Alice’s Story

We have an interesting evening planned back at the Ambua Lodge

We have befriended a wonderful Huli woman by the name of Alice who looks after the restaurant. She is a large woman with an infectious smile. We all immediately warm to her.png8 Alice Ambua

She is probably around forty, although we have no way of knowing and nor does she. Most Hulis have no idea how old they are as there were no records kept until recently.

What makes her particularly interesting is that she divorced her husband, something most Huli women are not able to do, and this evening she has agreed to tell us her story.

Men and women live in separate huts. The children live with the women until they reach age eight and then the boys go and live with the men, and learn about the jobs men have to do. The girls stay with the women and learn that their lives are going to be hell.

Traditionally meeting men has been extremely difficult. There was no transport and eligible young men can live miles away. The main way to meet people was, and still is, at the Sing Sings and at special celebrations where members of other clans would make the long journey to attend. There you have the opportunity to meet, talk and even dance with other people. If you like someone you try to see them again.

But meeting men while living under the watchful eyes of your mother, is difficult. Alice laughs as she explains the various devious ways of meeting men. In the old days the men would creep up to the women’s hut and throw stones at it or make some other previously agreed noise and the girl would try and slip out of the hut. Now they just use cell phones, and hope the mother isn’t listening.

When the man has chosen his wife he has to seek the approval of both his and her family. A price is agreed. Thirty pigs usually gets the wife, and one more gets the consent of the mother. She is easily bought. Then the wedding is set. Actually they don’t have weddings, they have exchanges. The two families meet, the groom’s family stakes out the thirty one pigs in a field. The wife’s family arrives, doesn’t actually stake out their daughter but does count the pigs, makes sure they are nice big ones as agreed, and then hands over their daughter. The deal is done. What could be easier.

As Alice says “We don’t have expensive rings as you do. Just pigs”

But from this point on the woman may as well be just another pig. Alice explains “We live with the pigs and the men treat us as pigs”

First things first, though. And that of course would be sex. It is a little complicated because the women don’t live with the men. The wife moves in with the husband’s mother, other female members of the family, and the pigs. The bride is usually a virgin. It is the mother in laws job to tell the bride about sex. How’s that for one of life’s difficult moments!

There are two huts on a family’s plot of land. One houses the men and the other houses the women. The women are not allowed to enter the men’s hut, and the men don’t go in the women’s hut. So there is nowhere to have sex other than outside. Alice tells us that when she got married, like most young girls, she was extremely embarrassed about having sex. She told her husband he had to choose some place on their land that was private. He had to find somewhere away from the huts that was well hidden by bushes. They agreed to meet at lunch time when the others would be eating. At the agreed time she would lead some pigs over to that spot so no one would realise what was happening, tie them up and disappear into the bushes to join him. Alice may have wanted privacy, but I am sure the entire family was waiting for the bride to lead her pigs over to some bushes.

The Huli’s believe that if men come into contact with women’s blood, it will sap all their strength. Consequently men are forbidden to have sex with a woman when she is having her period. So as you might imagine everyone, especially the husband, keeps careful track of the woman’s cycle. For those four days they cannot have sex, but on the fifth day they go at it like rabbits in the hope of conceiving.

Once the woman misses her period the man is again forbidden to have sex with her, this time until after the baby is born. So often, after just a few months of marriage the wife is off limits to the husband. Now the couple aren’t living together, aren’t eating together and aren’t having sex together. I may be a gay man, but even I can see that this is not going to work. Before long the husband’s eye will start to wander and it will be followed by another part of his anatomy.

The husband is allowed to marry again, and if he has thirty pigs he will often do so. But he is careful to make sure the menstrual cycle of his second wife is different from his first, so that sex is always available. The second wife is expected to live with the first wife in the women’s hut. What’s wrong with these people. That is not going to work either.

And then there is the pig thing. At market a large pig can fetch $1,500. That’s a lot of money. It also means, if you do the maths, that the husband has paid something like $45,000 for his wife. And he doesn’t get to live with her, eat with her, or have sex with her when he wants. That’s not a good deal. No wonder he expects her to look after the garden (which is several acres) the pigs and the children. He may as well get some return for all that money. But should he really be asking wife # 1 to be looking after the pigs when he is trying to buy a second wife?

She is responsible, not only for raising the pigs, but also for killing them for a big feast or celebration. Hubby should have thought this through. If wifey loves her husband she will come up with all sorts of celebrations and kill as many pigs as she can, to stop her husband from accumulating them.

If, on the other hand, wifey is not too fond of hubby and can’t wait for him to get wife number two, she will make sure the pigs are big and fat, and breeding like rabbits. If he is smart, which at this point is seriously in doubt, he will also notice a marked decline in the number of celebrations they are having. So, gentlemen, please remember: Never, ever underestimate your wife. And have someone else look after your pigs

At this point Alice’s story gets personal. Her husband beat her, which is not unusual amongst the Huli tribe. She has a big black semi circle under one eye. It is a tattoo. She tattooed herself there to disguise the black eyes she frequently had.

It took several years, but eventually she realised that she couldn’t go on. But in order to get divorced she would have to pay back the thirty pigs her husband had paid for her. This seemed impossible as women own nothing. But Alice was determined and desperate. She secretly started to save. She made trinkets to sell to tourists. She worked hard to grow extra crops that she could sell at the market. It took a long time but she started to accumulate a few pigs. But even with the help of her family and friends she could only accumulate twenty five pigs, and those were small and not equal to the ones the husband paid for her.

The goal of thirty pigs seemed impossible. She told her family that she couldn’t go on. She was going to kill herself.

In an act of desperation she went to the local fortune teller and asked for his help. But as Colette discovered, the fortune teller wanted paying up front. Her family scraped together what money they had and paid the fortune teller. He cast a spell on the husband so that he would miscount the pigs. OK, so you need to suspend your disbelief here. It’s Alice’s life and Alice’s story and Alice is here to tell it, so it must be true.

As instructed by the fortune teller, Alice buried a charm in the ground where the twenty five pigs were to be staked out. She waited for her husband to count them and held her breath. He counted thirty and made no comment of the fact that some of them were on the small side. Either this was a Huli of very little brain who was mathematically challenged or the spell worked. Whatever the reason, the result was the same. Alice was free.

But was she?

She now had to survive with a child, no husband and no land. Again her family gathered round and came to her rescue. They generously gave her a piece of their land and Alice became a land owner. If a woman can’t own pigs, you can imagine how people viewed her as a land owner. But under her care, the garden thrived and other female members of her family joined her

Alice was making a life for herself. But she wanted more.

She saw there was a new world out there. She saw women had jobs. They weren’t just raising pigs.

Alice wanted to be a part of it. She wanted a paycheck.

So today Alice has a job. She leaves her plot of land everyday and goes to work. The women living with her work the fields while she brings back money for them all. Her daughter goes to school which is expensive in PNG. And thanks to Alice, there are now ten people living off her plot of land. She even owns two pigs.

And if you like your story to have a happy ending, then you are in luck. Alice has met a man from another tribe. They are in love. He respects her and treats her as an equal. They are getting married in two days time. He doesn’t have to buy her, she is giving herself to him. She has built another hut on their land and the two of them are going to live together.

Now that’s fabulous, and the Fabulosity Meter agrees.

Tomorrow we will get to see her land


This entry was posted in Papua New Guinea, PNG and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Alice’s Story

  1. Eric says:

    totally art house/sundance film festival movie material. you should write it!!!

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