Tribesman Guilted Into Attending Friend's Boundary Dance

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Tribesman Guilted Into Attending Friend's Boundary Dance

KOROMA, PAPUA NEW GUINEA—Huli tribesman Olene, 32, expressed annoyance Tuesday after being "guilt-tripped" into agreeing to attend his friend Gumaiba's boundary dance.


"This is the last thing I need tonight," said Olene. "I had a really bad day. I'm beat from a long day of hunting, and I broke my favorite hongoia bone knife. All I want to do is kick back at home, maybe craft myself a new knife. Instead, I have to go out to Gumaiba's boundary dance. What a drag."

The boundary dance is a traditional ceremony performed by Huli tribesmen to mark the territory owned by their hamigini emene, or sub-clan. Gumaiba, 30, first invited Olene to the event last week, when he handed his friend a hand-painted, bark invitation. According to Olene, Gumaiba has reminded him of the dance several times since then.

"I certainly hadn't forgotten about the dance, although I tried to act like I had," Olene said. "I was trying to avoid [Gumaiba], but then he cornered me at Wabe's mourning feast. Gumaiba said he'd been working on a new reed skirt all week, and it was really coming together. He said the show was going to be totally different from the others."

Olene said Gumaiba then used guilt to coerce him into attending the boundary dance.

"Gum mentioned the time this dandaji warrior was pissed because he thought that I had slept with one of his wives," Olene said. "Gum brought up how he gave one of his own pigs to the guy to get me out of the bind. I've always been grateful to him for that, but using it to get me to come to his singsing seemed pretty low."

Members of the same clan, Olene and Gumaiba have known each other since childhood.

"Gumaiba and I go way back," Olene said. "We're not close-close, but we always run into each other at the shrine. He's a good guy."

Olene has attended three of Gumaiba's boundary dances in the past.

"It's usually an okay time," Olene said. "Gum always has good tobacco, and it's pretty funny to watch him pick up on the village wali after the show."

"It's just, look, he's not a very good boundary dancer," Olene said. "It's sort of painful, as a friend, for me to sit through it. The worst part is talking to him after the dance. I hate to lie, lest the ghosts of the dead strike me down. But I can't tell him the truth, either."

Gumaiba began performing boundary dances two years ago. Olene acknowledged that his friend has improved his presentation in recent months, by adding more plumage to his manda wig and by obtaining an impressive array of pajabu cordyline leaves for his buttocks. Olene maintained, however, that no costume alterations will help Gumaiba's poor dancing.

Gumaiba (far right) attempts to keep up with more talented performers at a March boundary dance.

"If Gumaiba thinks he's protecting his space with that ritual, he's kidding himself," Olene said. "I was at his first two, and that put me in the clear to miss some for a while. But I knew it would be hard to dodge this one, because I've skipped his past three."

Olene told Gumaiba he wanted to make the dance, but that he didn't have a gift to bestow upon those hosting it.

"Gumaiba said he would list me among his family members, so I didn't have to worry," Olene said. "I said that I didn't have anything to barter for food and drink. He said, 'Come on, Olene, I'll get you a sweet potato if you come.'"

Olene quickly realized that he had run out of excuses and told Gumaiba he would be at the show.

"I thought that maybe I could still get out of it," Olene said. "But when Gumaiba dropped by my hut last night, he had that desperate look in his eye. I knew he wasn't there to shoot the breeze about the heavy rains the dama was throwing our way. He made some small talk about the homogo's newest wives, but sure enough, after a couple minutes, he brought up his sacred boundary dance."

"That's when he really laid it on thick, telling me that tonight was really important to him," Olene said. "He said he needed lots of people to show up to see him, or he'd lose his spot in the next dance. I was considering consulting the wisdom of the homogo for more excuses, but really there's no use. I don't think there's any way to back out now."

In spite of his trepidation, Olene said he will attend with a positive attitude.

"It might not be so bad," Olene said. "Like I said, Gumaiba is a really nice guy. And he plays a pretty good gãwã. Once, when he was jamming on it, he got the whole village dancing. I don't know why he doesn't just stick to the gãwã. For some reason, he's gotta think he's some sort of boundary dancer, too."

Resigned to attending the dance, Olene said his new goal is to get back to his hut at a reasonable hour.

"If I work it right, I might be able to get home before the moon passes behind the tall tree," Olene said. "I just have to put in an appearance and let him know that I'm there. Once Gumaiba gets into his groove, I should be able to duck out without him noticing."

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