Peace comes to the Pawaia

by Jack Douglas



The Pawaia live in a vast area of dense jungle. They depend on whatever they can find in the jungle, whether it be plant, animal, fish or insect for their food supply. This means that the Pawaia need a large area of jungle in which to find their food.

The Pawaia used to practice polygamy. A man could marry as many women as his wealth or his luck made possible. Brides had to be paid for. Originally payment was made in locally available animals, furs or feathers but more recently money and trade goods have formed part of the bride-price. A man could not marry within his clan therefore interaction with other clans was necessary if he was to find wives either for himself or his sons. Clans kept a careful tally of girls given and received. A girl given to another clan was supposed to guarantee that the clan she was given to would return the favour and supply a bride when needed. That was the theory. In practice the “rules” were not always kept and so wives were often forcibly obtained. This might mean a dawn raid in which the victors would kill all the male members of a clan and take all the women as wives. It is not difficult to imagine how this led to great rivalry and fear among the Pawaia.

Soon after a girl was born her father would begin the arrangements for her marriage. We have seen girls as young as seven or eight years of age being married to old men. One lady told us that she was so young when she was married that her “husband” used to carry her on his shoulders. One old man set off to marry a girl in another area only to be seen back in the village the next day. He was simply too old to climb the track over the mountain so he gave up the idea of getting married again.

Imagine living in such a society. Beware of hunting in another clan’s area of jungle! Beware of not providing a wife when it was demanded! Pity the girl who was dragged off screaming at her “wedding”! And pity the man who had to manage jealous wives! There was no affection let alone love in the relationship between man and wife. The wife was simply part of the deal the clans had made. She was expected to produce food and children for her husband. They lived separately with a dividing wall between the man’s part of the house and the wives’ part. Food was passed to him either over or around the divider. Co-wives were often rivals. One would be the husband’s favourite but he had better not eat more food cooked by her or a piece of firewood, an axe or machete might well be directed at his head by another wife.

Peace ceremonies are a common part of Papua New Guinea culture. The peace tended not to last very long though. Imaginations run freely, apportioning blame, and resentment runs deep. If something bad happens they don’t ask, “Why did this happen?” but, “Who made this happen?” Repayment in kind is demanded. “Payback” is the name of the game.
 To negotiate a peace a mediator must be found. This would be a person related by marriage to both clans. He is the only one who can negotiate without fear for his life. This was a lovely picture we used to explain that there is the only mediator between God and man and he came to make peace for us.

The Pawaia were trapped by their own world view. What a privilege it has been to share with them how God made peace with us, his enemies, through the “peace ceremony” that took place at Calvary! When the Pawaia first understood the good news about God’s forgiveness their faces beamed with smiles from ear to ear. One man expressed it this way, “I can sleep anywhere! I can sleep anywhere!” His life-long fears suddenly melted away and were replaced by a peace and a joy he had never known before. Peace has come to the Pawaia.

You May Also Be Interested In These Articles