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Papuan Dogs – the first companions of man

Dogs in tribal subsistence:

Village traditions evolve over uncounted generations of closely bonded individuals in relatively small groups – as compared with our modern, rather anonymously bound society were true traditions cannot be sustained. This fact relates also to animal husbandry, in the process of domestication and then in adopting the ways of keeping and utilization to both the animals abilities and human society's requirements. The selection of behavioural patterns in traditional society folllowed strict rules in an evolutionary process that had one objective: the survival of the own communal unit. The motivations which are dominant in our urban civilization to keep dogs as pets only, this rather modern trend was no significant part of village tradions. One should not conclude, though, that there were no affectionate ties between village people and their dogs (cf. further below).

No particular attention is given to the nurture of pups – they grow up being looked after by the women. But again there are exceptions: sometimes young dogs like piglets are nursed on the breast (STERLY 1962).

The following distinct motives for rearing dogs in Papuan village society can be identified: the alreday mentioned assistance in hunting, as trade assets (live dogs and dog teeth), in keeping settlements (together with village pigs) clean of human food remains, faeces, as an alarm system against hostile raids, and last not least as a source of meat: In many Papuan societies dog was not eaten at all, others regarded it as a primary source of meat. In none of the areas I visited personally dog was traditionally eaten. In West Papua this habit recenty spread with the arrival of dog eating Indonesians from north Sulawesi in particular. The missionary E. Baxter Riley, F.R.A.I., writes about the Papuans on Kiwai Island in the estuary of the Fly River: „ The first time I went to Auti (village) I received a large portion of sago, bananas and other native vegetables, along with the hind leg of a dog, cooked to a turn on a hot wood fire. I did not partake of this delicacy, but took it aboard my ship. It disappeared later on, and my crew were very upset when they discovered that it had mysteriously vanished. I had no idea at the time that some of them had cast covetous eyes upon it“ (RILEY 1925). The natives of the Astrolabe Bay in northern New Guinea reared dogs only for eating their fattened corpses at festive occasions (HAGEN 1899; cf. also FINSCH 1888 in F35; WILLIAMS 1924 in chapter E).

These utilitarian motives should not be considered as the only vehicle for dog keeping. though. Interrelations should not be considered as a mere „subsistence“ alliance like the one projected for the so called pariah dogs (F43). Emotional attachment, affection certainly is integrated in the traditional man – dog relations in Papuan tribal life (cf. the film captions at the end of this chapter).


Dogs are customary goods in barter trade. For instance, the Iwaino people of Urama Island in the Papuan Gulf supplied most of the dogs for the Purari Delta region further east (WILLIAMS 1924).

Perforated dog teeth were traded across tribal boundaries, for instance in the Papuan Gulf of southern New Guinea. They were mostly used to make necklets, and the amount of teeth lined up in every single such ornament is impressive (F44). In the Purari Delta of southern New Guinea dog teeth are used as a kind of currency (F45). In the western region of the Papuan Gulf, between the Purari and the Turama Rivers we collected several necklets (termed náia in Damaibari village) and head bands (béte) recently knitted, with perforated dog teeth attached (up to 47 teeth counted; fig. 36 warrior). At the same village Damaibari we also collected a kind of curtain worn by women in mourning in front of the face, made of knitted string with dog teeth attached (wíto-wi,fig. 38; objects mentioned for the Papuan Gulf are now in the Berlin Museum of Ethnography). In the village of Mina Goiravi of the Gope ethnic district I photographed in 1970 the initiation ceremony Pairoma with many dog teeth on diplay (fig. 37). The best quality was evaluated by the whiteness of teeth.

The teeth were said to have been traded from the upper Turama River. In that rugged region of eroded limestone ridges feral dogs live in rock shelters, small crevices and caves. Peope used to travel up the Turama to obtain dog teeth, as I was told by several informants independently, by this rough method: Once a man had located a dog in a cave not too deep, he poked a sago leaf rib into the hole until the dog bit firmly into the rather soft sago pith - wood. Then the handler pulled the stick, with the dog clenching its teeth into it, sharply so that the front teeth broke out of the bone and remained stuck in the pith. I expressed my doubts whether the teeth would come out that way being strongly fixed in their bone cavities, but the villagers stuck firmly to their story.

This limestone country is situated south of the Mt. Bosavi region were we collected skulls and took photographs (cf. chapter E). There may well be a local population of feral dogs in quite a distance from the central cordilliera in this remote wilderness situated at the transition from the lowlands to the inland hill ridges. TITCOMB (1969) refers to observations of „wild“ dogs in a few other low elevation locations of New Guinea (F46).

From the lower Turama River, inland from the estuary, AUSTEN (1948) reports: „ Dogs' teeth form a very valuable article of trade, and dogs are bred in all the villages.“

The Papuans of the western part of southern Papua New Guinea (Majub people) bury deceased dogs and mark the location by a stick so that they can later find it again, excavate the skeleton and take the (front) teeth (NEVERMANN 1939).

S. BULMER (2000) refers to the discovery of perforated dog incisors (F47) form prehistorical Lapita sites near Port Moresby and on Yule Island further along on the south coast of New Guinea. The Yule Island site of Oposisi contained perforated dog incisors from the period of 2.500 to 2000 BP. In one site near the Laloki River 50 perforated dog teeth were found dated to about 750 BP. They seem to have been placed around the neck or waist of burials.

Veröffentlicht am Kategorien Gulf of Papua, Papuan Dogs, Rare breeds, Zoological ResearchSchlagwörter , , , ,

Über Thomas Schultze-Westrum

Dr. Thomas Georg Hans SCHULTZE-WESTRUM Author of Scientific and Popular Publications Producer and Director of Documentary Films and Videos Adviser in Nature Conservation and Preservation of Rural Cultures Initiator of Conservation Programmes German national. Born 1937 (Berlin). Classical education at the Benedictine monastery of Ettal in Upper Bavaria. Graduate of Munich University, with degrees in Zoology, Geology and Cultural Anthropology (Ethnology). Scholarship by “Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes”. Research (University of Munich, other scientific institutions) and publications on social and population physiology of marsupials and other vertebrate fauna of New Guinea and the Mediterranean Region, cultural anthropology, conservation and resource management on the village level, mainly in Greece and New Guinea. Author of the books “New Guinea” (Berne 1972) and “Biologie des Friedens” (Biology of Peace), Munich 1974. Dr. Schultze-Westrum has joined for several years the Commissions on Ecology and Environmental Planning of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). He is the founder of the working group (IUCN Commission on Ecology) “Conservation and Traditional Life Styles” 1979; the “ECOCULTURE” Movement 1981; the “Gesellschaft für die Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen” GEH (Society for the Preservation of Old and Endangered Breeds of Domestic Animals) 1981; and the non-profit-making society “KALLIERGIA”, for traditional agriculture and village conservation in Greece, 1993. As a consultant he has worked for the EU, IUCN, OECD and WWF. As a film maker he has produced, directed and mostly also shot, for German television and international TV networks, 75 documentaries, mainly ecological portraits with emphasis upon the integration of local and traditionally living people into conservation projects. His first film (1974) was about alternative (sustainable) utilization of tropical rainforests in New Guinea, for ZDF. Never Dr. Schultze-Westrum has entered any of his films into an award winning competition, because he is more concerned about the effects of his TV work in actual conservation and public awareness. One of these real awards was the creation of the Marine National Park Alonnisos Northern Sporades in Greece as a result of his film “The Coast of the Monk Seals” in 1976/77 for ZDF (ratings 36 % - shown in 11 countries). His programme “Green Desert”, about traditional water management in the Sultanate of Oman was distributed by the Television Trust for the Environment TVE to 44, mainly Third World, countries. Another leading aspect of his film work was the production of environmental films for the people of the country where he was filming. So, he produced the first TV series of films on ecology, rural life styles and conservation for Greece (in the early 80’s, 14 programmes) and for the Sultanate of Oman (late 80’s, 12 films). His deep interest in ancient human traditions inspired him to produce “Omani Seafaring”, for Oman TV; “Im Kielwasser Sindbads” (In the Wake of Sindbad), for the series Terra X of ZDF; and “Insel der Magier” (Island of the Sorcerers: Waigeo) for ARTE TV. After retiring from TV film production at the end of 2002 he is returning to his earlier scientific work (abandoned in the early 70’s) about the social and population physiology of marsupials ( Petaurus breviceps papuanus and closely related species); village based conservation; the evolution of human communal behaviour and cultural diversity; and the evolution of art styles in the Papuan Gulf province of New Guinea. Since 1992 he is also involved in eco- and agrotourism programmes that are based on his earlier promotion of this alternative “soft” tourism through publications and films, in Greece and West Papua. His conservation activities are continuously focussed on Greece and New Guinea, since 1957 and 1959, respectively. Dr. Schultze-Westrum now is writing up his experiences of many years field work and he is keeping communications alive through his homepage, from the ancient village of Kazaviti on the island of Thassos in the northern Aegean Sea. The conservation and re-activation of outstanding traditional values of Kazaviti stand at the centre of a local museum and documentation centre to be set up in one or even two old Macedonian stone houses.