Papuan Dogs – the first companions of man

Published by: Thomas Schultze-Westrum

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Dogs of the sub – montane and inland hill tribes:

The region inland between the central cordilliera and the lowlands is sparsely populated. There exist several ancient ethnic groups in this region on the southern and the northern sides of the mountain ranges with partly semi-nomadic ways of life – because of the poor fertility of the soils in small garden clearings and because of only limited supply of wild sago from the forest. Settlements were small, often consisted of only one single dwelling for all the community. Narrow foot tracks connected the settlements which were dispersed over very wide areas. All this region was densely forested until recently, when commercial logging and other resource exploitation began to destroy both the natural equilibrium and the well-being of the people.

In 1966 we had the privilege to work as the first scientists (F31) in the foothills of Mt. Bosavi (2.896 meters a.s.l.) – an isolated, extinct volcano south of the Southern Highlands.The tiny pockets of human population in this area which extends to the Great Papuan Plateau, at an altitude of 800 meters a.s.l. and above, were much scattered. At the time of our visit, the Kaluli and Waragu people on the northern side of Mt. Bosavi had no use of money, no direct access to modern trade goods and had been contacted as yet by four patrols of the Australian administration only.

No feral dogs lived in the forest, according to the local people. All dogs were owned by individual men or kinship-groups in the one communal house. They had uninhibited access to the interior and were fed with sago, sweat potatoes and other tubers, as well as remains of human food collected in the forest, both of vegetable and meat diet. The dogs searched also for edible stuff, small animals etc. in the vicinity of the settlement. In order to restrict the range of movements of their dogs, Bosavi people often tied one fore-leg up by a piece of bush-string fitted around the neck (fig. 56, 50). All these dogs were very skilled in climbing up ladders to the platforms of houses on stilts (figs. 57, 58).

I did not see any dog suffering from the ulcers and other infections as they were frequent for the coastal areas (cf. my remarks above). But I already referred to the contagious and deadly disease that had spread prior to our field work through the Bosavi area.

I distinguished two strains of native dogs in the Kaluli communal house of Didessa – close to our base camp during the expedition: the more common type (but still much reduced in numbers by the epidemic) was a fairy stout and stocky strain that reminds of the Southern Highlands strain or the Punan dog of Borneo (fig. 60). With relative short tail and legs and with a broad, triangle-shaped face (photos). Measurements are given in caption No… The fur was similiar to that of the highland dogs, much coarser and longer than that of lowland dogs. Colouration varied from light to darker brown with white and blackish marks, to all black with some white markings ( figs. 45 – 54.). With a white tip on the tail.

The second strain at Didessa reminds more of the lowland dogs: it is smaller, slim, with elongated head, fawn to reddish brown colouration, blackish face markings, again a white tip on the tail (figs 55 – 58). As was poined out earlier, BOESSNECK and MEYER – LEMPPENAU (1969) in their study of the skulls collected by us , could not find such distinction of two types in their osteo-morphological comparision (F32). But it is clearly demonstrated by our photographs. On the other hand, a „weitestgehende“ (= most far-reaching) conformity with a „Torfhund“ skull from the neolithic settlement of Burgäschisee-Süd in Switzerland was pointed out by the two authors in 1969 (cf. alsoBOESSNECK 1963). There is a general difference in size, though: Torfhunde (named Canis familiaris palustris) were in average larger than Bosavi dogs. These Torfhunde again resemble much the dogs of the Batak people on Sumatra Island („Battakerspitz“: ANTONIUS 1922). In their outer appearance two more strains were noted as being very similiar: the „village dog“ of New Guinea and that of the Bismarck Archipelago. STUDER 1901 assembles these dog populations under the name Canis novae hiberniae Lesson (F33). And again the close similarity to the neolithic Torfspitz is mentioned. I will present a description further below when dealing with the coastal strain of Papuan dogs. BOESSNECK and MEYER – LEMPPENAU (loc. cit.) argue that this similarity is not a result of close blood kinship („Blutsverwandtschaft“). It rather reflects an adaptation to similiar living conditions at the margins of settlements as they are characteristic for the so called pariah or shensi dogs in the wide realm between eastern Asia and central Africa, including the islands of Indonesia and Oceania. Dogs in this region are employed in guarding and in several ethnic districts are eaten, but „never used in hunting“ (cf. also ANTONIUS 1922 and WERTH 1944). I shall return to this point in chapter G and correct (further) this view – after having quoted Barry Craig’s observation alread.

The pygmies around Mt. Ayom on the middle course of the Ramu River (north of the central cordilliera) keep „short – legged dogs with a pointed snout. Some possess a pendent, densely but short – haired tail that is similiar to the one of the European fox; while other individuals wear their tail almost horizonally. The coat shows mostly a fawn greyish yellow colour or dirty white with a few irregular large black spots. In their body size these dogs almost match the European fox (M. Gusinde quoted after STERLY 1962).

Again on the southern side of the central ranges, in the Mafulu territory and in the Chirima Valley, WILLIAMSON (1912) found „…small black, brownish – black, or black and white dogs with very bushy tails, and not the yellow dingo dogs which infest the villages of the Mekeo“ in the coastal lowlands; and even those (only rarely seen) „Mafulu dogs are, I was told, not truly a Mafulu institution, having been obtained by the people, I think, only recently from their Kuni neighbours.“

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2010 at 21:05 and is filed under Gulf of Papua, Papuan Dogs, Rare breeds, Zoological Research.

7 Responses to “Papuan Dogs – the first companions of man”

  1. Janice Koler-Matznick sagt:

    I just wanted to let people interested in primitive and aboriginal dogs know that there are now Facebook sites dedicated to them: ‎The INDog Project for the Indian village dogs, Village Dogs and Primitive Pariahs World Wide, and African aboriginal dogs. There is also a web site for the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society:

    Contrary to the statements made in the good Dr. Schultze-Westrum’s major contribution to the knowledge about Papuan dogs, the New Guinea singing dog has never been selected in captivity to any „breed“ standard. In fact, after an initial short false start with United Kennel Club, we started the NGSD Conservation Society with its own stud book and no more Singers were registered with UKC. As soon as we had genetic proof they are dingoes, we had them removed from the UKC which does not register AU dingoes. I wrote the standard (required by UKC) after surveying all owners of Singers and having them measure their specimens. All variation in the unavoidably inbred population was included in the written standard/description. The only selection that has gone on is against badly kinked tails as if continued or bred together this can result in problems in the spine. We facilitated the establishment of the NGSDCS Papua New Guinea, a recognized non-profit group in Papua, and have tried for a decade to get field work done on wild Singers, sending equipment, but so far due to lack of major funding not much has been accomplished there. We are still doing what we can but we are a tiny group.

  2. Thomas Schultze-Westrum sagt:

    Hi, many thanks indeed for your encouragement. I am still working on the assemly of papers and notes In the Name of Conservation,
    Keep in touch!

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