A Kinavai: Gideon Kakabin
It is half past five, on a chilly tropical dawn. Outside, the rising July sun begins to shine over the distant central New Ireland mountains into St George's Channel as you wake to the faint sound of singing and kundu drums in the distance, and the constant yelling of men as if possessed. ‘Quak! Quak! Quak...’ followed by an ancient name...
Struggling to the beach front, you make out the silent, waiting crowd. Men on the water’s edge, closer to the action, women and children way back, away from the beach. You feel the excitement, the anticipation in the air, it frightens you. The men have a white or red powder smeared across their forehead. A 'babat'. Everyone needs protection. Malice, evil intent. This is a 'Kinavai'. It is a show of strength. Men and evil spirits will test you. Weakness will leave you exposed and vulnerable. Couples will elope. Men will die, limbs will be paralysed. Women will lose their minds, girls their virtue. That's why you need the ‘babat’.
The canoes, their cargo of singing men and dancing Tubuans a dark moving picture, framed against the early rising sun are slowly paddled to the beach, the 'Matonoi'. Are they dancing in a canoe? Are they dancing out of the canoe, on the water? The excitement builds, the Tubuans, animated, swish and thrash to the drum beat and the singers monologue draws the crowd closer to the cold flat waters of Blanche Bay. The beachfront atmosphere is electric, you can see it, you can feel it, you can hear it and you can smell it. Pure adrenaline. The drums and the singing get louder as the canoe beaches. The Tubuans jump off, red, white, brown powder fills the air. The beach a smelly, eclectic mix of spirits and throbbing, thunderous, pulsating humanity. Long feather covered spears are thrust into the sand. Tabu, shell money, waving in the air, leaping in the air, a flash of red, a flash of black, swishing of 'Tubuan' leaves, the singing, deafening. Rotating cones, black, white, green, red, 'amelem', 'Ha! ha! Ha!', 'iau', 'iau', 'iau', me, me, me.. Calling for attention, to no one and everyone. Way back from the crowd an old woman whispers to her granddaughter, ‘...the 'Tubuans' float into the shore, yes? On coconuts?’ The women afraid, the children cry hysterically as the beach front explodes.
Tubuans and men everywhere, rolling on the shore, on the water, ‘Quak’, ‘Quak’, ‘Amelem’, ‘Atumarang’, the decorated spears uprooted and replanted, the kundu drums are deafening, singing, more red smoke and then, ‘aaaaaahhhhh’ a collective sigh of relief. Silence. The delivery canoe takes off with the 'Tarai na kudu', the singers and drummers, its purpose served. The Tubuans walk and skip away, to the 'Taraiu' (secret men's place), crackling and swishing of its leafy covering, you can hear the occasional ‘Quak’, ‘Quak’, in the distance, but it is drowned by the ripple of the small waves as they lap up the brown sand on the shore, as they have always done for thousands of years.
Further back on the beach, near the well, Matupit women are selling cooked wild fowl eggs. It is business as usual. Seven o’clock in the morning. Another day in Paradise ... a Kinavai.
The 'Kinavai' ceremony is the fifth step in a series of cultural activities that the 'Gunantuna', who live on the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain Island, perform in order to honour and thank their dead ancestors for having colonised and secured land on New Britain in the distant past. During this process called 'Matamatam', clan relationships are strengthened, transactions involving real assets are concluded, family ties are sealed and a new generation of male clan members are initiated and picked out by girls and brokers for marriage.
The 'Gunantuna' society is matrilineal, because a child will always know who their mother is, but may not always be aware of their father’s identity. The land therefore is held by the women of the clan, however, in terms of land allocation and issues requiring demarcation, the uncles usually make the decisions.
In a process that may take several years, the clan that is to hold a 'matamatam' will begin preparations by having a series of meetings to identify the clan members that are to be honoured. Members of the clan who were previously honoured will not be included in the 'Matamatam'. It is usual that the time span between a clan’s 'Matamatam's’ can be up to 30 years. In addition to identifying the members to be honoured, dates are selected and agreed on. Workers are also carefully selected from other clans. This is important because it is an acknowledgment of the value and importance of the other clans in the district. Planning regarding the participation of the 'Dukduk' and / or 'Tubuan', is conducted in a men only meeting that may involve men of knowledge from other clans ('a umana Lele').
Once the planning is complete, the second step is taken. Clan graves are cemented and names are written on the headstones. If a clan monument already exists from a previous 'Matamatam' cycle, the names are updated otherwise a brand new monument is erected. Because of the Christian influence, a dedication ceremony is held and a 'Vapuak' or payment is made to the men who worked on the cement monuments.
After the Christian dedication ceremony, the third step called a 'Paluka' is held. Sometimes called a 'Pakutu', the 'Paluka' may involve dancing by both men and women, however, the aim of the 'Paluka' is to celebrate the erection of the cement monuments with food. The food consumed in this instance is specifically cooked taro and cooked fish that is sweetened by a cooked coconut oil concentrate called a 'ku'.
The 'Paluka' is followed by the fourth step called a 'Gitgit Vudu'. As the events progress, the activities in each event become more complicated as it is with the 'Gitgit Vudu'. Bamboo beds resembling an Indian tepee are constructed and the entire contraption is covered in whole bunches of bananas. Special care is taken to ensure that the banana is of the 'tukuru' variety. Any other variety will indicate a mark of disrespect and indifference to the ancestors. Raw pork is also prepared for distribution to visitors.
Following the dancing, the pork and banana are distributed. Old obligations to other clans are wiped out and new obligations are made. The fifth step is the 'Kinavai' and this is the step that introduces the 'Tubuan' and 'Dukduk' into the equation. The imagery of the Kinavai is self-evident. It is a re-enactment of the clan’s arrival from across the sea. The canoe delivers the Tubuan to the beach, at the 'matanoi', which is where the clan would have beached upon their arrival on the Gazelle Peninsula. Often you see women holding a piece of white cloth on these occasions. This signifies the welcoming of the child to the new land or 'Kalamana Gunan'. After the 'Kinavai', the 'Tubuans' rest and then they perform a series of minor activities called 'midamida' in preparation for the sixth step which is the 'Matamatam', the main activity being that the 'Tubuans' dance and are paid shell money. The details of this shell money payment is the business of the clans male members.
At the 'Matamatam', several other subtle messages are put on display, the most interesting of which is the 'kulakulatiding'. A 'kulakulatiding' is a specific pattern sounded on the drum or garamut. Each clan has a garamut call and this is one of the occasions when this call is made. The other occasion is at the death of a clan member. The call is a copy of the cry of the clan’s totem or animal representing the spirit of the clan.
The final activity is the 'nidok'. The 'nidok' is the highest level of initiation for the men of the clan. The initiated are the next generation of clan members who will then perform these activities to honour the current crop of initiated men, thereby ensuring the survival of the clan’s legacy, including land ownership and cultural identity.