Alakasam, Komgi, Matupit, and Raluana - Knowledge

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Tavurvur dominates the landscape and history of East New Britain and is the basis for much heritable knowledge. While in Matupit, Vincent, the councilor of Ward 2, explained how in 1994 the people of Matupit were fully aware of the upcoming eruption that took place based on a description passed down from their ancestors. Vincent said, “Our grandparents told us, ‘If you feel an earthquake and that earthquake sort of rumbles along under the ground, and it goes like ‘brrrrr’, that is telling you that the volcano will erupt’.” When the community recognized this was happening, they chose to evacuate despite the official reports that were broadcast on the radio claiming it was safe to remain in the area. Some people in the city of Rabaul chose to evacuate as well when they saw all the inhabitants of Matupit leaving the island. After returning to the island, the knowledge adapted by their ancestors enabled the community to sustain themselves even in the harshest of conditions. Though ash had buried the village and destroyed their crops, they were able to return because of their knowledge of fishing and Megapode egg collection.

Heritable knowledge is passed down in a number of ways which are unique to each community. In Tolai communities, the Tombuan secret society contributes to the leadership structure and facilitates a continuation of knowledge. From what the team was told, the term “Tombuan” can refer to: the spirit protecting a Tolai community or an elderly woman who is greatly respected. The members of the Tombuan secret society are keepers of the traditional knowledge of the community. The men from the community go through three stages to become members of the society. Once all the stages are completed they are considered full members of the society and community. The stages require the men to complete certain tasks and pay varying amounts of Tambu. Both the difficulty of the task and the amount of Tambu increases with each stage. The final step is the most intensive. Members are usually required to spend one to three weeks in the bush with a fully initiated member. It is in this stage where the candidates for initiation learn all the secrets and knowledge of the Tombuan society. When they return a celebration is held commemorating their official initiation.

Date Entered: June 2010