Asaro Mud Men of Papua New Guinea
Asaro Mud Men of Papua New Guinea Image: David Kirkland
© Papua New Guinea Tourism

A distinguished panel explore the cultural significance and museum acquisition of Asaro Mud Men Masks.

On 26 September 2016, a panel featuring members of the Komunive community (Asaro valley, Eastern Highlands, Goroka), documentary filmmaker Ms Klinit Barry and pacific specialist and Asaro Project Manager, Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman came together in front of a live audience in the Hallstrom theatre.

This conversation provides a rare opportunity to explore the team’s field and travelling experiences of this major collaborative cultural project between the Australian Museum, the Komunive community, filmmakers from the University of Goroka, and the J.F.K McCarthy Museum (Goroka), commissioning a new collection of Holosa masks and filming the acquisition process.

Keren Ruki: My name is Keren Ruki, I'm a creative producer here at the Australian Museum, and before I start I'd just like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to both elders past and present, and to extend that respect to all our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters and non-Aboriginal people that are present tonight.

Welcome to the Australian Museum. It's with great pleasure that we present this talk to you, a very exciting talk today, collecting today the Asaro mud masks from Papua New Guinea Highlands. And tonight we are joined by acclaimed Australian journalist and Lowy Institute fellow, Sean Dorney who will be facilitating the panel discussion with our distinguished guests. So without further ado, please make Sean very welcome.

Sean Dorney: Thank you, and what a great audience. I lived in a Papua New Guinea for 20 years altogether in three terms, one for three years on secondment to the National Broadcasting Commission, then five years as the ABC correspondent, until they deported me. Then they let me back and I spent another 12 years there. And the ABC was a bit worried, I think, I might stay there for another 50 years, so they pulled me out after 12. But I must confess, in all that time I spent in PNG, I never actually visited Komunive village. I did drive past it on the Highlands Highway quite a few times.


And I've certainly seen their performances at various shows around Papua New Guinea, and I think we'd all agree that, without a doubt, these dancers and their masks represent one of the most culturally distinctive features of Papua New Guinea, known around the world. And the exciting thing about it is that that culture is still evolving. We will delve a bit into that tonight, but first let me introduce the panel, and if I could invite them to come forward and sit down here. First of all, Jim Gahiye who is one of the performers but also one of the men who makes these Holosa masks, 'Holosa' being the local language term for spirit or ghost.

Secondly we have Steven Ketoriho, another of the performers from Komunive. Thirdly we have Klinit Barry. Klinit is the documentary filmmaker based in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, and she has put together this vision that we are watching behind us here tonight.

And finally there is Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman. Yvonne is the senior collections officer with the Pacific collection at the Australian Museum, and also the project manager of the Asaro acquisitions field project, which is what this is all about tonight.


So Yvonne, if I could start with you. The Australian Museum has been responsible for many innovative things over the years. I think this ranks with about the best. But could you tell us how it all came about?

Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman: Yes. First of all I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where we stand, the Gadigal people, past, present and future.

Well, it came about with a proposal to the Australian Museum Foundation to expand the Eastern Highlands collection. We've got a very nice collection of Highlands material in the museum. But within the Eastern Highlands we've got some masks but no Holosa masks.

So it was proposed to do a little bit of a research about this, to try to fill out this gap. We put a proposal, it went to the Foundation and it was accepted. So that's how it started off. And then the rest…well, it was a 10-month project. We immediately contacted Klinit Barry and Dilen Doiki to make sure that they would be available for this project, because they are always in very high demand.

After that we started with the logistics of community engagement, and Klinit was responsible for that. She did all the groundwork of community liaison, which was fundamental to have the approval and the consent and the understanding of the community about what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. It was to document every single mask from the very beginning, the old stories. There is a lot of different types of stories and versions about Holosa masks, we wanted to know theirs. And according to them they are the traditional owners of the Holosa from the very beginning.


So we wanted to do that, we wanted to document their stories and we wanted to also document all aspects of how they make the masks, and also the re-enactment of some of the tragedies that happened in the old times during that intertribal warfare, which was rampant at the time in the late 1800s. So that's how basically it started, in a nutshell.

Sean Dorney: Klinit, could you tell us about your role in this and your reaction when you were first approached to be involved?

Klinit Barry: Good evening everyone. This is my second project with the Australian Museum. The first one was in 2010 with the Birds of Paradise where we brought some men from the Hulu people, from the Southern Highlands. And when they invited me to take on this challenge with the Asaro Mud Men, I was very happy to take it on board because I know the challenges and achievements that we will…and the people were amazing, they were very supportive with the project, and they were willing to share their stories with us all. So that is why we are here.

Sean Dorney: Steven, there is some contested history over where this all arose from. If you read some of the tourist brochures, there's people from their village who fled into the Asaro River and got covered in mud, and as they emerged it terrified their oppressors or the people who were attacking them, and then they decided to adopt that as a cultural way of approaching enemies I suppose. But can you tell us what your version…what's your understanding of where this all began?

Klinit Barry: Ladies and gentlemen, before Steven and Jim, we will speak in our own dialect because this is our story, we'd like to speak in our dialect, they'll speak in our own dialect.


I am from them, I can speak their dialect, we can understand each other, so they will speak in their own dialect and then I will share with you in our common language, English.

Steven Ketoriho: [Translated by Klinit Barry] Good evening everyone. We are very happy to be here and we would like to acknowledge the Australian Museum for giving us this opportunity to be here tonight. I will now tell you my story of the Holosa masks. Lupu Nuho was the founder of the mask. Lupu Nuho was married to the nearby tribe and it was upper Asaro, it's called Kemanimo…I know some Papua New Guineans are here, Watabung, that's where he was married to and he was there and there was a sing-sing, a big ceremony there. And then as everyone was getting dressed in their traditional costume, he had nothing.


So he thought, oh, what am I supposed to do here? So he was looking around and he saw this old bilum, the string bag, and then he got it, he made two holes to see, like the face of a man, and then he covered himself, he dived into the underground clay and he was all covered with clay. And then he had a feather and then a bow and arrow and then he walked out to be part of the performance and it was strange, he was different, so everyone fled. They couldn't see him coming, they thought it was a ghost coming. That's the story of Lupu Nuho, how he created the first mask.

The first person that did the mask was Lupu Nuho, and then the brother was Ruipo Okoroho. He went up to visit the brother, Lupu Nuho, where he was, and when he went there the brother told the story that, oh, I did this and the people were intimidated and they ran. I think it's a good thing that if there is anything happening, we would do this one to intimidate people. So when they came down and it was used also during that the…


…they had a warfare with the neighbouring tribal villages, and they said, oh…at that time we had bows and arrows, like they demonstrated here, they said instead of going and just fighting we might do this. So they decided to cover themselves with the clay and they come up with different ideas of ghost imaginations. One time they went and they attacked the nearby villages, the tribal tribe, and then they did one and you can see it at the back, they re-enacted that one, to help them understand what has been done in the past to document it. So here's one of the big ones, I'll share more. And then he said when they went there, children, and especially the warriors, they were like, what's this, it's a ghost. So they just fled, they left their villages and they fled, and that's how they won the tribal warfare.

And then he also mentioned the first Goroka show in 1957, the clan leader was approached by the chairman of the Goroka, and he asked them if you have something to display at the show. And it was the first show. So Okoroho told the others that, you know, why don't we do this because it's very interesting. People are going to gather around and we might get some attractions. Then there were about more than 50, 60 men, all dressed in the masks and they went to the show. Instead of attracting with the masks, they kind of dispersed the crowd.


And everybody just fled, because they came not only with the bows and arrows but with axes, stone axes. And then they won the first prize.

And after the show, because they won the first prize they had a big feast, they celebrated, and then they embraced it and they said, okay, any event, any public performance, that is what we are going to present because it's ours. They took it and they share it with others. Every performance they go out, and they are well known in the Eastern Highlands and in Papua New Guinea. And they have travelled abroad. And they are very, very proud and happy tonight because they said this is the first of its kind. It used to be a tourist attraction. Tourists come, just collect them, they don't know what to do with them, but they would like to say thank you, thank you to the Australian Museum to take them here to preserve them so that they can share their story.

Sean Dorney: Klinit, you're from the Eastern Highlands, but you're not from their area. But as an Eastern Highlander, does it make you proud that this has become such a well-known aspect of Papua New Guinea?


Klinit Barry: It's like every one of you when I am seeing you, though you are from Spain, Italy, but you are living in Australia, you are all Australians. Okay, I am from the Eastern Highlands and I am proud to be an Asaro woman. My district is Asaro, they are my people. In Papua New Guinea we all know that there are 850 languages, diverse and different cultures. Their village, actually we are enemies in the past. But our dialect, our language is called Tokano. We have the same language but the dialect is a bit changed liklik tasol, small-small. But I can understand them and yes I'm always proud to be an Asaro.

Sean Dorney: Yes, there are 860 languages or more in Papua New Guinea, and where my wife is from in Manus you go 10 km down the beach and they speak an entirely different language.

Jim, could you talk about the actual process of making the masks?

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] Thank you. Holosa masks has been passed on from my generation, from my ancestors.


We only share within ourselves. We don't want to share with others. This is our story. We are happy to be here at the Australian Museum. Thank you.

When Lupu Nuho, the original founder, he made it with the old string bag, a bilum, when they took it to the Goroka, so it was the bilum and the bamboo strips and also the banana bag, they cut the mask. And now he is doing it with clay, pure clay.

Sean Dorney: Now, there has been some other people in Papua New Guinea trying to imitate the work that these people have done. Could we talk about that, because I have heard that at one stage there was a village in the Chimbu province that tried to take over the authority for this.


So I'd be very interested to hear what they feel about other people trying to take this cultural heritage from them. If you could ask these…could you ask Jim and Steven?

Steven Ketoriho: [Translated by Klinit Barry] Okay, the story of the Holosa masks, it does not belong to any other person, any other people in Papua New Guinea, it belongs to Komunive, this is their story, this is their version of the story.

He said we are the original Asaro Mud Men. Okay, what they are saying is the copyright at the moment, there is a copyright issue, they don't have copyright, so anybody is practicing this, but the story is their story.


So they would not want anyone to imitate them or to take this story away from them because it belongs to them. And they are also saying the Papua New Guinea government, they would like our government to recognise them as it belongs to the Komunive tribe. So he's just expressing there are so many tour guides that they send, they go into Asaro, but some they go off to Chimbu and some to other places in the Highlands and they are telling them that this is Komunive but actually they haven't been to Komunive. He's just expressing that.

He is saying thank you.

Sean Dorney: Yvonne, could you tell us how many masks you actually had made to bring down and the range of them and the extraordinary way you had to try and make sure they didn't get damaged on the way down.

Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman: We have 12 masks, six large ones and four medium sized. Then we also have eight miniatures which are the Asaro Mud Men miniatures, very small. And we also have the body ornaments, we have the bark-cloth penis wraps, we also have the cane fingers and two bamboo flutes, so that's the entire collection.


In terms of the logistics of bringing that collection to the museum, it has been monumental to say the least, and the reason is because the clay is…well, any mask, any items made of clay is extremely fragile, and we have to go all the way out to the Komunive to collect the masks from there. So everybody came on the four-wheel-drive, everybody was holding their Holosa very tightly. So we had the whole four-wheel-drive, I was driving, full of Asaro people with the masks. We drove very slowly all the way down to Goroka. So we let everybody passing by, everybody flies, you know what it's like, along that motorway. So we just went slow, slow, and it took us forever to get back to Goroka. And then when we got there we just put all the collection in the Birds of Paradise Hotel, in our room, so we had the whole display there.

And then while all this stuff was happening we have a carpenter, Goroka based, thanks to the recommendation of Klinit, called Kiki and he was a master carpenter. He was simply amazing. Him and his team, they were working around the clock until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, trying to basically fill the criteria of how these crates are made. So they were incredible. So the boxes…they were in boxes, I brought all the packing materials from Sydney because biosecurity will not allow any straw or any raw material to be part of any packing. So we have to organise the packing materials to be flown in from here. I took them, I courier them, it was more than 65 kilos, the cargo, with four huge gigantic bundles full of foam, plus flat cardboard boxes. So we brought all that all the way to Goroka. There was a lot of bets here at the museum because they didn't think that those massive cardboard boxes were going to fit into the small aircraft, but they did.


And then after that we took the cardboard boxes up to the carpenter's place, Kiki, and then we scheduled everything. So with Kiki's wife and another girl who volunteered we started building the internal boxes with the foam, and each box had to be specifically designed to fit each mask. So you can see that each mask is very different. So the one that we have in the middle has very pronounced eyebrows and gigantic ears, so we have to fit the box to fit around the extremities of that mask, so with the movement, the foam would not put pressure on the extremities and have them broken. So we really needed to work around the clock. Usually this type of work takes about one week, two weeks with professional conservators. We did that in 1.5 days. We couldn't move the following day, everybody was just aching everywhere, but we did it. And the carpenter was just working around the clock, him and another two guys, to make the crates.

And then little by little they fit the internal boxes inside the crates and they have to make adjustments a few times, but at the end everything worked perfectly and we managed to bring them all the way to Sydney. I would like to acknowledge Air New Guinea and New Guinea Holidays because they were amazing. Without their support, and weighing over 328 kg, we wouldn't have been able to bring the whole collection to the museum. All ground staff were on standby, biosecurity in Australia, customs were on standby. They didn't even inspect the whole cargo, they just inspected one box, just the top of the mask, and they said go. So it was a monumental team effort. Here you cannot acknowledge 1% or 2%, everybody had a part in bringing the collection safely to the Australian Museum, and everybody took a lot of pride opening it for the first time, the first collection of the Holosa mud masks to a major cultural institution in Sydney.


Sean Dorney: These Holosa masks are incredibly distinctive. Every one is quite different. Could we get the two Mud Men to elaborate on just how do you go about deciding what face that you put on the masks?

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] He's saying that they are different images, features of…it's only a representation of different imaginations of ghosts that were told by their parents.

Sean Dorney: The one they made yesterday seemed to be smiling. Could you get them to talk about the differences between the scowling ones and the smiling ones?

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] Okay, he is saying yesterday for these four to be here it's the first time out of the country, and some of them are first time out of Goroka, first time on a flight. And because they were so happy and amazed…


…so they are expressing their gratitude and this excitement. Before they did this they were at Bondi Beach and it was…so yes, they said this is their way of saying thank you to the Australian Museum. And they did a liklikhead, pikininione, and they gave it to this woman here, Yvonne, and they said, 'Thank you for making us smile at the Bondi Beach and we are happy.' And he named the mask Gahiye after his father.

Sean Dorney: Good one.

Klinit Barry: So that's a happy spirit. That's what he's saying.

Sean Dorney: Look, on that issue, could you ask both Steven and Jim their impressions. If this is the first time out of the Eastern Highlands, what are their impressions of Sydney?

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] He said they come from a very…village, set in, and to town and to city and to big cities like this is…they are amazed. And they are happy to see you.

Sean Dorney: Steven, do you have anything to say about your impressions?

Steven Ketoriho: [Language]

Klinit Barry: [Language]


Sean Dorney: I think we need a translation.

Klinit Barry: They said they only see it in films or magazines but it was…they see. It's interesting, while on that note, in 2010 the Hulu people were here. They went with Yvonne to Bondi Junction, they were doing some shopping, and then they were eating and all of a sudden these white big huge wings just dropped from the ceiling, and they said, 'What is this? What is this? Angels from heaven?' These beautiful blonde…all in huge wings, they were just coming…and they came and said, ah, actually we saw them from heaven coming down and angels come down and send, and you missed it. So yes, they saw the other vision of the angels. They are trying to share this.

Sean Dorney: This isn't the only performance that they've put on today. Earlier today they performed for a crowd at the museum here. And unlike you people, there were some young people who were terrified. And I'd just like to ask about the reaction you get from young children.


Steven Ketoriho: [Translated by Klinit Barry] The mask is made purposefully for intimidation and to scare. So when the children cry, it makes us feel like we are real ghosts.

Sean Dorney: Do you think any of those children are having nightmares tonight?

Steven Ketoriho: [Translated by Klinit Barry] He's saying that yes, definitely it's going to disturb them in the night because they've seen something they've never seen before.

Sean Dorney: Yes, I wouldn't be surprised if there were quite a few children around Sydney tonight finding it very difficult to get to sleep!

Yvonne, what are the questions that you'd like posed by people, having seen this demonstration and those masks?

Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman: The whole idea of bringing the community here is to have that close engagement with the Australian public. So I have attended a lot of talks and conferences, not long ago, about three weeks ago I was with a very dear friend of mine, Florence Jaukae, who is a Goroka based artist. She was giving a talk about her work, some bilum ware, at the Sherman Gallery, and the whole gallery was packed, it was a Saturday morning. I mentioned to her because we presented together a paper at the Auckland Museum in March this year, and I always said to her start your talk with a big map of Papua New Guinea and how close it is from Australia. So she did. And she put a gigantic, massive map, satellite to map, where you can actually see how close Torres Strait is from Papua New Guinea.


And I will say that half of the people sitting in that gallery, they were shocked, they were really shocked to find out how close we are from Papua New Guinea. And when things settled down I just said it's only 45 minutes' walk on low tide. And people turned around and they said, 'What?' I said yes. People can't still…it seems like there's a bit of collective amnesia about who we are as a nation at the end of the 21st century and who our neighbours are and how close we are from Papua New Guinea. I don't understand why. As you said before, we all come from different ancestries, but we are the Pacific, we are right in the middle of the Pacific.

So one of the reasons why we want to do this type of cultural project is to be able for the Australian public…it's not just about the collection, that's one aspect of it, it's multilayered. One important aspect is to have the people here to share their stories and to engage with the Australian public, to have them, to look at them, for them to sit with the children and for these children to really be exposed to our neighbours. It's very simple. It's for them to be able to share that time with them, to show them how to make Holosa but to be able to be close to them and shake hands and to say their names. It comes down to that, it's as simple as that, and that's why we think that it is very important. Those reactions about the masks, yes, it is to be expected. But personally for me the most important thing out of this type of project is to have representatives of the community that we are working close with to come here and to engage with the Australian public, to have that exposure.


Sean Dorney: Yes, I think you're a cultural anthropologist but, as you're saying, this goes a little bit beyond pure anthropology, doesn't it.

Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman: Right, there is no theoretical frameworks here, it's also known as ethnography, but I bring it down to cultural engagement. It's as simple as that. It's about understanding what the role of these masks is, what it has been, aspects of the history, documenting all aspects of that mask, the stories behind what it might represent, it might represent a particular spirit associated with a river, where the clay pit is, et cetera, et cetera, and then bring the people here so those perspectives are actually articulated by the people themselves. And then we label that, we will have all aspects of documentation, this is one of the films that has been done by our cameramen, Dilen Doiki from the University of Goroka, and it comes to that. Then we will have the documentation of the masks, we will have these videos, background, they will have a documentary made out of this project, and then the most important thing is that every aspect of cultural engagement with this type of project is reciprocal.

So Dilen has been following us and documenting everything that is happening during their stay here. He will put everything on the DVD. And then when they get back home they will be able to share their experience back with the Komunive community. They will organise a big kaikai, and everybody will come. These guys will organise a big sheet that will be like a big screen, and then all the stuff that you're looking at here will be shown back to them, and that's how we work. So it goes beyond any discipline of anthropology. Being a cultural anthropologist is one aspect of getting qualifications.


But for me my personal experience and dedication is about how can we engage, how can we do mutual beneficial projects that is going to go beyond making a collection and doing a thesis or doing a theory, and analysis about these masks. It's very simple, and this are the type of projects that I think is very important to do in the 21st century museum.

Sean Dorney: In Australia how would you like the documentary to be used?

Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman: In Australia it will be used to actually bring all aspects of this project in terms of their own perspectives, their histories, aspects of these dramatisations. I couldn't believe when I saw this. We were actually in one of the long houses and we came out and Dilen was there filming in front of these gigantic flames that were burning three houses, and the whole community became actors, even the piglets. Everybody was so good, they were just trying to dramatise one aspect of that history. I was actually blown away. I've never seen that before because here in Australia we are always obsessed with the bushfires, so to see these three houses in flames and see everybody running for their lives, it was pretty impressive.

I would like…whatever has been shown is definitely going to be shown in international film festivals for people to have a completely different insight about Holosa, what Holosa is beyond…what Steven said, beyond tourism, beyond commercialisation, and beyond a symbol of Papua New Guinea, because it's gone beyond regional icon, national icon and international icon. It's about bringing it down to the roots; what is Holosa from their point of view? And we would like the people to learn a little bit more of Holosa from this perspective.

Sean Dorney: Could I put a question to Jim and Steven about whether they see this continuing, this evolution of the masks?


Do they see more and more masks being made and different features and different aspects being brought into it?

Steven Ketoriho: [Translated by Klinit Barry] Okay, he is saying why they are participating here is not for anyone to see them as an object or to be studied as an object, but they would like to share it as a custom, as their traditional practice, as it was passed on from their generation. And they said yes, they would like to see it grow and passed on from generation to generation and they would like this to be…yes, so it belongs to us, so it's us and we are here to share. We are only here to share what is ours.

Sean Dorney: I'd like to throw it open if we've got any questions from the audience?

Audience member 1: Thank you. I just had a question about the symmetry of the masks, which if you could actually ask Jim and Steven about. They all are so symmetrical, they are so perfect. Is there…and I'm just interested to understand how important that is in terms of the way they are made and the way they are finished and if, for example, they would ever consider if a mask was made asymmetrical, like one side was slightly different to the other, would they think any less of those masks or like them any less?


Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] He's saying I've never been to school to learn art, but it's all in here. As I am rolling and moulding the mask, the shape, it comes here. So it's imaginations that I am putting…like, it's his imaginations, the figure of the masks.

Sean Dorney: Could you just get Jim to explain how they make the mask with these long strips and put them in circles?

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] He's saying the first process is to mould and he knows exactly the right amount of the clay to be rolled up so that…because it's pure clay, he wouldn't want it to break because it is very fragile, and also it's air-dry, so he's very careful with it, how much clay he is putting them together to roll, to mould a mask.

Sean Dorney: And they gradually build it up layer by layer by layer, yes?

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] He said yes.


Audience member 2: To welcome our visitors I'll speak in pidgin and English. [Pidgin language] I am asking what age they would learn the dance and would learn to make the masks.

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] When they are about four years old they start teaching them how to do the rolling.

Audience member 3: I want to congratulate the museum on this initiative. As some of you know I've been trying for a couple of decades to get the museum back into interest in the Pacific, and it looks like with the Pacific Gallery this it's starting to happen. I'll just live a bit longer and see more. I've got a hearing problem so I might have missed the things that I'm going to ask. Firstly, I'm interested with the mask, presumably they have to be dried for a while so that…because if they are all wet it's going to collapse, so I wanted to know about that. And secondly (and again, I might have missed this), in the film they are burning those little huts. What's the significance of that?

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] After the mask is made it's air dried for three days. And if it's out in the sun it's 1.5 days.


Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman: But the masks had been made about 2.5 months ago. We wanted to make sure that they would be very, very dry before they were going to be packed. So when they were commissioned, there were a lot of discussions, they were done about 2.5 months ago and they have been drying since. Nobody has been able to enter that place to make sure that they were going to be strong for the travel.

Sean Dorney: What was the second question?

Audience member 3: The burning of the huts.

Klinit Barry: The burning of the house was the enactment of the…they used the mask, the Holosa, the ghosts, to intimidate the neighbouring village to attack them, and they were terrified, they ran away and they burnt down their houses. It was only an enactment.

Sean Dorney: It's a typical tribal fighting tactic; if the other side runs away, you burn down their houses.

Audience member 4: I want to ask about the clay because it's very beautiful white clay and I'm wondering what else is made from clay because in my time in Goroka in the '70s I don't remember seeing much pottery. So what else is made out of clay?

Steven Ketoriho: [Translated by Klinit Barry] No other object apart from the mask.

Klinit Barry: But Dilen is my colleague, and I think from his village they do pan flute, clay pan flute.


We are not much into clay pots and other pottery, but from them it's only the mask. But the people are now being creative, they do have this similar clay and from where Dilen, my colleague, comes from, his grandfather, he does the pan flute where it's not the men's story but the women attracts the man in those days. So we have documented that one, but not into pottery but only masks from that area.

Audience member 5: Is a particular mask used more than once, and if not what do they do with the mask when the performance is over, when it's been used?

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] After the performance they keep them in the house. It's good to keep them in room temperature.

Sean Dorney: Any further questions?

Audience member 6: Yes, once I was in the Highlands and I saw a very large funeral procession where people had also put clay on their bodies, and I was wondering what the meaning of that was. Is it related to this ceremony where people are meant to be like ghosts? Is it a similar story?

Klinit Barry: The rubbing of the clay all over the body is mourning, a sign of mourning, that's throughout the Highlands.


Sean Dorney: Yes, you see that lots of times when someone has died, the putting of clay on. But the masks are something bilong disla.

Audience member 7: Thank you so much for that performance and for this fascinating talk. I'm interested in how the masks are associated with ideas of masculinity and male gender roles and if they fit in with male rites of passage, and if women have any involvement with preparing the masks or can ever where the masks.

Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] He says no, it belongs to men.

Audience member 8: [Pidgin language] Just asking the visitors whether this clay is particularly only from the Holosa area or it's around the whole Asaro area.

Steven Ketoriho: [Translated by Klinit Barry] These clays are not found anywhere else, but it has a spot where they go there and they collect the clay. And it's hidden.

Audience member 9: So my question is more so for the museum. Are there any special precautions being taken to maintain the state of the masks while they are going to be down here?


Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman: We hope to have them on display very soon, so they will be on display for a while, and after that they will go back into the store rooms where they are with the rest of the cultural material in the museum. The Pacific collections are around 60,000 objects, so they are divided into three different floors, and they are at a certain temperature, 23 degrees, 20 degrees. So yes, they will be here for many, many generations to come.

Audience member 10: Hi. First of all, I am very admiring of you, you're amazing people and thank you so much to the museum, it was a really amazing night. Second, sorry for my English. I'm going to be a bit dramatic. Yes, you were amazed by seeing Bondi and seeing all those buildings, but are you not scared that actually the Western culture and all that it is bringing, are you not scared of that actually coming to you and destroying your culture?

Klinit Barry: One interesting observation from all of us. At one stage the missionaries, they went into our country, they said you have to be…follow Christ. You know, talking about Bondi, they teach us one thing, and…I'm a highlander. I cannot even, in my river…I don't have a bathroom, we share the river as our bathroom and that's the way we do our washing, laundry, that's where we fetch the water from.


So we are dressed, fully dressed, we go to the river to wash. And even though my husband cannot see me, or my brother, I have to hide myself. So they were saying that they tell us one thing and they are doing the opposite here. And also it is really a concern here where the audience of the cultural shows are being reduced and it's more tourists. As a Papua New Guinean, as a filmmaker I am a bit taken…like, okay, what are we going to do with this? Our culture is kind of dying. And it is a good comment from this young man here, like their concern…when you take this down to an Australian museum, how are you going to take care of them, because they belong to us. We are only sharing them. So that is their concern.

And then when we were to come, the day before, they challenged Yvonne, 'You tell us how you would look after them because they belong to us. If you do not take really good care of them down there, we are going to be in trouble.' So you may say that it's only an object, but no, it is living, it's alive, it's people's way of life. And it's about sharing and appreciating and acknowledging. That is why we are here.

Audience member 11: I'd also like to congratulate the Australian Museum on this initiative and I hope that it's the first of others with other groups throughout the Pacific. I have a very basic question about the clay. It seems very white. Is that the colour it is when it is mined, for want of a better term, or does it have ash or something added to it?


Jim Gahiye: [Translated by Klinit Barry] No preservation, no colour, none whatsoever, it's all natural, it's pure clay.

Audience member 12: This is probably a comment more than a question. First I'll speak in pidgin and then translate into English. [Pidgin language] So what I'd like to say is one of the things that is often not spoken about is what we have here is an object. The know-how and the intellectual property of these things are actually owned by the people. So even though we've got the material here, the know-how and the reason behind it belongs to them. Thank you.

Sean Dorney: Hear, hear. So thank you all very much for coming. Could you thank the panel? I certainly think this is a terrific initiative. Yvonne, excellent work, well done.

"The whole idea of bringing the community here is to have that close engagement with the Australian public. …it seems like there is a collective amnesia about who we are as a nation in the 21st century, who our neighbours are, and how close we are to Papua New Guinea." Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman, Senior Collections Officer, Pacific Collections at the Australian Museum.