Tradition Lives!

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Importantly, the people of New Ireland have done better than most in building bridges between the old and the new. They have embraced technology, democracy, and provincial and national government structures, while retaining their traditional way of life and their cultural heritage -- physical, intellectual, and spiritual.

Three major traditions underpin the cultures in different parts of New Ireland -- the Malagan in the area northern and central areas, Kabai in most of the central areas, and Tubuan in the southern part. 

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Malagan themes are embodied in the social organization of kinship ties linking social/clan groups in the villages. 

The Malagan practice is an integral part of the New Ireland culture in the Tabar Islands, Mandak, Kuot, Noatsi, Nalik, Kara, Tigak and Lavongai and of the Tiang people of Djaul. This is evident in museums all over the world which display priceless art pieces depicting the Malagan tradition. Today, only the Tabar Group of Islands and the Tigak, Kara and Nalik villages on the east and west coast of New Ireland mainland are still active in observing the rules and the use of Malagan carvings in their cultural rituals and way of life. 

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The Malagan feast or ceremony is a unique cultural event which showcase’s Malagan cultural songs, rituals, dances, arts and crafts. 

The Tubuan tradition is a male secret society of considerable power and importance. It is a cultural structure integral to local community decision making and spiritual life. The order of authority of the Tumbuan society is dictated by the Watong, Komgoi and Tandaru which is a clan chief structure in the southern end of New Ireland. It predates the better known Tolai Tubuan tradition of Rabaul and the Gazelle Peninsula since the Tolai people are migrants from southern New Ireland who invaded the Rabaul/Kokopo area only a matter of hundreds of years ago.

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The Kabai tradition, however, is the cultural structure mostly practiced in the Noatsi, Mandak and Barok areas of Central and Southern New Ireland  based on the Haus Boi or men's meeting house system.

The identity of the “Kabai” can be easily seen in the use of a specially selected forked hardwood, Sawai, affixed in the ground in front of a Haus Boi as a symbolic authority of the Masa, as the clan chief is known. It receives a high level of respect and outsiders (including women) can cross it only with permission. A formalized Kabai fork structure can be seen outside the Local Level Government office in Namatanai as a symbol of authority of the office.


Along with the major traditions, New Irelanders have retained their way of life. 

Underpinning everything is land ownership, marriage relationships and death ceremonies and rituals -- three elements of the New Ireland society that depict the importance of kinship, inheritance and protection of intellectual properties that determines survival of the clans or sub-clans, continuity  and most of all identity.

The technicality of such custodial structure is not a simple negotiable commodity as it is in the western world, and ownership by clans is not just the extended family today, it extends both back and forwards through time.

When you are planting coconut palms which will continue bearing fruit for a century you are not working just for you or your immediate family.

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Traditional land ownership, where the clan owns the land and inherited rights are through the maternal line, is alive and robust in New Ireland.

It drives western economists crazy! Given the mess they seem to be making of western economies, that has to be a good thing!

Land is the key because of one of the most obvious manifestations of traditional life (and often one of the most puzzling to visitors from societies more orientated towards a cash economy and intensive technology) is subsistence agriculture. This relies on the land and traditional distribution of rights to use it.

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So long as people living on these fertile islands have their quota of land for gardening, they will have good quality fresh food to eat, a little extra to trade or sell for cash, and the components required to build a comfortable home with traditional bush materials.

Family is of primary importance (and that means the clan -- extended family beyond the imagination of most westerners although many easterners will understand it with its links through both time and space).

As already noted, in New Ireland, inheritance of land is matrilineal; children have access to it through their mother's clan. Marriage is always across clan lines -- a man and woman from the same clan cannot marry (and that is only the beginning of a careful analysis of blood lines that prevents inbreeding). A man (with his clan's support) pays a bride price (a marriage settlement to his wife's clan) to marry then spends the rest of his life working for the clan's prosperity, for that is the prosperity of his children who automatically belong to their mother's clan.

As one man puts it -- in a New Ireland marriage, the man is "pes tasol" (just a face). Of course, he is more than that but in the end, it is the strength and prosperity of his wife's clan that determines the future of his genetic heritage.

Site and contents © Geoffrey Heard 2013 - - tel: 7384 7177  /  7631 7539