Papuan Dogs – the first companions of man

Published by: Thomas Schultze-Westrum

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Troughout Melanesia the dog is used to accompany the hunter; according to STERLY (1962) this is the main reason for keeping dogs. There are exeptions, though, as I have pointed out above (cf. also the remarks by WILLIAMS 1924, and FINSCH 1888, as quoted in chapter E and F35 respectively).

Ownership usullay is with individual men in the community. This owner gives the dog a name, trains it for hunting and dispenses magic medicines prior to a hunting expedition. We are indepted to STERLY (1962) for his assemly of widely dispersed literature references:

Training of hunting dogs:

Little has been documented about this subject. From various observations it can be concluded that a strict training does not exist – which would prevent the dogs from ripping the game apart: often the hunter must interfere, strow stones at the dogs or beat them with a stick. There are certain words used to command a dog, mostly applied in combination with the the name of the particular dog addressed. The Keraki people in the Transfly region of southern Papua New Guinea alert their dogs by calling „ush, ush …“. Sometimes male dogs are deprived of both testicles in order to make them run faster. These castrated dogs are regarded as the best hunters. In the same region flutes made of coconut shells (with two holes) are used to call dogs. Further to the west, across the West Papuan border, the Marind-anim and the Jagba tribes had short flutes made of bamboo, for that purpose. The Marind shouted „hei“ and added the name of a mythological („dema“) dog: „Hei Jodkap“, or „Hei, Mizerangib“ or Hei, Jod-a-jod“, to provide some examples.

In the Papuan Gulf region dogs are called by their names or by short words of order, for instance „to“ (that means „come here“), or just a lip-whistle. They are driven off by a short, pressed exhalation or inhalation of air through the theeth or a similar staccato release of air in the bronchial tract that produces a deeper sound of exhaled air. If a dog has done something against the rules, the handler inhaled a confined body of air through his teeth or/and produced a short click of the tongue; it means „don’t!“.

SEMON (1896) notes that the Papuan dogs in south-eastern New Guinea are less trained than the similiar dogs (dingoes?) of the Australian Aborigines.

Hunting rituals and magic:

All over Melanesia, in traditional times, the most important element in preparing a dog to become a good hunter was the application of magic substances and rituals. The objective was to make the dog fit for performing, as well as obtainting the support by the spirits which are involved in game hunting. Both hunter and dogs have to possess particular power, they have to become „hot“ for that performance to be successful.

BLACKWOOD (1935) describes an initiation ritual for hunting dogs on the Solomon island of Bougainville: Men who undertake this initiation, first scrap particles of bark from different trees, and while doing so they howl like a dog and spit chewed betel nut into this mixture. On the following day one of the dogs to be initiated is grabbed and some of that substance is smeared around its mouth, more of it is being mixed with sea water and given to swallow. Then sections of the stem of the karamusis – plant are placed onto the dogs‘ noses. After blowing air at the nose it starts bleeding. That is an omen for the dog getting a stronger sense of smell. Then also any other dog to be initiated is treated the same way. After that they are fed with betel nut, then grabbed by the tail and wirled round several times.

On the second day the dogs are fed by a mixture of boiled plant substances with added coconut. On the third day the owners of the initiated dogs take them on a hunting expedition. The pig killed in the bush is eaten by all the men in the village. If there are recently married couples or men whose wives are pregnant, the pork has to be prepared by addying leaves of the gunasgu – plant; otherwise the dogs would have no success in hunting. Another pig killed on the forth day is eaten by the women. The hunting prey of the fifth day is distributed to all the households of the village. In case these rituals show no effects on the dogs, they will be reapeated, and the spirits of three deceased great hunters are called upon for assistance.

Another way to make a dog hot is to put specially prepared food onto an ant-hill. The bites of ants are believed to make the dog a good figther. Again another method is reported from the Sulka people of New Britain: a mixture of human bone particles, taro,the buds of certain trees and ginger are spoken a charm over and then stuffed into the throat of the dog, its jaws being held open by strips of old cloth. Then betel is chewed and with this red mash the paws, ears and snout of the dog are touched, while certain magic words are pronounced. After this procedure the dog is thrown onto the roof of the house so that it descends on the other side (F48). On the following early morning the dog is fed with warm taro and – again while spelling certain verbal charms – it’s eyes are whiped with a wet leaf of the vaul – plant. Then it is taken to the bush on a hunting probe.

In northern Papua New Guinea, among the Wewak – Boitin people, a hunter, before setting out on a hunting trip, is feeding his dog(s) with a magic mixture (gombi) consisting of the ash of Alang – Alang grass, a certain black soil, stinging nettels and other plants. And he called on the spirit of his spear: fisimbó, help my dog that it tracks and kills a pig!

All facettes of human behaviour are covered by these ritual performances: There are also methods to make a dog useless; a yellous neighbour may collect the dog’s faeces, bury them in a coconut shell and plant on top a wanis – shrub. If that plant growths well, that dog is no good anymore for hunting.

The Wewak natives believe that if a hunter has sexual intercouse before going on the hunting trail, his dog would loose its high mood and be useless. But there is also a cure for that: In order to regain the dog’s spirit, the hunter jews a piece of a certain vine together with flowers of the wild sugar cane, fills that mix into a small bamboo tube and puts it on the fire: the bambo explodes in the heat – and the spell is gone.

In many other parts of New Guinea dogs are given some magic medicine prior to going for hunting so they are getting hot, by application of wild ginger, lime powder and betel nut; most of these treatments are kept secret.

Hunting practizes:

Larger, ground – dwelling game on New Guinea is limited to feral pigs, wallabies, cassowaries, bandicoots and bush rats (Mallomys). Pig hunting (both by single men or in groups of several) is by far the most common practize. Boars can become quite dangerous when held at bay by a pack of dogs, and I heard several stories of dogs being killed both by boars and by cassowaries – the latter using their elongated middle claw as a formidable weapon. Usually the game is killed by spear or arrow once surrounded by the dogs. In some areas nets are in use and the game is driven by men, their dogs and set fires towards this net or a trap. Usually not more than 10 dogs are taken on a hunt. If it was successful, the dogs are rewarded back home by pieces of meat (at Ero village in the Papuan Gulf).

From the Mamberamo River MOSZKOWSKI (1911) reports that a single dog is capable of holding at bay a medium – sized bush pig. At the end of a hunting expedition dogs have to be collected again as they roam over quite some distances in persue of game. The author (loc. cit.) notes: „I have often watched Papuans searching for hours the banks of the river and calling their dogs: maries – es, – es – es.“ So far the references as presented by STERLY (1962).

WILLIAMSON (1912, p. 187) notes about the Mafulu (cf. also chapter E, Adaptation and Differentiation, section: Dogs of the sub-montane and inland hill tribes) (quote): „The people generally hunt in large parties for pigs (hunted with either spears or nets), kangaroos and wallabies (hunted with nets only), and Macgregor bears (note: = tree kangaroos), cassowaries, and big snakes (hunted with spears only). The hunters may be members of a single village or of the whole community … They usually take out with them large numbers of young boys, who are not armed,and do not take part in the actual killing, but who, when the party reaches the hunting ground, spread out in the bush, and so find the animals. While doing this the boys bark like dogs. Sometime dogs are taken instead, but this is unusual, as they have not many dogs.“

Village dogs as pets:

Any of these utilitarian points of view have to be balanced out by references to the affection which clearly exists between man and animals in tribal society – and not just in our pretentious more civilized world. The German institute IWF Wissen und Media GmbH, at Göttingen, holds edited footage of dogs and people taken in the Eipomek Valley from where five dogs were brought to the Kiel University Institut für Haustierkunde, in 1977 (F13). Film no. E 2985 shows (quoted from the Internet) „dogs being searched by children and adults for parasites and fed mouth to mouth with saliva and sugar cane sap“. In film no. E 2770 „dogs were petted (liebkost) like children. They are greeted, hugged and kissed and adressed in baby talk. Pups are reared together with children, so that the soul of the dog strengthens the child’s soul. Dogs are carried like infants in a net.“ (Comments and film editing 1979 by Prof. Dr. I. Eibl – Eibesfeldt) – (F49).

In the Papuan Gulf villages we had to watch people beating their dogs quite frequently: the dogs took it with much whining that extended for considerable time. But I have no hesitation to say that the overwhelming richness in mutual relations of so called primitive people with their domestic animals and the wildlife of their realm is far beyond any means of balanced comprehension or of imitation by our modern urban society if taken as the complex entity it used to be in traditional times. The reader may just look at the following chapter…

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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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