Willy the Huli, Plate: 1 Willy and the man who killed his brother are both from the upper highlands of Papua New Guinea. It took over three years hard work before Orriss finally had the chance to take this portrait. The original inspiration is from the artist's grandfather Allen Sneesby who was one of the first white men to discover and photograph Soki Headhunters up the Fly River in Papua New Guinea between 1937 - 1942. Willy is a revered and respected Huli warrior from the village of Tari and wears the traditional fighting dress and colours akin to his village. Tribal warfare is common among the highland tribes of Papua New Guinea even though national authorities and missionaries have helped to reduce the fighting, skirmishes between villages persists. Highland tribes honour a "payback" system where punishment for a wrongdoing must be more severe than the original misdeed. To forgive and forget would be an unthinkable crime. Throughout Papua, cannibalism was commonly practiced by the Korowai and Kombai peoples of the southeast and throughout the Asmat regions of the southwest.
It is due to the spread of kuru that the Australian administration outlawed ritualized cannibalism in 1959, though it is believed to have gone on well into the 1970's. Willy holds the skull of the man who killed his brother, his father then killed this man before being killed in turn by a relative of his. Because of animist belief the dead man cannot be named, although he came from a neighbouring village less than three kilometres away and was speared to death in the pursuing war. Willy is an animist* and believes in the souls, he has no poisoned arrows, but believes that his arrow and spears heads are pre destined and are magically potent. The war originally broke out after the theft of two pigs and lasted 28 days, of which 17 people were killed, including Willy's father, brother and two relatives. The teeth have been removed to confuse the spirit of the dead and not provide the deceased extra strength. They are placed in a small black burnt bowl, (seen left) and are sometimes mixed with the skeletal remains of other ancestors in order to confuse the victims' vengeful ghost.
Willy's head dress or manda is made of compacted human hair and at its crest we can see the magnificent ubija Raggiiana, Bird of Paradise plumes. His head dress is an important ceremonial manda and is coloured with black clay, this is unique as most are red, whereas a normal daily wig is brown. The manda is topped with yari iri cassowary plumes, denoting status. Freedom of expression is an integral part of the Huli culture and accounts for the wide variety of decoration that can be found. At the front of the wig we can also see the fabulous shimmering green / blue crests of a yagama, Superb Bird of Paradise. There is a mixture of parrot feathers on either side of the wig, symbolizing wisdom, these are placed with several other species of bird which Willy has hunted within the last year.
Just under the wig, he wears a lebage snake skin, unique among the Huli's. His ears are covered with possum fur tia iri, with tree kangaroo fur running down each side of the wig. Around his neck Willy wears the usual half moon mother-of-pearl shell called halepange. This is a sign of wealth and an important part in buying a wife, of which he has seven wives. Beside this are 12 twisted strands of red plastic beads which blend in with the lower part of his face painting, four of these strands he bought in a local shop. Around his waist we can see a red dyed pupai sporran which has at its ends nogo erene pigs tails. His apron is called a dambale and it is made by rolling tree fibres together, dying them and platting them into twined string called pu. Pu is also used in binding the head of a stone axe to its helve, other uses include the making of string bags called billums. Willy's billum is five years old, self made and can be seen in the lower right corner of the artwork. Inside the bag he has a day's ration of cold baked sweet potato hina and tobacco mundu, as well as a bamboo pipe mundu-be. He also carries a stone axe aju, a stick for digging keba, a comb and a piece of broken mirror for decoration as well as some makeup and a iba waea wallet made of leaves. On his waist he has a hongoia bone knife with the tail of a pig nogo erene. This is today made of cassowary bone and is used in warfare and for digging.
The background designs to the artwork hold several profound and symbolic meanings, the likes of which are published in a book about the artist. One of the meanings represents the unity, spirit and power of the Huli clan. The painted saying on Willy's body is his own and is written in pigeon English, the official language of Papua New Guinea of which he also speaks. Translated it means, "Don't say everything you know but know everything you say." Traditionally it was common to tie the dead on stilts in front of the family home and let them rot as a reminder to the deceased's family and clan to avenge the killing. This is no longer the case today as Christian missionaries and later the government finally succeeded in having this practice banned.
* The term animism refers to believe systems prevalent in many hunter-gatherer cultures. These believe systems attribute souls to natural entities and phenomena: according to animistic beliefs, humans, animals, plants, even stones have souls and are treated as persons. Other than Christian beliefs, animism sees the soul as a general life force permeating all things. Animistic believers want to fathom the rules and laws of this life force in order to influence the will of natural elements, both for their own benefit and to avert evil.
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