Thursday, January 25, 2024

2024 January Edition: THE HIRI

Papua New Guineans were great traders. "If you don't know." The HIRI, a South-coast trading expedition, is one of the famous tales ever told. Each month of October and November the Motu Koitabu people around Port Moresby sailed West to the Gulf of Papua in what is known as Lakatois filled with clay pots, arm shells, betel nuts and lots more to trade for sagos. 

Each year they sailed and return as Hiri was important for the two trading partners. The badi-tauna (captain) of each lakatois had their own trading relations with the Gulf villages. Some made short trips to villages near Yule Island, but other journeyed on to Kerema or even to the Kikori Delta. 

A journey of more than 300 kilometers with an average size fleet of about 20 lakatois having 30 men on board each. Sometimes rough seas destroy the lakatois while men and cargoes perish as their families are left to starved. 
To share some light into this famous trade, Sir Albert Maori Kiki, who helped led the country to Independence is one of the grand sons of a trader in the Gulf who remembers the Hiri voyages in Orokolo village in the 1968s. Sir Kiki was a politician, writer and trade union leader who died in 1993. 

As a witness, he described the trade was not conducted like common barter system. It had certain ceremony and declarations of friendships. Visitors were greeted with singsing and they carried their pots to the houses of their trade partners whom they knew and dealt with for years. One of the trade expedition leaders Heni, usually trades with Albert’s father. 

He would hand all his pots to Albert’s father while he tie knots in a piece of string to count the number of pots in sizes and shapes. In a similar manner the sagos are then exchanged accordingly, or often his father would prepare a canoe for Heni because the lakatoi needed to be repaired. 

If one of the Motuan dies in Orokolo during the trade, they burry him with full rites. Until in 1971, leaders in Port Moresby including Lord Mayor Oala Oala Rarua, thought it was time to celebrate Hiri so that people remember the voyages of the trade expedition. 

So the Hiri Festival was organized and hosted on every 16th day of September and was considered one of the national cultural events today.


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