How Lihir People Used to Marry, as told by Edmund Sanabel

This story is considered entertaining and comical, and one that lends itself to dramatization. The story opens with the classic exchange: meme – tete pots. Two brothers are introduced as orphans, being raised by their grandfather, working alongside him tending their gardens and pigs.

This harmonious and productive relationship is a positive model of Lihir social relations, and so we have some indication at the outset that this will be a happy story. The time comes for the young men to be married, and here we are introduced to a past cultural practice of shooting down dry coconuts to impress and win a bride. We hear how the people of Lihir adorn themselves, including the use of ginger (both worn, and spat onto them), which across Papua New Guinea is considered a powerful substance.

The song the young men sing while preparing themselves to shoot is untranslatable, perhaps archaic, but at each singing of it (there are four renditions) tension builds. During the men’s preparation, two women are enclosed within the tolup house, a small temporary house that girls were once confined to during the time of their first menstruation; thus it is suggested that these women in the story are coming of age and ready to be presented to eligible males. Peering through gaps in the walls, the women become increasingly excited at the prospect of these two men (it is their uncontrollable excitement that is the humorous part of the story).

As the last rendition of the song is finished, the two men shoot down the coconuts and the women rush from the house to embrace them. They live well together, with the women tending the homes and the men spending time in the bush. The grandfather ages and dies, a feast is held, and this is the segue to the narrator passing the pig’s head on to the next storyteller.

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