Towards Baruya Manhood


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1973, 468 Minutes (9 x 52 Minutes)

A series of nine films that give a general introduction to Baruya life and document the initiation ceremonies of the Baruya tribe in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

The Baruya belong to the Anga group of tribes (formerly known as the Kukukuku) of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. About 1500 Baruya people live in a dozen villages and hamlets in the high, rugged Wonenara and Marawaka valleys. They are agriculturalists and are renowned for the salt which they produce and trade throughout the Eastern Highlands. 

Every two years or so all Baruya gather together in a great display of strength and unity to initiate a new generation of warriors. It is a time of ritual, instruction and ordeal. French anthropologist Maurice Godelier lived with the Baruya for nearly three years. In 1969, with the consent of the Baruya, he invited the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit (now Film Australia) to co-operate with him in filming initiation ceremonies. The first two films in this series give a general introduction to Baruya life. The remaining seven films form a continuum and follow the initiation ceremonies, from the building of the ceremonial house to the final feast.

To become a full warrior and a man, every Baruya boy must pass through four stages of initiation. Throughout the films, each stage is referred to by a Baruya term. Boys become Yivupmbwaya at around 9 years of age. At this stage, boys are taken from their mothers, their noses are pierced, their flat women’s skirts are cut short in front and removed behind.  They must remain shrouded in a full dark cape. The boys become Kawetnya at about 12 years of age. For this stage they wear a long cassowary quill nose peg, a man’s many-layered skirt in front and a narrow dutnuya bark cape behind and other insignia of approaching manhood. Next is the Chuwanya, which is the third stage of the initiation process and happens when the boy is around 16 years. When the boy becomes a Chuwanya he receives a black feather and other insignia and wears the hornbill and pigs’ tusk head-dress during initiation. They are the new young warriors. At around 20 years of age,  the initiates become Kalave and receive the coveted white feather of a full warrior.  However they will not be considered full men until they are into their 30s and have several children. The initiation ceremonies for the Kawetnya, Chuwanya and Kalave are held concurrently, usually every two years. Individual initiates usually move up a stage every alternate initiation, (ie about every four years) so at initiation time there are, for example, both new and old Chuwanya of two years’ standing.

The ceremony to make uninitiated boys into Yivupmbwaya occurs at irregular intervals, and normally on its own. However, in 1969 there were several boys who were old enough to be Kawetnya but who had not yet become Yivupmbwaya, probably because they had been away at a mission school for several years. During the ceremonies, these boys were made Yivupmbwaya and then immediately pushed through to the next stage to become Kawetnya.  One other boy was pushed through two stages to become a Chuwanya.  

Village Life I General introduction to the Baruya, their social organisation and village life, in the village of Wiava at the head of the Wonenara valley.  An introduction to the Baruya's methods of land clearing and agriculture.  All the villagers cooperate in building a village house, entirely out of bush materials.

Village Life II This film continues the general account of Baruya village life. It records a family working on their new garden. A man demonstrates the making of a scarecrow. Men demonstrate a cassowary hunters dance. Part of a healing ceremony is recorded. Women feed their pigs in the late afternoon.

Scaffolding High on a ridge young warriors swing on tall poles. The building of the Chimya, the great ceremonial house has begun.  The site for the Chimya is cleared and the scaffolding is erected. Building materials are gathered from the forest.  One night there is a preparatory ceremony for the first stage initiates (who are to be pushed through into the second stage of initiation). Next day the sacred flutes of the Baruya are revealed to the youngest initiates. This is deep in the forest where poles for the dome of the Chimya have been collected. These are carried down to the Chimya site.

Ceremonial House The ritual building of the Chimya, or ceremonial house begins at dawn. Men from the whole valley have gathered on ridges overlooking the valley. Each man has a pole. After worshipping the rising sun, the men rush down to the Chimya site.  Each man plants his pole to become part of the wall, a bone of the Chimya. The framework of the parabolic dome is constructed.  Meanwhile women are collecting kunai grass for the roof of the Chimya. The next day, the climax to the building of the Chimya comes, when the women bring up their bundles of kunai grass and throw them up to the men on the roof. The men thatch the roof and the Chimya is complete. Everyone has contributed to the building of the Chimya, the whole tribe is united.

Decorations Several days pass before the main ceremonies begin. People make preparations in their own villages. Men and women make the hundred or more layers of grass skirt, which each initiate will wear. The Chimya is opened with a fire ritual. Fully initiated men make feather head-dresses. The first stage initiates undergo further preparations. At dawn, the day before the ceremonies begin, young men fetch wood for the ceremonial fires which will burn inside the Chimya. That afternoon the Baruya from the Marawaka Valley across the mountains arrive. They are welcomed at a village men's house.

Ceremonies Begin, The There is dancing all night outside the Chimya until several hours after dawn. The final decorations for the Chimya arrive. That night dancing recommences outside the Chimya and continues all night. About midnight, the future fourth stage enter the Chimya for their white feather ceremony. This is followed by the black feather ceremony for the future third stage initiates.

Ceremonies Continue, The Young uninitiated boys who are old enough to become second stage initiates are rushed through their first stage initiation. High on a ridge they are nettled and then with great ritual their noses are pieced. Third stage initiates are ritually dressed in their horn bill and pigs tusk head-dresses. All the initiates are led on to the dance floor outside the Chimya to be displayed to the women. Then the third stage initiates start a night long ordeal inside the Chimya. Next morning, the Chuwanya are fed and then lectured. All return to the dance floor outside the Chimya for a final display.

Ceremonies End, The The decorations and head-dresses used in the ceremonies are de-sanctified. Then there is a  secret/sacred betel nut ceremony for the third stage initiates, containing the core of warfare magic. A lecture to the initiates on warfare and hospitality turns into an address to the anthropologist. Two days later, the first of two ritual feasts is held.

Feast at Yanyi Preparations are made for the second ritual feast at the conclusion of the ceremonies. Pig is cooked in an earth oven in the village. Possum and other ritual food is prepared in the men’s village space. Before eating, initiates undergo further ordeals and lectures. The initiates share their food. The prohibition on drinking water ends. On the day after the feast the Chimya is already almost destroyed. People help themselves to the building material. Two weeks later fresh grass begins to cover the site again.

An Australian Commonwealth Film Unit Production. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

NB At the request of the Baruya, this series of films is not available in, and must not enter Papua New Guinea. It is available for study purposes throughout the rest of the world.


Producer/Director/Writer: Ian Dunlop

Featured People: Maurice Godelier (anthropologist), Baruya people from the Anga tribes in the Eastern Highlans of Papua New Guinea

Year: 1973

Total Running Time: 468 Minutes

Classification: Exempt from classification

Region: 0

Curriculum Links: Social and Cultural Anthropology; Film Studies - Ethnographic Filmmaking; Cultural Studies; Pacific Studies; SOSE; Religion.


Baruya Muka Archival

Mount Hagen Show, The


SKU 002402700
Brand Film Australia

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