Returning home to East Sepik's spirit houses

Returning home to East Sepik's spirit houses

Returning home to East Sepik's spirit houses

Updated 2 November 2012, 15:10 AEDT

Can you go home again? Pius Bonjui, from Radio Australia's Tok Pisin service, travels back Papua New Guinea's East Sepik province to step back into the past, present and future of the spirit house.

In the north-east of Papua New Guinea, an hour's flight from Port Moresby, is East Sepik province. For Radio Australia's Pius Bonjui, who has lived in Melbourne for over 30 years, it's also home.

Recently, Pius travelled back to East Sepik as part of a partnership with ABC's Radio National to take a closer look at the region's traditional spirit houses.

World-famous for their imposing architecture and intricate carvings and art, spirit houses have long played an important part in the culture and traditions of the region. What Pius and Radio National documentary-maker Johan Gabrielsson hoped to find out is the role they play in contemporary life, and how that has changed thanks to increased contact with the outside world.

When they arrived, they found that although some spirit houses had been replaced by churches, many continued to have a strong presence. As well, wherever they found spirit houses, they also found initiates - young boys who are on the path to becoming men, and picking up a great deal of cultural and traditional knowledge along the way. Knowledge which also includes training in governing and negotiations.

"The villages, they are all continuing on with their culture and their custom," he told Radio Australia's Heather Jarvis. "They said to us that culture and custom is the law of the environment. So if anything happens, they solve it through their cultural law."

The two journalists were accompanied on their journey by a group of artists who have been building two spirit houses as part of the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, which will take place in Brisbane at the beginning of December.

For Pius, the trip was about much more than cultural exchange and journalistic reportage. It was a homecoming. Before leaving, he admitted to being a little nervous. It turned out, he didn't need to be.

"Everywhere we went to we had traditional dancers, young and old, come up to welcome us to their village. It was just overwhelming," he said.

"The last stop we were at, there was no guesthouse. So a family of five had to vacate their house to accommodate us for the two nights we were there. The people were very generous."


Presenter: Heather Jarvis

Speaker: Pius Bonjui



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