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Cultural Practices

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Historical Events

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Gumine Oral History Project

An online archive.


Community, Project, HOPE worldwide

Read about the oral history project conducted in Gumine by HOPE Worldwide PNG.

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Historical Themes

Cultural practices, historical events

Delve into these oral histories of community elders through the intertwining threads that link them together.

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Personal Histories

Read, watch, listen

Watch the interviews with Gumine elders in their local languages and read the transcripts translated to English.

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History is not only something that a professional historian creates, but rather a 'social form of knowledge...the work of a thousand different hands.' Raphael Samuel (1994:8)

The 2005/2006 Gumine Oral History Project

In 2005 HOPE worldwide PNG launched an Oral and Cultural History Preservation Program in Gumine, Papua New Guinea, sponsored by the Myer Foundation. This project was inspired by the discovery of Axel and Roslyn Poignant’s 1972 book, Kaleku, a photo-essay for young readers chronicling the life of a family in Gumine, amongst the 100,000 books collected for PNG in the 2000 Australian Book Drive. The family patriarch – Dai – brought the first patrol into the area, and his son Kumandai, now the “big-man” in the district, is a friend of HOPE worldwide PNG staff. All local copies of Kaleku had been lost, and almost no history of the Gumine area has been recorded, with all that is written being from an expatriate perspective. Each year, fewer community seniors who remember traditional customs, first impressions, and the manifold changes that have happened remain alive. The project aimed to enable the community to document and preserve their oral history. The rich individual experiences of Gumine elders were transcribed on paper, recorded on audio-tape and videoed by a team comprised of local people and HOPE worldwide PNG staff. Traditional customs and ceremonies, including the performance of a “sing-sing” were also recorded.


Gumine is a district in Simbu Province in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. 40,000 people live in this rugged tributary valley of the Waghi River, and have their own distinct language. The area had essentially no contact with the outside world until 1945, when regular Australian ‘kiap’ patrols commenced. The first school opened in 1965. Therefore in 69 years the area has changed enormously – with a traditional society with minimal contact being rapidly integrated into the wider world, first as part of a colonial territory, then as part of a newly independent nation, and now finding itself in an era of globalisation. There have been manifold changes in education, health, law, economy, communications, family relationships, agricultural practices and many other areas.

HOPE worldwide

HOPE worldwide (Australia) is a faith-based charity that develops and supports a wide range of medical, educational, and social programs in Papua New Guinea and Fiji (conducted in partnership with HOPE worldwide affiliates there). The organisation has a strong connection with the Gumine area, with several staff originating from the area and various programs progressing, including fee support for students from impoverished circumstances, literacy level research, two health aid posts, library book donations, establishing a solar-powered computer classroom at the high school, and relief drives during the present El Nino drought/famine and in 1997-98.


This website has been created from the original sources and recordings of the 2005/2006 Gumine Oral History Project, under the direction of the University of Sydney's public history unit, 'History Beyond The Classroom'. As an online archive, this website aims to make the oral history of Gumine accessible to students, researchers and the community through multilingual resources comprising the original photographic, cinematic and historical texts created by the HOPE worldwide PNG team, alongside remarkable photography of the Gumine area in the 1960s by Axel Poignant and in the present by Felix Tokwepota.

Scroll down and click to navigate the histories presented, grouped both by historical themes for easy access and by profiles of the elders interviewed. Interview videos in local languages will be updated to each profile as they become available, which can also be navigated through time markers in the interview transcripts. This is a work in progress.

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Although each oral history discussion is unique, the interview questions were composed from similar themes as discussed below. These thematic groupings can be used as a broad directory to discover the connections between the oral histories. Scroll down further to 'personal histories' to listen to and read the individual interviews. These are best navigated from the 'view all histories' page.

Tribal Fighting

Tribal warfare was a central aspect of life within and between the highland communities prior to first contact and the establishment of Australian patrols. Kora Marme observes that such conflict occurs when a wife runs away from her husband, as the husband and wife's relatives start an argument and start warfare; when there is stealing - particularly of pigs and foodstuff - with no satisfactory compensation; and when land boundaries are not followed. Aiwa Ya asserts the specific rules men must follow during periods of tribal fighting, which include no sexual interaction with their wives, no holding of children or pig's ropes, no killing of pigs and only receiving food from their wives. If they do not follow these rules, they die. Axel and Roslyn Poignant (1972: 1) record that in about 1945 the big-man Dai, once a powerful fight-leader in the Gumine district, first went to Kundiawa to ask the kiap patrol officer he had heard rumours of to come to Gumine to make peace after a terrible fight with neighbouring clans. Tribal fighting is discussed in interviews with: Donga Mau, Aiwa Ya, Kora Marme, Mathias Muru, and Graham Pople.


Interviewees discuss a wide range of ceremonial practices, including funeral ceremonies, food and pig exchange between different highland communities, women’s first menstrual ceremony, men’s initiation, and the dating and marriage rituals – ‘sing-song’ and ‘tanim het’. Witchcraft, whilst not so much a ceremony but a traditional women’s practice, is discussed by Gumine witchdoctor Serah Termne and her husband Torna Sipa. Sine Bosbe discusses women’s menstrual ceremonies and sing-song, and Mathias Muru, Kora Marme and Aiwa Ya relate their knowledge of local ceremonies. Donga Mau also discusses ceremonial conflict resolution between tribes.

First Contact / White Visitors

First contact was made by Dai in around 1945, with regular Australian kiap patrols established around 1953. Graham Pople from Armidale, NSW (now living in Port Moresby) discusses his experience as a kiap officer working at Gumine Station from 1963, eventually becoming the first Member for Gumine in the PNG House of Assembly. The 1966-67 patrol reports observe complaints mainly concerning disputes over pigs, marriages and sometimes land, noting that minor disputes over the two years were being settled more and more by the people themselves, with common court cases involving riotous behaviours including assaults, stealing, gambling, and occasionally adultery. Many interviewees discuss their first experience with white people and aeroplanes in particular, with Simau Wera speaking about the white man’s arrival (his people initially thinking they were ‘dead man’s spirit’) and relating his perspective of WW2. According to these respondents, the colonial influences have been a mostly positive experience that have brought them tribal peace, roads and vehicles, clothing, new agricultural and building practices, education and religion.

Agricultural Practices

Highlanders practice the cultivation of sweet potatoes and the raising of pigs for periodic feasts, for which they are famous in PNG. While men clear and cultivate the land, women plant, weed and harvest the food grown in terraces along the hills. Pigs are the main type of livestock with a very high social and prestige value, being semi-domesticated by the women and used in periodic food exchanges, ‘sing-sings’, marriage and ‘bridge price’ exchanges, as noted in patrol reports of 1966-1967. Agriculture is discussed by Kora Marme and Aiwa Ya, with Sine Bosbe relating women’s agricultural roles and David Aiwa, discussing traditional salt making practices.

Interpersonal Relationships and Gender Roles

Traditional Chimbu life is very male dominated – the political decisions, tribal defence and prestige activities of ceremonies and oratory are directed and conducted by men. The men’s house, or housemen, is the local centre – a place of meeting, planning, and living in seclusion from women, who live with their children in their own houses made by the men. Men were forbidden to spend too much time with any woman or in a woman’s house, as the separation of the sexes had ritual and practical aspects, particularly for fighting. The normal division of labour sees men build houses, clear and fence the land for cultivation, plan and arrange ceremonies in a hard but intermittent routine, whilst the women’s work is steady: including working in the gardens, cooking food and feeding the pigs. However, this gender balance has changed in the last 60 years, as have relationships with the influence of the church: married men and women now may live together and courting processes have changed. Marriage is not a private affair but a tie formed between clans and families, and although women are free to choose their suitors, their husbands are arranged by their families and the clan leaders/big-men.

Migration / Origins

The establishment of the Gumine clans is explained in migration stories by Aiwa Ya and Simau Wera.......

Personal Histories


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