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Tolai Dukduk, excerpt from The Western Pacific and New Guinea, by H. Romilly, London, 1886, pp 27-33

from text posted on Papua New Guinea Gossip Newsletter, 23 January 2002 issue

There is a most curious and interesting institution, by which the old men of the tribe band themselves together, and, by working on the superstitions of the rest, secure for themselves a comfortable old age and unbounded influence. . . .

The Dukduk is a spirit, which assumes a visible and presumably tangible form, and makes its appearance at certain fixed times. Its arrival is invariably fixed for the day the new moon becomes visible. It is announced a month beforehand by the old men, and is always said to belong to one of them.

During that month great preparations of food are made, and should any young man have failed to provide an adequate supply on the occasion of its last appearance, he receives a pretty strong hint to the effect that the Dukduk is displeased with him, and there is no fear of his offending twice. When it is remembered that the old men, who alone have the power of summoning the Dukduk from his home at the bottom of the sea, are too weak to work, and to provide themselves with food or dewarra the reason for this hint seems to me pretty obvious.

The day before the Dukduk's expected arrival the women usually disappear, or at all events remain in their houses. It is immediate death for a woman to look upon this unquiet spirit.

Before daybreak everyone is assembled on the beach, most of the young men looking a good deal frightened. They have many unpleasant experiences to go through during the next fortnight, and the Dukduk is known to possess an extraordinary familiarity with all their shortcomings of the preceding month. At the first streak of dawn, singing and drum-beating is heard out at sea, and, as soon as there is enough light to see them, five or six canoes, lashed together with a platform built over them, are seen to be slowly advancing towards the beach.

Two most extraordinary figures appear dancing on the platform, uttering shrill cries, like a small dog yelping. They seem to be about ten feet high, but so rapid are their movements that it is difficult to observe them carefully. However, the outward and visible form assumed by them is intended to represent a gigantic cassowary, with the most hideous and grotesque of human faces. The dress, which is made of the leaves of the draconaena, certainly looks much like the body of this bird, but the head is like nothing but the head of a Dukduk.

It is a conical-shaped erection, about five feet high, made of very fine basket work, and gummed all over to give a surface on which the diabolical countenance is depicted. No arms or hands are visible, and the dress extends down to the knees. The old men, doubtless, are in the secret, but by the alarmed look on the faces of the others it is easy to see that they imagine that there is nothing human about these alarming visitors.

As soon as the canoes touch the beach, the two Dukduks jump out, and at once the natives fall back, so as to avoid touching them. If a Dukduk is touched, even by accident, he very frequently tomahawks the unfortunate native on the spot.

After landing, the Dukduks dance round each other, imitating the ungainly motion of the cassowary, and uttering their shrill cries. During the whole of their stay they make no sound but this. It would never do for them to speak, for in that case they might be recognized by their voices. Nothing more is to be done now till evening, and they occupy their time running up and down the beach, through the village, and into the bush, and seem to be very fond of turning up in the most unexpected manner, and frightening the natives half out of their wits.

During the day a little house has been built in the bush, for the Dukduks' benefit. No one but the old men knows exactly where this house is, as it is carefully concealed. Here we may suppose the restless spirit unbends to a certain extent, and has his meals. Certainly no one would venture to disturb him.

In the evening a vast pile of food is collected, and is borne off by the old men into the bush, every man making his contribution to the meal. The Dukduk, if satisfied, maintains a complete silence; but if be does not think the amount collected sufficient, he shows his disapprobation by yelping and leaping.

When the food has been carried off, the young men have to go through a very unpleasant ordeal, which is supposed to prepare their minds for having the mysteries of the Dukduk explained to them at some very distant period. They stand in rows of six or seven, holding their arms high above their heads.

When the Dukduks appear from their house in the bush, one of them has a bundle of stout canes, about six feet long, and the other a big club. The Dukduk with the canes selects one of them, and dances up to one of the young men, and deals him a most tremendous blow, which draws blood all round his body. There is, however, on the young man's part no flinching or sign of pain. After the blow with the cane he has to stoop down, on the 'tail,' which must be most unpleasant. Each of these young men has to go through this performance some twenty times in the course of the evening, and go limping home to bed. He will nevertheless be ready to place himself in the same position every night for the next fortnight.

The time of a man's initiation may and often does last for about twenty years, and as the Dukduk usually appears at every town six times in every year, the novice has to submit to a considerable amount of flogging to purchase his freedom of the guild.

Though I have never witnessed it, the Dukduk has the right, which he frequently exercises, of killing any man on the spot. He merely dances up to him, and brains him with a tomahawk or club. Not a man would dare dispute this right, nor would any one venture to touch the body afterwards. The Dukduks in such a case pick up the body, and carry it into the bush, where it is disposed of, how, one can only conjecture. Women, if caught suddenly, in the bush, are carried off, and never appear again, nor are any inquiries made after them. It is no doubt this power the Dukduks possess, of killing either man or woman with impunity, which makes them so feared.

It is, above all things, necessary to preserve the mystery, and the way in which this is done is very clever. The man personating the Dukduk will retire to his house, take off his dress, and mingle with the rest of his tribe, so as not to be missed, and will put his share of food into the general contribution, thus making a present to himself.

The last day on which the moon is visible, the Dukduks disappear, though no one sees them depart; their house in the bush is burned, and the dresses they have worn are destroyed. Great care is taken to destroy everything they have touched, the canes and clubs being burned every day by the old men.

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More articles/photos of NEW GUINEA MASKS:

Middle Sepik River | Angoram | Kambaramba | Tambanum | Hunstein | Imbando and Taway | Mumeri | Blackwater River | Lower Ramu River | Middle Ramu River | basket yam masks | wooden yam masks | Baining | Sulka | Tolai dukduk | Malagan | Papuan Gulf | Gogodala | String and Things | Skin as Ground... | more INDONESIAN MASKS: Bali and Java | Dyak

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Melanesian art TOC | Map of art areas of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea: Highlands: body art - Bundi tapa - jewelry/dancers | Karawari and Blackwater Rivers: masks - carvings - map | Massim: artifacts- Trobriand Kula - map | Kula canoe | New Britain: Baining - Sulka - Tolai dukduk | New Ireland: Malagan | Ramu River: masks - carvings - map | Sepik River: masks - carvings - villages - map | Papuan Gulf: masks - carvings - map - Gogodala - Kukukuku
other areas: Asmat | Solomon Islands: crafts - jewelry - map
art and craft:
barkcloth (tapa) | body art | cane and fiber figures | canoes and prows | jewelry/dancers | masks - Middle Sepik | phallocrypts | pottery - Chambri | shields | story boards | suspension hooks | weapons | yam masks - fiber | yam masks - wood

Indonesian art TOC | Dyak baby carriers and masks | furniture | Java folk art | Lombok baskets | Lombok lontar boxes | masks from Bali and Java | puppets

China: Bai textiles/art TOC | baby carriers | baby hats | woodblock prints

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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. Background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. by Carolyn Leigh is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0