and then in his mouth. Today this act would today cause a Kaliai man to die slowly and painfully.

As in other Melanesian mythology (see Burridge 1969), Kaliai myth associates sexuality and the areca-betel-lime mixture. Although it is not explicit here, Aragas's intervention introduced female fertility as well as sexual danger. The Lusi consider fertility to be a feminine attribute and sterility a female failure. Men reject any suggestion that the cause of a barren marriage may lie with them. According to Kaliai conception theory any potent man can father babies; women, who may bar entry to the womb where the child is constructed, are problematic. The association between areca-betel-lime, red spittle and blood, and sexuality also occurs among the Tangu. In Tangu idiom, "areca-nut represents the curative and generative, areca-nuts resemble testicles, testicles and areca nuts are generative" (Burridge 1969:248). Furthermore, Tangu mythology notes that areca nuts chewed with lime produce bright red spittle. Red is associated with the menstrual flow -- evidence of procreative capacity -- and with blood and life.

Although Lusi-Kaliai men fear women's genitalia and sexual fluids, male sexuality is also dangerous to some categories of people. Intercourse with a nursing mother introduces sperm into her milk and weakens the infant. If the sperm is from a man other than the child's father, the baby will sicken and may die. Sexual fluids, even the smell of sexual congress,(17) are dangerous to vulnerable people such as the very young, the very old, and children whose penes or ears have been ritually cut in ceremonies celebrating their first-born status. Old men warn young men of these dangers and urge them to limit their sexual activity and to sleep apart from their wives for at least two years after the birth of a child.

In spite of the dangers of sexuality and the warnings of their elders, Lusi-Kaliai expect people to copulate at every opportunity. Thurston (chapter 00) says that Anem men make themselves irresistible to women who then seduce them, but it is my impression that seduction is a two-way practice among the Lusi. Both genders practice love magic and both use aromatic herbs, sweet smelling oils, and body decoration to seduce lovers. In both versions of the story of Titikolo, the hero in the form of a young boy gets the attention of his mother's brother wife by throwing a decorated stick near where she is working. The beauty of his design makes her desire him. Although there is no mention of love magic in the myths, the woman responds as though she has been bewitched. After they make love, she has him tattoo his design on the inside of her thighs or on her groin.(18)

In Kaliai the relationship between older and younger male relatives is critically important for the continuation of the patriline. It is also often characterized by suspicion and jealousy. A recurring theme in Kaliai myth is the social havoc that results when a man suspects that his younger kinsman (usually his brother) is seducing his wife and tries to kill the youngster in revenge. Alternative themes are the (attempted) seduction of the younger brother by the senior brother's wife, or an older brother's attempt to kill his young kinsman in order to posses the boy's beautiful wife. Consequently brothers -- whose unity is the basis of community -- are divided. The warning is clear: sexual lust and jealousy cause chaos and destroys society.

Lusi norms restricting sexual relationships between certain categories of people recognize the dangers of sexual desire. These restrictions avert conflict between people who must cooperate if society is to survive. Goody observed that for some peoples incest and adultery may be equally serious breaches of the social and moral order. People react with horror and disgust to sexual intercourse with the wife of a fellow group member (Goody in Bohannan and Middleton 1968:32). The issue is tied to social structure. For societies with descent systems (such as the Lusi-Kaliai), illicit sexual intercourse with the woman who reproduces the group is the ultimate sin. It must be treated with severity. Goody's analysis is relevant to Lusi rules of avoidance. Close affines of the opposite sex should avoid each other. They should not speak to each other, look each other in the face, eat or refer to sexual matters in the other's presence, or call the other's name. A woman should refrain from all contact with her husband's father and brothers and a man should avoid his wife's mother and her sisters. Adultery between these people is not human behavior. It is the behavior of "people who act like dogs" (Counts and Counts 1991). In Kaliai myth adultery between affines violates moral order and invariably results in social chaos, fratricide and/or suicide.

The relationship between mother's brother/sister's son has a special tension among the Lusi-Kaliai. Because he is his father's child and a member of his patrilineage, a boy competes and exchanges with his mother's kin, particularly her brother and his sons. If, however, a father fails to perform the ceremonies affiliating his child with his kin group, the mother's brother may claim the child for his patrilineage. Children also have inheritance rights in their mother's brother's estate. Mother's kin have a continuing interest in her children's welfare. If a child is injured or killed they demand compensation from its paternal kin for not caring for it properly. The presentation of wealth by a man to his wife's kinsmen during the first-born ceremony affiliating the child with his group expresses this tension. Traditional marriage rules also recognize it. Before the Roman Catholic Church forbade it, the Lusi preferred that people marry their cross-cousins. This consolidated the interests of both patrilineal groups in the next generation.

When the hero copulates with his mother's brother's wife he not just cuckolding another man. He is violating the marital rights of a man with whom he has special and complex ties. He is creating hostility and strife in a relationship that should be supportive. He is violating the most basic of avoidance rules by copulating with a woman who is potentially his wife's mother. His behavior destroys community. It is profoundly immoral and, therefore, non-human. In contrast, the response of Alu is both predictable and reciprocal. It is moral, human behavior.

His acts identify the hero as one of the Others, a non-human whose behavior is unpredictable, whose powers are unknown, and who is potentially dangerous. As I have argued elsewhere (Counts 1980:42), the Lusi do not considered animals and spirits to be mutually exclusive categories. They divide the non-human sphere into at least three groupings: ghosts, other spirits, and animals. Transformations occur between them without difficulty. Kaliai myth is replete with spirit-beast changelings who live in the forest but occasionally interact with men. For instance, the Kaliai cargo movement called The Story was founded by a man who claimed to have been given the secret of cargo by a spirit whose daughter seduced him and who appeared to him alternately in snake and human form (Counts 1978).

In summary, one message of these four myths is that while sexual lust is a source of danger, it was the mythic hero who introduced female sexuality with its dangers and fertile promise. Now humans must control sexuality and not permit it to divide the men of a kin group. Society must prohibit sexual relations between certain people. Just as sexuality is fraught with danger, there is peril in the relationship between people united by sexuality. Affines are a particularly potent source of danger. It is to this message that we now turn.

The Dangers of Marriage

In the above episodes, the myths explore the benefits and dangers of developing social relationships with Others whose powers are unknown, whose languages and customs are different, and whose behavior is unpredictable, non-reciprocal, and amoral. We must establish relationships with them to marry and to have allies and trading partners. Intercourse with them may result in opportunity and enable us to reproduce our own society. If, however, we offend them the result may be tragedy, loss of paradise, and social extinction. Furthermore, because they are not moral beings and, by definition, not quite human, they may misinterpret our moral behavior. Proper behavior may be a product of cultural perspective. Human behavior may break their rules and cause insult. The result may be strife and the loss of the opportunities and wealth that led humans to establish ties with them in the first place. Others are explicitly pura 'powerful beings who may take either human or animal form'. By analogy they are those we marry and to whom we are linked by marriage.

Affinal danger is a common theme in Kaliai myth. Persons shamed by their spouses or affines commit murder, suicide, or destroy their closest kin. Fathers and sons destroy one another and brother murders brother. At the very least a man's affines remind him of his debt to them for his wife and sons who carry on his line. Their very existence reminds him of his shame if he fails to meet his obligations to them.

"Moro and Gura" explores the danger inherent in marriage and the shame of a man who fails to meet his obligations to his affines. An enraged, humiliated Moro transforms his wife and son into animals. Gura's desire to know his mother's kin -- and his mother's encouraging him to attend their celebration -- are reasonable and expected. A young person has rights in certain maternal property for he shares their blood, and they have an interest in his well-being and success. Indeed, if a father fails to affiliate his child with his patriline and distribute gifts that prove his ability to meet his obligations, the maternal kin may step in and claim the child. Recall, however, that Moro did not marry Galue. He forcibly abducted her from her husband, paid no bridewealth, and distributed no wealth for his son. He allowed Galue to return home only for the birth of her child. Otherwise they lived in isolation and did not interact with her kin. Gura's visit to his mother's people is a direct challenge to his father. He is seeking to establish for himself the ties that a responsible, moral father would have provided for him. His son's actions underscore Moro's inhumanity.

The behavior of Gura's maternal kinsmen is exemplary. They welcome him, honour him, and send him away with generous gifts of pork. Their actions are in contrast to Moro's failure to engage in basic exchange transactions that define human relationships. Moro responds to his son's act by reasserting his paternal (but unlegitimized claim) and insisting that social intercourse is impossible between humans and spirits. One implication of this myth is that the boundary between human and spirit, between life and death, cannot be successfully bridged. Moro infers this when he transforms Gura into a snake thereby permanently locating him in the non-human realm of animal/spirit where he belongs.

Moro also tries to separate Galue from her human origins by turning her into a crab, but he cannot succeed entirely. She sometimes comes, albeit in her crab form, to her kinsmen. They affirm her identity by presenting her with valuables -- pots, bowls, plates of food -- things for which a crab would have no use. She in turn places her mouth on these things, presumably to affirm and express her tragically distorted humanity.

The theme of affinal treachery is reversed in "Moro". In this myth it is the spirit being who behaves morally. He responds correctly to his wife's relatives and agrees to give them his prize pig for distribution at their ceremony with the proviso that they return its head to him. Moro's insistence on the return of his pig's head is reasonable. Men often ask this if it is a mature boar with recurved tusks. These are valuable and are not usually given away when the owner contributes the animal to be distributed as pork. Moro's anger at being cheated is predictable and reciprocal. He responds violently to his affines' hostile and contemptuous act. Paradoxically, Moro the spirit acts morally while his human affines are immoral and, therefore, inhuman. They do not reciprocate Moro's generosity by respecting his request. Their deceit in tricking Aikiukiu into cannibalizing his father is unpredictable and horrible. Their treachery destroys the peace and results in lost opportunity.

In both of the Moro stories, shameful or treacherous interaction between affines results in the father's death and war between father and son. Kaliai myth ponders this paradox. People must trade, marry and form political alliances with Others. Those relationships are dangerous, however, and may destroy the human society that they are intended to sustain.

Snakes, Whites, and the Loss of Paradise

When TITIKOLO originated in the Kaliai interior, food appeared without human effort. Because humans try to kill him, he abandons them. As he leaves, Titikolo tells humans that because they have driven him away they must work for their food and suffer endless troubles. Pigs will destroy their gardens. Their efforts to clear paths, and villages of trash and weeds will be only temporary, for weeds and trash will quickly reappear. Even though they work hard, they will suffer famine. They and their children will sicken and die.

ARAGAS\TITIKOLO\NAMOR: Following Namor's adultery, the bigman declares war on him. The child Aisapel kills Namor with a sling. Namor is buried but Sea Eagle predicts that he will arise after three days and join his father.

MORO and GURA: On route to his maternal kin's village, Gura enters a village where he causes food to mature rapidly and cures illness. On their way home, Gura miraculously distributes food.

MORO: After devouring Moro's liver and destroying him, Aikiukiu provides his mother and brother with shelter, food, and domesticated animals. After Aikiukiu destroys Aveta and flees with Aisapel, the brothers live in isolation on a deserted island. Kilenge castaways discover them. Aikiukiu provides them with food, water and -- when they weep for home -- a canoe and technology similar to an outboard motor. The men are warned to care properly for the new technology but they forget and lose it. Offended, the two brothers go to America where they meet an outcast who proves his acceptance and trust of the hero. He kisses him in his snake form and he allows Aikiukiu to kill him. Aikiukiu rewards the American by giving him knowledge. The myth concludes: "So it was that schools were established in America. At first there were only a few, but the knowledge spread from one group to another, from America to Germany and England, and then to all countries. The schools which white people have came originally from us. We were the source of knowledge which we gave you. You built many fine schools and brought the idea of schools and education back to us."


Lawrence argues that the people of the Rai Coast did not believe in human intellectual achievement, the progressive evolution of ideas and technology, or the gradual advance from a simple to a more complex way of life. Deities were the sole authentic source of knowledge. He says:

All the valued parts of their culture were stated to have been invented by the deities, who taught men both secular and ritual procedures for exploiting them. The deities lived with men or appeared in dreams, showing them how to plant crops and make artifacts. They taught men to breathe esoteric formulae and observe taboos (Lawrence 1964:30).

Kaliai mythology supports Lawrence's argument. Although only "Moro" explains why Whites had schools when the people of PNG did not, all of these stories share assumptions about the origins of culture and the processes of change. These assumptions underlie, but are not unique to, cargo movements. The insight that cargoists share the same epistemological system as their non-cargoist neighbours is one of Lawrence's many contributions to understanding the relationship between Melanesian cosmology and their response to change.

The four Kaliai myths explain origins of culture. The opening scenes of "Aragas" and "Titikolo" portray the hero as sent by God to teach humans how to perform the ceremonies that give Kaliai life its structure and meaning. Utopian conditions are coincident with his presence. Furthermore, "Titikolo" explicitly states that the loss of paradise and the introduction of human misfortune follow directly from human folly in driving the hero away. Ironically, although it was a fatal mistake for men to try to destroy Titikolo, they were behaving morally. Titikolo broke a basic rule restricting sexual behavior. His mother's brother behaved as a decent man should. He avenged his shame and responded to perfidy with violence.

One principal message of these myths is that humans face an insoluble dilemma. This is not the Biblical story of original sin and the loss of Eden by wicked people who disobey God's law. Indeed, it is just the opposite. It is the story of moral people who lose Eden because they DO follow the laws of their ancestors and behave as humans should. This is a true double bind. People must behave morally if they are to avoid chaos and the destruction of order and society. But, moral action inevitably prevents them from living in the same realm as do spirits. Those who have superhuman powers and knowledge and live by magic recognize neither the laws of humanity nor the requirement to live as social beings. Humans lose paradise, and their hard work is rewarded by suffering and death BECAUSE they are moral beings. Where, then, does this leave humans in their dealings with Whites? The story that tries to explain the superior knowledge of Whites suggests that Whites are not predictable, social beings as are the people of PNG. They are spirit-like Others. This is why the spirit hero shared his secrets with them.

Consider the events in "Moro" that finally cause the hero and his brother to leave PNG and go to America, and the behavior of the American which leads the hero to share his knowledge. Aikiukiu and Aisapel rescue two castaways and provide them with food and water. However, the men are not content even though their physical needs are met. They are social beings who weep for their family and friends. The hero accepts their humanity, provides them with miraculous technology, warns them to care for it properly, and sends them home. But the men forget. They make a basic human mistake, one which portrays them as moral men. They are overcome with joy when reunited with their families and neglect, briefly, to think of their property. Personal relationships are more important than are belongings. The cost is dear. Opportunity is lost. The hero departs for America.

In America, he meets an outcast. The hero tests him, and he passes by behaving in a way that no Kaliai would for a moment consider emulating. He demonstrates his acceptance of the spirit by embracing Aikiukiu and kissing him, in his herpetanthropoid form, full on the mouth. He shows his trust by allowing the hero to decapitate him. This is a disturbing scene -- especially to the Kaliai who loathe and fear snakes and who never publicly kiss anyone, male or female -- on the mouth. The willingness of Whites to do this signifies that they are not like Papua New Guineas. Indeed, they may not be humans at all. There is really no contest, for Whites are like Others. They win the knowledge that brings them superior technology, not because they are more moral humans than are Papua New Guineans, but precisely because they are not. This is the message of "Moro". Papua New Guineans lost Paradise because they were moral beings who valued society more than they did property. They lost the source of knowledge and technological superiority for the same reason.


The Kilibob-Manup corpus of myths is complex and encodes messages about the nature of PNG culture, belief, and life. There are undoubtedly at least as many different messages as there are contributors to this collection. I have focused here on the ways in which the myths permit Lusi-Kaliai to think about the dangers and promises of sexuality, of marriage, and of affinal relationships with unknown Others who may not be moral human beings. I have taken Lawrence's notion that myths are the repository of Melanesian religious belief and shown how, through myth, the Lusi use spirits to think about morality, humanity, and the implications of the need to interact with the non-human entities with which they must share their world.


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The research on which this paper is based was supported by research grants and leave fellowships from the Canada Council and the Social Science and Research Council of Canada, the Wenner Gren Foundation, and the University of Waterloo.

1. 1. See Waiko 1981 on the people of Oro Province, PNG.

2. See Mai 1981 on oral narrative and "the time of darkness" in Enga Province, PNG.

3. The reason for this is discussed at length in Counts 1980.

4. As Stephen (1987) suggests is true throughout Melanesia, Lusi-Kaliai are ambivalent about sorcerers. Sorcerers are masters of life and death, they enslave the spirits of suicides, and they control the magical non-empirical world. However they also may use their power to support the moral order and provide an option to overt physical violence if they want revenge. They permit people the opportunity to secretly express feelings and take actions which, if publicly acknowledged, would destroy social harmony.

5. The Sio categories of taparinga and usi described by Harding, chapter 00 overlap the Kaliai categories. As I understand it, Sio taparinga have characteristics of Lusi-Kaliai nasinga and pelunga while the Sio usi shares characteristics with Kaliai pelunga and ninipunga. See Counts 1982:162-1631 for a detailed discussion of the distinguishing characteristics of ninipunga.

6. See Thurston, chapter 00, for ethnographic information about the Anem.

7. The story of Aikiukiu and Aisapel is a separate story on Mandock and not related to Namor at all (Pomponio, personal communication).

8. See my analysis of the myth of Akro and Gagandewa in Counts 1980 for an elaboration of this point.

9. In equalitarian Melanesian societies a bigman is a leader who attracts followers and achieves renown as a result of a dominant personality, political astuteness, and conspicuous generosity. He may also be a war leader and/or a feared sorcerer.

10. On Mandock, Moro is a snake who lives apart: compare with Pomponio chapter 00.

11. See Counts and Counts 1974 for an account of such a divination.

12. The term 'antu' is not equivalent to the Christian concept of "God." There is a term that is used to refer to a powerful creator being but this deity is not a figure in any myth of which I have knowledge and was mentioned by only one informant who said he was told about it by his father.

13. Humans have two spirit aspects: the ainunu 'shadow', 'reflection', or 'dream' and the tautau, the individual's 'essence', 'personality', 'will'. One of these aspects may be separated from the person's body by a ghost or mischievous spirit and, unless the problem is properly diagnosed and the spirit-aspect returned, the person will die.

14. Kahn points out the importance of stones in Melanesia as physical monuments that serve as visual reminders of mythical characters and their actions and as details of knowledge and records of past events. In Melanesia, she observes, the past is primarily marked by objects on the ground and "the intellectual emphasis is on how an event is anchored to a physical and visible form in the landscape" (Kahn 1990:61).

15. This theme, also in the story of Aragas, is found throughout the Pacific: among the Arapesh, the Kiwai, and the Bilibili; in the Solomons, Malaita, and San Cristobal;, and as a motif found in stories about the Micronesian trickster Olifat (Poignant 1967: 76, 98-99).

16. Compare with the Bariai account of the activities of Moro's wife Rimitnga Pelarei in McPherson's chapter 00.

17. Lusi-Kaliai consider qualities associated with the body -- such as heat and smell -- to be substantial. The smell of sexual congress may cause illness. A sorcerer may collect residual body heat from a bench where a person has been sitting and use it to ensorcel that individual.

18. Variations on this theme are widely found in the Madang, West New Britain-Siassi area, see chapters 00 and 00 by Thurston and McPherson; Pomponio 1992:32; and Lawrence 1964:22.

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