Early documentation and images

The best known documentation of Lihirian canoes, and the names of the different components of the canoes, is found in Haddon and Hornell’s monumental survey of oceanic canoes (Haddon and Hornell 1991: 133-135).

[insert scanned image from Haddon and Hornell of Lihirian canoe-tagup].

Early records from ethnographic collectors and anthropologists who journeyed to Lihir note the distinctive mask-like carvings on the stern and prow of these canoes (known as sosoh (see Biro 1905; Freiderici 1912; Chinnery nd; Kramer-Bannow 2009). These carvings are evident in Chinnery’s image, and were replicated in the Kabelbel project.

In 1908, German ethnologist Otto Schlaginhaufen noted that Lihirian canoes were the largest he had seen throughout the Bismarck Archipelago, and judging by the many journeys he witnessed Lihirians make in these canoes, he regarded these canoes ‘to be very sea worthy’ (1909:11). In his later publication he described and sketched a canoe he saw housed at Kunaie village:

[insert image from Schlaginhaufen 1959: Fig. 9. House “bang” in Learua (Kunaie) on Lir, which serves simultaneously as men’s house and as boathouse for the large dugout “tagob”. Left: ground plan, right: exterior view.]

Canoe classification

Lihirian canoes are categorized according to design, capacity and purpose. The general name for canoe is takop, but there are also descriptive names which may be adapted from a hamlet name or a name that signifies a specific event, or name which describes its capacity size and model, similar to the ways in which car manufacturers give each make and model a specific name.

A nobalor a noble takoprefers to a fleet of canoes travelling together to an island for a feast or to trade with other islanders.

Pako is the general name for smaller canoes that are built to carry one or two people. These are mainly used as a means of transport within the Lihir group of islands, and for shark catching and other fishing methods.

The five models related to the pako are gleu, piskup, takop, tlakesand zom.Takop and tlakes are Lihirian models, while gleu, piskup and zom models were all introduced from Tabar prior to colonisation.

A piskupis a war canoe which is decorated with sosohmask carvings fitted at each end of the canoe to distinguish its sacredness. It is designed for shark catching and was used by warriors during times of warfare and to tour other islands of Lihir, Tanga, Tabar and New Ireland.

Tlaliois the name for a canoe that is fitted with two sitting benches or seats called mndurdesigned for two people.

Tlatolis the name for a canoe that is fitted with three sitting benches designed for three people.

Taletis the name for a canoe that is fitted with four sitting benches designed for four people.

Tlaliemis the generic name for a canoe that is fitted with five sitting benches. Larger tlaliemmodelscan accommodate ten people. This type was most frequently used for travelling to the islands of Tanga, Tabar and New Ireland for trade and exchange.

Tlaenis sometimes also called zom, which is the name for a canoe that has six sitting benches designed to carry two people per bench. Larger tlaencan accommodate three people per bench. These were mainly used to transport people within the islands of Lihir for feasts and for trade with other islanders of Tanga, Tabar and New Ireland.

Piskupis the name for the largest kind of canoe with seven sitting benches designed to carry two to three people per bench. This canoe was used during voyages to other islands of Lihir for feasts and for trade with other islands of Tanga, Tabar and New Ireland

Musmusis the name for a canoe that is built the same size as a piskup, but without the additional gunwale boards called tgal. Tgal are made from strips of timber from the breadfruit tree that is tightly gripped with vines to both sides of the canoe to cater for more loads and to prevent rolling waves from entering the canoe in strong seas. Not all canoes require additional gunwale boards; canoes carved from very large trees will already have high enough sides to prevent water from entering.

Piskupand tlaencanoes were not used during warfare because of their length (20 – 30 metres) which made them heavy and slow to manoeuvre. For these reasons, Lihirian carvers tended to concentrate on building tlaliem and tlaen for general purposes.

References for further reading on Lihir society and canoes

Bainton, N., A (2010). The Lihir Destiny: Cultural Responses to Mining in Melanesia. Canberra, ANU E Press.

Bainton, N. A., C. Ballard, et al. (2011). Stepping Stones Across the Lihir Islands: Developing Cultural Heritage Management in the Context of a Gold-Mining Operation. International Journal of Cultural Property, 18(1): 81-110.

Friederici, Georg (1912). Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse einer amtlichen Forschungsreise nach dem Bismarck-Archipel im Jahre 1908. II. Beiträge zur Völker- und Sprachenkunde von Deutsch-Neuguinea (Scientific Results of an official research expedition to the Bismarck Archipelago in the year 1908. II. Contributions to the Ethnology and Linguistics of German New Guinea). Ergänzungsheft Nr. 5 der Mitteilungen aus den Deutschen Schutzgebieten (Supplementary volume No. 5 of the Communications from the German Protectorates). Berlin: Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn.

Haddon, A. C. and J. Hornell (1991 [1975]). Canoes of Oceania. Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press.

Kramer-Bannow, E. (2008 [1916]). Among Art-Loving Cannibals of the South Seas. Adelaide, Crawford House Publishing.

Schaginhaufen, O. (1909). Mitteilungen uber eine Bereisung der Insel Lir in Melanesien. Festschrift: 5-23.

Schaginhaufen, O. (1959). Muliama: Zwei Jahre unter Sudsee Insulanern. Zurich, Orell Fussli Verlag.

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