Volume 69 1960 > Volume 69, No. 1 > Motu pottery, by Murray Groves, p 2-22
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Packed in sugar bags, a load of clay arrives at Manumanu in a double canoe comprising two lagatoi hulls lashed together.
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ON THE SOUTHERN coast of mainland Papua, between the Netherlands New Guinea border at one extremity and East Cape at the other, manufacture of pottery has been noted among the following peoples, whose location is shown on Map I: the Roro; 1 the Motu; 2 the Koita; 3 the Aroma, at Maopa village; 4 the Mailu; 5 and the Southern Massim, at Wagawaga village. 6

The Motu pottery industry has always overshadowed the others. The Roro traditionally exported some pottery, but not much. 7 Manufacture of pottery among the Koita was ancillary to the Motu industry; the Koita originally learnt the art from the Motu 8 with whom they have lived for some time in close association. 9 The Mailu exported pottery to Aroma villages, and the trade was of some importance; but the available accounts give the impression that the Mailu exported pots neither so far nor in such quantity as the Motu. 10 The people of Wagawaga did not make enough even for their own use, importing the remainder from the island of Tubetube. 11 In contrast the Motu each year exported many thousands of pots over very long distances. Motu pottery traditionally found its way, and still finds its way, into almost every village along the shores of the Papuan Gulf and in the immediate hinterland.

No full description of the Motu pottery industry has yet been published. This paper may help to fill the gap. It is based mainly on observation of manufacturing techniques and marketing procedures over three seasons (1954-5, 1957-8, 1958-9) at Manumanu, a small seaside village of about 250 Motu people, where traditional economic processes still persist almost to the complete exclusion of modern entrepreneurial practices and wage labour. The Motu pottery industry was also observed less systematically at Boera and Porebada, two villages in which modern commerce and wage labour now flourish together with traditional economic processes. In the cluster of villages known collec-

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tively as Hanuabada, where field-work was also undertaken, pottery is no longer manufactured. 12 No other Motu villages were studied. 13 (To locate the villages mentioned above, see Map II.)

Except for the fact that women at Boera and Porebada now make pottery to several entirely novel designs, for which Europeans in Port Moresby have provided a small market, the manufacturing techniques are identical at all three villages. At Porebada and Boera, however, new marketing procedures have partially replaced traditional trading methods.

The most spectacular and extensive manufacture and exchange of pottery among the Motu occur in connection with the institution known as the hiri. 14 Material on the hiri was obtained from direct observation of the following events: three hiri of traditional type from Manumanu (1954, 1957, 1958) ; one hiri of traditional type from Boera (1954) ; one hiri employing a chartered motor vessel, from Boera (1957) ; and an unsuccessful attempt to charter motor vessels for two hiri, one from Boera and one from Porebada, after some thousands of pots had been made for shipment by those vessels (1958).


Motu have never been able entirely to live off the land within the narrow strip of relatively infertile coast that most of them inhabit. Extending for about seventy miles along a barren, sunbaked shore, the Motu domain comprises little more than the beach and the seaside slopes that immediately overlook it, together with some coral reefs, sand-spits and arid islets, in an area which receives the lowest annual rainfall recorded in Papua and New Guinea. 15

Motu land is far less fertile than the other tribal lands surrounding it (see Map II). A few miles inland, behind the coastal hillsides on which the Motu scratch miserable garden plots, richer grasslands watered by the Laloki River sustain the Koita, a predominantly agricultural people who claim that originally they ceded to the Motu the beaches which the latter now inhabit. 16 In rain forests further inland, where the Brown River and the Vanapa River fall from the ranges before they empty westwards into Galley Reach, the Koiari and the Doura peoples clear garden plots which bear fruit and vegetables abundantly, yielding a substantial surplus above local subsistence requirements. Inland from Manumanu, on the fertile plain of the Aroa River, the Gabadi also produce a handsome agricultural surplus.

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Though Motu garden lands mainly consist of arid coastal slopes, some Motu do have access to agricultural lands of superior quality. The people of Manumanu live in a habitat different from that found elsewhere in the Motu domain: they own and cultivate rain-forest clearings on the banks of the Vanapa and Veimauri Rivers. Also, by intermarriage with Koita in recent years, Motu people in Rea Rea, Porebada, Hanuabada and Pari have obtained usufructuary rights in the more productive Koita domain, between the coast and the Laloki River. Nevertheless, the few fully fertile areas to which Motu have access are exceptional; most of their garden land is relatively unproductive.

Traditionally Motu used to grow only one staple tuber, the yam, which they still cultivate. Harvested in April when the wet north-west monsoon is spent, yams begin to rot by November or December when the rains return. Even when, rarely, they produce a surplus of yams, Motu must distribute them at feasts before the dry season ends, for they will keep no longer. Bananas, which have traditionally constituted the principal subsidiary crop of the Motu, bear fruit throughout the year, but Motu lands never yield bananas in sufficient quantity to provide by themselves a substitute for yams in the months of the monsoon when yams are no longer available. Manioc, a hardy plant which matures in any season, nowadays supplements the Motu diet throughout the year, but not in sufficient quantity to ensure a subsistence in the absence of yams. Thus even when the elements are kind and the yam crop is successful, Motu lands do not yield an adequate staple for the wet season.

Frequently the elements are hostile and the yam crop fails entirely, leaving the Motu short of food the whole year round: in the years for which we have records famine has been endemic among the Motu. At Boera, Porebada and Hanuabada, situated at the feet of parched seaside hills, famine usually follows drought; at Manumanu, situated on lowlying land at the mouth of a large river estuary, famine usually follows flood.

Lacking adequate means of subsistence within their own domain, Motu have traditionally sought to obtain a staple elsewhere, by trading locally at all times of the year and by voyaging overseas once every year.

With their immediate neighbours—Gabadi, Doura, Koita and Koiari—they regularly trade fish and crabs for tubers and bananas, but the fish trade alone cannot guarantee them a regular supply of staple food. On the one hand, a large catch quickly causes a glut on the local market, setting limits to the quantity of staple available in exchange; and fish being perishable, the surplus cannot be transported to more distant markets. On the other hand, people cannot count on good catches whenever they need them, for though fish run in season at Manumanu they also run to their own rule. Lacking dependable primary resources adequate to their needs, the Motu have founded their trading system on manufactured goods, especially pottery.

While neighbouring peoples in order to subsist have counted on their gardens to yield adequate fruit in successive seasons, manufacture of pottery has traditionally freed the Motu from subservience to soil and season. Pottery is durable and can be stored against adversity; it is portable over long distances; its ingredients are available in - 8 unlimited quantities; its manufacture need not wait upon the weather; and throughout Papua it is widely and continually in demand for cooking and for carrying water. Regularly each year the Motu manufacture great quantities of it which they distribute in exchange for foodstuffs over a trading network more extensive than any other yet reported from Papua and New Guinea, with the possible exception of the kula network linking the Trobriand Islanders and their neighbours. 17

Annually in the hiri Motu at Manumanu still make spectacular voyages across the Gulf of Papua, visiting the villages of the Erema people to exchange pottery for sago which they then use as their staple food during the season of the north-west monsoon.

They also distribute substantial quantities of pottery in other ways to other people at other times of the year. Before setting out on the hiri they take loads of pots by canoe up the Aroa River to exchange them for Gabadi yams and bananas, thus they ensure a food supply to sustain the hiri crews on their westward voyage and to feed the women of the village while their men are away in the west. Throughout the year they take smaller supplies of pottery on foot or by canoe to affines or trading partners in Gabadi, Doura and Koita villages, again obtaining foodstuffs in return. When Motu women marry Doura, Koita or Koiari men, the bundle of domestic effects that the bride takes with her as a dowry always includes at least several dozen cooking pots or water vessels. Traders from other areas also call at Motu villages to purchase pottery. The annual return visits of the Erema people, following the Motu hiri, have been described by F. E. Williams. 18 They do not come primarily for pottery, but sometimes they do take pottery back with them. Mekeo, Maiva, Doura and Gabadi purchase pottery at Motu villages when they come east with cargoes of foodstuffs.

The immediate recipients of Motu pottery themselves distribute it even further afield: from Doura, Gabadi and Erema villages it travels inland, and from Erema villages it also travels further west along the coast of the Papuan Gulf.


Though it was not possible to make a complete count of all pottery manufactured by the Motu between 1954 and 1959, nor to list all the transactions in which pottery was traded, a summary of the relevant data recorded in the course of three field trips among the Motu during that period may provide some idea of the Motu pottery industry's continued importance.

In September and October, 1954, when the people of Manumanu were mainly engaged in preparing new gardens, individual women made small quantities of pottery whenever they had time to spare. Some women on foot took their pots, three or four at a time, into Gabadi villages to exchange them for taitu (a variety of yam). Other women stored their new pots until they had enough to justify a canoe trip into the Gabadi villages. On 10th October eight double canoes rigged as - 9 houseboats, with deck-shelters of nipa palm, set out westwards to enter the Aroa River and transport pots upriver to Gabadi villages. Altogether over 90 people went on this excursion, taking with them several hundred pots. Each pot of medium size fetched 50 taitu. 1954 was a good year at Manumanu, and food was plentiful ; but nevertheless the villagers wished to obtain seed taitu from the Gabadi because they consider Gabadi tubers superior to their own.

In mid-November, 1954, when the new gardens had been planted, preparations for the hiri began to absorb all of the villagers' time and attention. For several weeks every married woman made a batch of at least three or four pots each day, while every day the men worked on their two small trading vessels (hakona, vessels with only two or three hulls which carry a deck-house superstructure but are built in accordance with a less onerous ritual regimen than that prescribed for a true lagatoi). The vessels sailed in the first week of December with a load of approximately 1,000 pots distributed between them.

In December, 1954, the people of Porebada hired a copra scow to carry pots west and to bring back sago. They took away several thousand pots. The people of Boera that year sent on the hiri two vessels of traditional type, one hakona with two dug-out hulls and one lagatoi with four hulls. The exact number of pots exported by Boera was not recorded, but allowing for an average of about 300 pots per dug-out they probably took between 1,500 and 2,000. The Koita people of Roku and Koderika villages also sent pottery west in 1954, but detailed particulars were not obtained.

After the loss at sea of a hakona, its entire cargo and the life of an Erema passenger, in December, 1954, the people of Manumanu did not undertake any hiri in 1955 or 1956. Porebada and Boera chartered scows to take pottery west in 1956 and 1957, but no details are available.

The people of Manumanu did not take any pottery up the Aroa River by houseboat in 1957, but individual women took a few pots overland to Gabadi villages. In October and November several large canoes from Boera and Porebada were encountered at the mouth of the Aroa River, on their way upstream with loads of pottery to exchange for Gabadi vegetables.

Manumanu sent two double-hulled hakona west in 1957. In October small parties, usually comprising several members of a single household with one or two close kin, called at ReaRea on their return trips from visits to kin further east, or else made special trips to ReaRea, in order to dig clay, which Manumanu lacks. For some weeks in late October and early November the village women made pots every day while the men built their two hakona. The vessels sailed in late November with a total of over 900 pots.

Altogether five villages—four Motu and one Koita—sponsored hiri in 1957. In addition to Manumanu's two hakona, two similar vessels comprising four and three hulls respectively left from ReaRea together with two puapua, which are mere double canoes without any special hiri superstructure. Two further puapua left from Kido. Boera sent a scow carrying 3,200 pots and Porebada also sent a scow. Those ten vessels must have unloaded a total of almost 10,000 pots at Erema villages.

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In 1957 the arrival of Boera's pottery at Orokolo, and the trading activities of the Manumanu hakona crews at Uamai, were directly observed. Erema informants were also interviewed. It was evident that there was still a strong demand for Motu pottery among the Erema, who said that although aluminium pots and pans are cheap and durable they do not give food the flavour that Motu pottery bestows. Also, while they can obtain cooking utensils in exchange for sago the Erema people's cash resources may be put to other uses.

In December, 1958, Manumanu sent west a true lagatoi, built in accordance with all of the traditional ritual requirements. In its four hulls and on deck it carried 1,100 pots, made from clay dug at ReaRea by the men of the lagatoi crew, in accordance with a rule which will be expounded later. In the same year Porebada and Boera each attempted to charter a scow to transport pottery, but because the shipping company unaccountably doubled the usual charter fee neither village was able to raise a sufficient sum of money to secure the charter. Boera had 3,000 pots in readiness. Up to March, 1959, they had found no satisfactory way for marketing the pots, for which there was no local demand. Desperately short of food, despite the fact that half of the adult male population was at work for wages in Port Moresby, the people of Boera were still trying to find a means of shipping the pots to Erema when the field-work on which this article is based came to an end. The eventual result of their efforts is not known.


The women of Manumanu make four kinds of pot: uro, widemouthed spherical cooking pots measuring from about ten to sixteen inches in diameter; hodu, narrow-necked spherical water vessels from about twelve to eighteen inches in diameter; nau, shallow open dishes, circular in shape, from about twelve to twenty inches in diameter; and tohe, large open-mouthed spherical pots shaped exactly like uro, but several times their size, used for storing compressed sago. Barton recorded that Motu women made pots in seven shapes or sizes, each with its own name 19; but between 1954 and 1959, in the course of three field trips to Manumanu, only the four varieties named above were noted.

Uro are terracotta cooking vessels, shaped from a body-mixture of clay, sand and water by a combination of the hand-moulding and the paddle-and-anvil techniques, 20 then sun-dried and fired. By their appearance it seems likely that nau are made from an identical mixture by the same process. Hodu are treated on their outer surface to render them impermeable, and the treatment gives them a slight lustre; but the method was not observed.

Uro vastly outnumber the other three varieties of pot manufactured at Manumanu. They are the standard export product, though small quantities of the other three varieties are also exported. In three seasons of field work at Manumanu it was possible to observe in - 11 full the manufacture of several hundred uro, for in those three seasons many thousands were made; but if any of the other three varieties was made in that time, its manufacture escaped attention. It must therefore be understood that the following account of the manufacturing process at Manumanu refers only to the manufacture of uro.


Lacking deposits on their own land, the people of Manumanu dig clay when they need it at a site near the beach between ReaRea and Papa, some fifteen miles away (see Map II).

Anchoring there on their way back from a visit to kin or trade partners further east at Porebada or Hanuabada, individuals may dig clay at any time of year, in order to make pottery for their own domestic use, for exchange with their Doura and Gabadi neighbours, or for a hiri if they propose to sail in a puapua or a hakona. On those occasions no special rules govern access to the clay; the arrangements are a matter of individual convenience. For a hiri in which they propose to use a true lagatoi, 21 however, custom prescribes that only members of the vessel's crew may fetch clay. Improvising a double canoe (Plate I) from two of the dug-out hulls which they propose to incorporate in their lagatoi, they sail together to the clay deposits where each of them digs clay for the women of his own household or for other women whose pots he proposes to take on the hiri (see section VIII, below). The women themselves dig clay on other occasions, but not for a lagatoi expedition.

Though each woman in a household makes her own pots with her own trade mark on them, the women of a household often share a single supply of clay. They store it under the house until it is needed when, emptying it from the sugar bags or copra sacks in which it was imported, they tip it on to a long shallow wooden trough formed by splitting the hollowed side away from a dug-out canoe that is no longer seaworthy. Working singly sometimes, but more often together in a group, the women of the household sit out in the street at the edge of their trough and with their fingers break the clay into progressively smaller fragments, removing stones and grass and other impurities from it (Plate II). The clay remains in the trough until it is used. In the evening, when they cease to work at it, the women push the trough under the house to protect it from weather, dragging it out into the street again when they resume work next day.

When the clay is sufficiently fine and free from impurity, each woman mixes her own pug of clay, sand and water, kneading it into a - 12 spherical lump. She then squashes this sphere into a flatter shape and presses a cavity into its upper surface. (In Plate III the woman on the right is kneading a pug.)

Throughout the sifting and kneading procedures the mixture remains in the trough. When the kneading is complete, however, the potter takes her flattened and hollowed sphere of pug from the trough and places it on the circular base of a broken pot, which forms a cradle for it. (In Plate IV, right foreground, a newly kneaded sphere of pug lies in its cradle.)

There it awaits the next process, hand moulding, which must begin soon while the body is still wet and therefore plastic. When she has kneaded and set aside two or three shaped pugs, the potter immediately begins to mould them, one at a time, drawing clay from the central cavity to build up the walls of the pot, then shaping a slightly flared rim around a wide circular mouth. (In Plate IV the potter is completing the hand-moulding of one pot, while in Plate V she has laid that pot aside and is beginning to mould another.)

In the hand-moulding stage the potter leaves the walls of her pot roughly fashioned, but she takes great care to form the mouth into a circle as nearly perfect as possible before she sets the pot aside to await the next stage of manufacture. Working from the bottom upwards in the first shaping of the pot while it is in its cradle, Manumanu women subsequently work outwards from the mouth in the final shaping, using the circular rim as a guide to ensure that the rest of the pot is quite spherical.

After hand-moulding, the pot has straight walls ; it is cylindrical rather than spherical. To produce its final spherical shape the potter uses a smooth round stone anvil about four inches in diameter, cupped in the palm of her hand, and a small wooden paddle with a blade about three inches wide and six inches long, its surface incised to give it purchase. Holding the anvil against the wall of the pot on the inside, she pushes gently outwards, at the same time beating the wall against the anvil with her paddle. By moving the anvil around the inside of the pot while beating against it from the outside, she slowly and carefully extends and rounds the walls of the pot. Often she deliberately pokes a substantial breach in the wall, extends one lip of the opening over the other, and then heals the breach by beating the over-lapping lips together with paddle and anvil, thus eliminating inequalities of shape and thickness 22 (Plate VII). When satisfied that the pot is perfectly spherical, she wets another finer paddle liberally and slides it over the outer surface to ensure a smooth finish, dissolving the incised patterns imposed by the coarser paddle.

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During the hand-moulding process and in the early stages of the paddle-and-anvil process the pot remains in its cradle on the ground between the feet of the potter, who sits cross-legged (Plates IV, V and VI). When using paddle and anvil to give the walls and base of the pot their final shaping the potter removes the pot from its cradle and holds it on her lap (Plate VII).

Finally shaped, the pots remain in the sun to dry (Plate VIII). Before laying a pot out to dry, the potters cut a trade mark on its rim. Traditionally they used simple geometric figures as trade marks, but now they use their initials.

In the evenings women fire their pots either three or five at a time, side by side on a bed of dry softwood tinder which burns quickly but fiercely. Around and over the pots, enclosing them entirely, they stack further sticks of tinder (Plate IX). Sometimes they add dry coconut fronds. Then they set the structure alight. If one part of the blazing cage burns out too quickly, or for some other reason falls away, the women add further pieces of tinder to close the gap. Too hot to be closely approached, the fire forces them back several yards from it while it burns. Therefore they use two long poles, one in each hand, to place additional pieces of tinder on the flames.

The intense heat of the fire lasts for only a few minutes. The tinder soon burns to ash and the flames die away, but the pots retain their heat in the ashes. By means of the two long poles with which they add tinder to the fire, the women lift the fired pots from their bed of ashes and stand them on the ground, some yards from the fireplace, where they brush a fluid over them, for what purpose I do not know.

Firing is sometimes unsuccessful. Any weakness in the structure of the pot—an impurity in the mixture, for example, or an inconsistency in the thickness of the wall—causes it to crack or break explosively when fired. While pots are in the fire their makers listen apprehensively for the explosive reports that signal failure.

Successfully fired, the pots are ready for use or distribution. Each woman stores her own in a corner of her house until she needs them.


After the preceding two sections of this paper (sections IV and V) had been drafted they were sent to Dr. A. V. G. Price of Port Moresby, who first translated them into Motu and then discussed them with a group of informants (Moi Higo, his wife Kaira Daro, and his classificatory sister Daure Ua) at Boera village. Dr. Price recorded in Motu his informants' comments on the manuscript, 23 and in English translation 24 the resulting text reads as follows:

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“[Generally speaking] a woman digs her own clay, but because at Manumanu they have no clay, they undertake an expedition to collect clay. For this expedition they make a double canoe (irai) by tying two dug-outs (asi) together, then the members of the expedition travel to [a place] between Rea Rea and Papa, about fifteen miles from Manumanu. Those [pots for which they collect clay in this special double canoe] are pots for the hiri. Sometimes also they obtain a little clay on [casual] return voyages from Hanuabada and Porebada.

“But at Boera [where clay is locally available] each woman fetches clay as she pleases. This is a means of assisting her household, because there are [usually] some [people] seeking pottery at Boera, bartering coconuts, bananas or other things to pay for the pottery. [In other words, individual women at Boera make pottery at any time, to build up stocks which they barter for foodstuffs carried by passing canoes.]

“It is different, however, on the occasion of a hiri. [Then] the procedure is as follows. A man who wishes to promote a trading vessel (lagatoi ikarana) cooks food, those who wish to [join the] hiri partake of that food, and then the people of the village know that they are going to build a trading vessel (lagatoi). [To meet the need] for pottery (uro) all the women of the village make [their own] pots, but when they collect clay for hiri pottery it must all be of one kind, [one colour]. At Boera the method of digging clay is governed by no ritual prescriptions ; people who are sleepy [i.e. not alert and tense, as they must be when engaged in ritual enterprises] may also fetch it. But at Manumanu only men may dig clay for the manufacture of hiri pottery.

“[The women] bring the clay back to the village in a sack (puse) or a string-bag (kiapa), then empty it on to a plank to dry in the sun (dina ese baine raraia, “the sun will shine on it”) as [they do] at Manumanu. At Boera each woman has her own [clay] but at Manumanu women [may] share a single [supply]. After fetching the clay they empty it on to a wooden working trough (reirei) for it to dry. Those working troughs are made from the [curved] planks (reirei) of old trading-vessel hulls (asi). When the clay has dried, they break it up.

“In all, the products which they manufacture are as follows (karakara gaudia iboudiai bini) : 1. Keikei, uro, tohe. [Cooking pots and sago storage pots]. 2. Hoduhodu, hoduhodu ma badana, vatakwabu. [Water vessels]. 3. Nau kibo, nau pore, nudu hegara, nau bara. [Open dishes]. 4. Kibo. [Basins]. 5. Ituru. [A small basin with legs, for holding tattoo dye]. If the rims of uro or hodu are broken, their names without rims are: (a) Ikoni, with which women draw salt water for [mixing with] clay ; (b) Magobi, in which they boil Araara [a mangrove bark - 15 used in making a red dye] for painting the pots at the time of firing.

“The clay is broken up, stones are removed and [any other] impurities are thrown away, until only pure clay remains. [At Boera] in the evening after work, the working trough is turned over, [or] sometimes it is covered with [another] plank, but at Manumanu they pull the working trough in under the house. Next morning they uncover it again, or pull it out [from under the house].

“When the clay is entirely free from impurity then [the potter] wets it with salt water. She brings the salt water in a pot (uro) called ikonitadi, puts it in readiness beside the clay, then wets [the clay] with it. Then she leaves it for a short time—up to an hour approximately—while she fetches sand. First brushing away the surface of the ground (tano kopina, in this case the surface sand on the beach), she takes sand in a sack or a broken pot (ataga), then puts it down beside the clay. One woman on her own behalf wets a great deal of clay—enough for ten pots (uro)—at one time; then she separates a little clay from the heap, at the end of the working trough, with some sand underneath and some on top of the clay, so that the clay may enfold (koua, “enclose”) the sand. Then she kneads it hard (baine kuia kunukakunuka) until it is really firm (auka herea). Eventually she kneads it into a spherical shape.

“The working materials—the materials with which she manufactures [her pots]—are merely clay, salt-water and sand; from the one mixture she makes all of her products: a cooking pot (uro), a water vessel (hodu), a sago storage pot (tohe), a small cooking pot (keikei), an open dish (nau), or anything else that she may wish [to make].

“She makes a spherical pug (taba) on the working bench, where it remains [while she kneads another]. Then [returning to the first pug] she pats it with her hand into a [completely] spherical shape, after which she puts in into the base of an old pot (raga). After that she hammers the upper part flat; her hand pounds it flat. Where she has flattened it she makes a depression; with her fist she presses a cavity, about four inches [in diameter] at its mouth (literally “the entrance to the cavity is about four inches”, dogudogu be iduarana be inches hani hegeregerena) and between two and three inches deep, except that in the case of a sago pot (tohe) it will be larger, in proportion to [the size of] the pug, while [for] a keikei [i.e. a small cooking pot] it will be very small, again in proportion to [the size of] the pug. Then she works with both hands, one on the outside and one reaching down inside; from inside the rounded pug she pushes up (tasea dae) clay, while at the same time her [other] hand on the outside moves upwards; then she turns the pug around and again pushes [more clay] out [of the cavity]; [repeatedly] she turns it and pushes, turns it and pushes.

“Thus the outer wall of the pot builds up (e vara dae), [becoming] now cylindrical rather than spherical. Then with one hand inside, she smooths the outer surface with her other hand (pipitaia dae, literally “wipes it up cleanly with her forefinger”), until all parts [of the wall] are smooth. Then she forms the rim evenly, pressing it down with her thumb and moving her thumb around the inside of it, [to make it] - 16 entirely even, after which she works it between her thumb and finger in order to fashion and complete the mouth. The mouth is truly symmetrical (heiniheini momokani).

“Up to this stage the work is done with hands alone. [The potter] put her pot out in the sun for about an hour ; and she makes quite a lot [of pots]—approximately twenty—at the one time.

“When she takes a pot from the [cradle formed by an old] potsherd (raga), she lifts it out and puts in on her lap.

“She [then] takes a stone in her hand. In her travels she looks for such a stone; and when she finds a good one she takes great care of it, so that [eventually] her daughter or her grand-daughter may inherit it (abia hanai). [There are] three types of potter's stones [which] differ from each other slightly. [There is] a stone for [making] cooking pots (uro); this is big and round, about three or four inches [in diameter], and smooth. [There is] a stone for [making] water vessels (hodu); neither very long nor very wide, these differ, but [they are all] rather elongated so that they may enter the [narrow necks of] water vessels. [There is] a stone for [making] dishes (nau); these are rather flat ; some are big and some are small, in proportion to the dish [to be manufactured].

“[The potter] also uses a wooden paddle (iatuatu). These are of three kinds. [One is called] rahurahu. The woman uses this one first, in order to beat the walls of the pot. A second is hahedikadika, used to give the pot its final shape. A third is hahenamonamo, used to smooth [the surface of] the pot at the end of the [modelling] process. The first is a piece of wood between nine and ten inches long, and between three and four inches wide, with the appearance of a little canoe paddle (hodehode). The second is similar, but is cut with an incised face. The third has a similar shape, but it is an implement for smoothing the surface [of the pot, not for shaping the pot].

“With the pot on her thigh [the potter] takes the stone, putting it in her left hand, and inserts it inside the pot. She takes the paddle (iatuatu) in her right hand, then at once hits and presses on the wall of the pot; when both [the paddle and the anvil] are in correct position, they strike the wall of the pot simultaneously; then the woman works on [the wall of the pot] repeatedly, shaping [the pot] while revolving it (atua hegirohegiro), until its base is full and rounded and all parts of it are absolutely even and uniform. That is [the function of] the first paddle.

“After that [the potter] takes the hahedikadika. Now she beats the entire wall of the pot again, the hahedikadika [on the outside] and the stone anvil on the inside making contact [with the wall] simultaneously. By that [process] it [i.e. the wall of the pot] is [made] consistent [in texture] and perfectly regular in shape.

“Then the potter takes the hahenamonamo and [with it] delicately pats (atua magimagi) [the pot]; she then puts the hahenamonamo paddle aside and wipes [the pot] carefully with her hands, finally putting it under the house for the breeze to blow over it. After the pot has been turned over [on its mouth, in order to dry the base], when it is quite dry [on the outer surface], she turns it over on to its side to let - 17 the breeze blow upon its mouth and penetrate inside it. She [later] takes it out [from under the house], to dry in the sun for a short time, up to an hour; she fetches (in the text it is bae abia, “they fetch”) salt water—one coconut shell of salt water—and she wipes [her pots] with her hand in order to wet them a little, but not much, [and then] she tears off [dry] coconut fronds [from their stems], throws them over [the pots], sets fire to them, and burns them up. The heat is intense, and in no time they burn away. Then she removes [the pots] to the place in which she has assembled the [dry] stems [of the coconut leaves from which she earlier stripped the fronds]. She lays the pots carefully down, all together in one place. Then she leans against them a great number of sticks [i.e. the dry coconut-leaf stems] in readiness [for the firing. She also stacks] some on top, and then she adds still more. Then she sets coconut fronds alight and puts them down beside the sticks in the fireplace. The sticks burst into flame.

“That fire of [coconut] sticks bakes the pots. But some of the sticks beside the pots fall to the ground as they burn; then the woman takes up two long poles, one in each hand. With these implements, called igeme, she picks up the fallen sticks, [and also] substitutes fresh sticks to replace those which have burnt out. From the top [of the heap] she again takes some [further] sticks, [and] sets them down [on the fire], until the fire has completely baked each pot.

“The potter dips some araara [a mangrove bark which produces a red dye] in water, then the woman or girl who is helping her dabs the newly fired pots with the fluid in which the araara was dipped.

“Some pots break in the fire, because of errors [in manufacture]: rain wets them, or different clays [are mixed together], or the sun does not shine properly [to dry them adequately], or in places the walls are not of uniform thickness (hegeregere, “regular”). But in breaking they make no noise; there is no noise whatsoever.

“[When] the job of firing is entirely finished, [the potter] returns her pots to a cool place. After that, cooking pots (uro) and dishes (nau) are left [without further attention], but the potter gives water vessels (hodu) further treatment. She takes the leaves of plants and rubs the water-vessels [with them]. She rubs them with [the leaves of] different plants: pawpaw leaves, the leaves of trees, and the leaves of kasipolo (Passiflora); and then the job is finished.

“The reason for this rubbing is so that water will not leak out. [The potter] rubs strenuously (masemase). If water does leak out, the potter places the water vessel on the fire in her house, the fire burns it for fifteen minutes, then the woman puts water in the vessel and the vessel takes up the water; after that water should not leak through again. If it does leak again, then she repeats the process until the vessel is [finally] impermeable (manada—“smooth”, “gentle”, “obedient”, “tempered”).

“Sometimes [a potter] takes mangrove bark and boils it in water to make a dye, which is a very bright red. At the time of firing she splashes cooking pots, water vessels and all kinds of pottery with the liquid dye, in the manner we have [already] described, for one purpose: [namely] in order thereby to brighten the pots (ihahairailaidia—“to - 18 adorn them with it”), which as a result becomes red (kakakaka) and radiant (kimorekimore).

“In all of this work there is no prohibition (taravatu); there is no ritual prescription (helaga) whatsoever.”.

This text was intended to provide a commentary on the account of Motu pottery manufacture presented in sections IV and V, above.

On several points it supplements the information presented in those earlier sections. It names a greater variety of Motu pottery types than the four observed at Manumanu or the seven listed by Barton. 25 It suggests that three different types of paddle are used at three different stages of the manufacturing process, and that anvils of different size and shape are used for different types of pot. It describes the process by which water-vessels are made watertight. Finally, it indicates that the fluid brushed over the pots after firing is a dye.

On one point it contradicts the earlier account, by insisting that pots which break in firing make no noise. It can nevertheless be stated categorically that at Manumanu defective pots break with an explosive noise when fired; Manumanu women insisted on this fact, and in observing the firing of a great many pots it was noted that the number of explosions always tallied with the number of defective pots in the batch fired. Perhaps pots are made with a different sand, or fired at a different temperature, at Boera?


At Manumanu in 1958 a great proportion of the pots manufactured for the hiri broke in firing. Every evening despondent women offered each other explanations as they took broken pots from the fireplace. Among those explanations were the following:

  • (1) The men did not dig deeply enough for clay. Pressed for time, they took clay from the surface of the deposit, where there are too many impurities.
  • (2) Someone was causing the pots to break by means of sorcery. In 1953, the last occasion on which a great number of pots had broken in firing, it was discovered that a Doura man was harbouring a grievance against Manumanu, and eventually this man acknowledged that he had allowed his anger to ruin the pots. In 1958 another Doura man with whom the people of Manumanu were in dispute came under suspicion. Some women said that they suspected the Koita, but no one could suggest any specific reason for Koita ill-will.

Another possible explanation may be offered: the hiri preparations were running late and therefore women were trying to finish pots at a break-neck pace; they may have been skimping the job. Success requires both care and skill.

Manumanu women do not make pottery until they are about to marry, though earlier they do assist in some of the simpler procedures, such as sifting clay. After marriage they acquire skill slowly, under the tutelage of older women in their husband's household, which is - 19 usually the household of his father and mother for the first year or two of marriage. No further information was obtained about the training of newly-married women in the potter's craft, but it was noted that young brides lost far more pots in firing than older women did.

Several senior women of the village are far more skilled than any others; they mould their pots more speedily and lose far fewer in firing. Only those few old women dare try their hand at really large pots, such as the sago storage pots called tohe, which may be two feet six inches in diameter.

When they have made as many pots as their own household may need, the older experts sometimes make pots for younger relatives. Thus in 1957 Manumanu's most expert potter, after making 20 pots for herself and 24 for a married daughter who lived in the same household, a total of 44 pots for the household, also made pots for the three most recently married younger women among her kin and a further 12 for her sister's daughter-in-law, a mature woman whose own pots had failed that year.

The women of a household may together sift a trough of clay; but after it has been sifted each woman makes her own pots, with the exception of those women who receive pots from the very few elderly experts mentioned above. A pot is associated with the woman who makes it, not with her husband or any other man who takes it to Erema on her behalf in the hiri. Motu speak of pots as the property of women.

Though in most cases women individually make their own pots, they often work together in the one place, gossiping as they work. The married women of a household invariably work together, but sometimes the working group also includes women of a neighbouring household. Occasionally the group may include a kinswoman from some more distant household, but only in special circumstances.


Locally women themselves trade pots, but on the hiri men act as their agents. Most of the pots that married men take on the hiri belong to their wives, while unmarried men take mainly their mother's pots. When pots are assembled for loading, however, men have an opportunity to acknowledge and uphold their special relationships with women of other households by offering to take a pot on the hiri for each of those other women. Such offers are seldom refused. Each man keeps a tally of the pots that he transports on behalf of his kinswomen and the members of each household keep a tally of the pots that men from other households carry on their behalf. The custom is called siaisiai.

Since a man's first obligation on return from the hiri is to provide a bundle of sago for each of the siaisiai pots that he has taken on behalf of kinswomen from other households, the custom provides those other households with an insurance policy against the loss of their own pots in transit. Yet unless some pots are in fact lost in transit, siaisiai arrangements make no difference whatsoever to the number of bundles of sago that each household with a member embarking in the lagatoi - 20 eventually receives for its pots. Siaisiai merely complicates the accounting. A household from which no men are going on the hiri, however, must depend entirely on siaisiai services to obtain a supply of sago. Motu regard the transport of pots to Erema as a service which men provide for women, and men who do not offer the service may be chided by women who think that it is owed to them.

In the months of betrothal, before marriage is finalized, young men are expected to perform many services for their prospective mother-in-law and other prospective affines. Transporting siaisiai pottery is one of those services. It is a service which they are also careful to perform for their sisters. Beyond those two categories of women, to whom men owe a rigid duty, practice is flexible: some men are careful to perform siaisiai services for all women to whom they think they owe any obligation, while other men are careless of their good repute in this matter.

Several cases may be cited to demonstrate the range of siaisiai transactions.

  • (1) In 1957 Household No. 4 at Manumanu consisted of A, his son B who was betrothed but not married, and his daughter-in-law C. A's wife and his married son (C's husband) were both away from the village. B went on the hiri, and took the pots which C made on behalf of the household. In addition to pots from his own household, made by C, B also took twelve siaisiai pots, one on behalf of each of the following: his fiancée; his fiancée's sister; two other women of his fiancée's lineage group (iduhu); his only sister; his classificatory sister (Mo Bro Da); his classificatory brother's (Mo Bro So) wife; his classificatory father's (Fa Bro) wife; an unrelated widow living as a member of his father's brother's household; his classificatory grandmother (Fa Mo Si); that woman's daughter; and the wife of a classificatory father (Fa Mo Bro So) to whose lineage group his own father was maternally filiated in infancy. He recognized as kin four other married women cognates from whom he did not solicit pots; they were a classificatory grandmother (Fa Mo Bro Wi) and her daughter-in-law, a classificatory mother (Mo Si) and the latter's daughter. As a result of recent disputes he and other members of his household were on bad terms with all four. His only other close kinswoman had no pots to spare when he approached her. It is noteworthy that he solicited pots from all four married women of his fiancée's lineage group, and a majority of the women in each of his mother's and his father's lineage groups. He is a young man who always tries to honour his obligations.

C, the only married woman of the household, gave siaisiai pots to the following sixteen men: her father; her two brothers; two classificatory brothers (Fa Bro So); a classificatory sister's (Fa Bro Da) husband; her sister-in-law's (Hu Si) husband; her husband's classificatory father (Fa Bro); her husband's classificatory grandfather (Fa Mo Bro); her husband's Mo Bro; two other men of her husband's mother's natal lineage group; her husband's Fa Bro; and three distant cognates. None of her close male kin embarking on the lagatoi failed to solicit a pot from her.

- vi
POTS FOR THE HIRI, In accordance with an accepted ritual prescription, a youth blesses his pots by brushing a banana leaf over them before loading them on the lagatoi.
- vii
POTTERY FOR USE, Street scene at Manumanu
POTTERY FOR EXPORT, Loading the lagatoi
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  • (2) The householder of Household No. 8, an important elderly man who is leader of his lineage group and is also acknowledged as the most powerful man in the village, took 30 siaisiai pots. He took at least one pot from every one of his married female cognates, together with five pots for the mother of his grandson's (Da So) fiancée and one for the mother of his classificatory grandson's (Bro So So) fiancée. In addition he arranged for six of his male cognates to take a further eight pots on behalf of his grandson's fiancée's mother.
  • (3) No man from Household No. 2 went on the hiri in 1957. Eleven people solicited pots from the householder's wife. They included her brother, who is her only close male cognate. Several of the others were the householder's cognates, including his Fa Bro, his Fa Si So, and his Fa Fa Bro So So. Two pots were taken by the sponsors of the lagatoi, who customarily extend this courtesy to households with no members embarking. Unrelated friends of the householder took several others. The members of this household do not have many kin in the village.

Siaisiai transactions conform to several principles which are characteristic of the Motu kinship system. Firstly, the proportion of any category of kin for whom individuals in fact perform services varies between various categories of kin: siaisiai services are always performed for married sisters, and for prospective mothers-in-law as part of the continuing exchanges which precede a marriage; they are usually performed for parents' sisters, or for the wives of their brothers, and also for the married daughters of parents' siblings; they are sometimes but less often performed for remoter categories of kin. Obligations diminish as genealogical distance increases. Secondly, the number and genealogical range of the kin for whom an individual performs siaisiai services varies between individuals, according to their present mood, their awareness of obligations to repay past debts, or the strength of their ambition to establish new credits. Within the total universe of those whom a man knows to be kin, he can spin the web of contract as widely or as narrowly as his own interests dictate.

It is proposed to publish at some later date a monograph on the hiri, in which siaisiai transactions will be analysed in greater detail. The above examples are offered merely to provide some slight indication of the manner in which men honour their obligations to women and sustain their relationships with them by transporting their pottery across the Gulf of Papua.


This paper is offered as a contribution to Motu ethnography. It attempts merely to place on record a factual account of the Motu pottery industry: of the reasons for which Motu manufacture pottery, the techniques that they employ, and the special social relationships which the industry promotes or utilizes. It is hoped to publish ethnographic accounts of other Motu industries in later issues of this journal.

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  • BELSHAW, Cyril S., 1957. The Great Village. The Economic and Social Welfare of Hanuabada, an Urban Community in Papua. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • GROVES, Murray, PRICE, A. V. G., WALSH, R. J., and KOOPTZOFF, Olga, 1958. “Blood Groups of the Motu and Koita Peoples.” Oceania, 28:222-238.
  • HADDON, Alfred C., 1900. “Studies in the Anthropogeography of British New Guinea.” Geographical Journal, 16:265-291, 414-441.
  • LEWIS, Albert B., 1951. The Melanesians. People of the South Pacific. Chicago, Natural History Museum.
  • LISTER-TURNER, R., and CLARK, J. B. (ed. Percy Chatterton), no date. A Dictionary of the Motu Language of Papua, (2nd ed.). Sydney, Government Printer.
  • MALINOWSKI, Bronislaw, 1915. “The Natives of Mailu: Preliminary Results of the Robert Mond Research Work in British New Guinea.” Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia, 39:494-706.
  • — — 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London, George Routledge & Sons.
  • SAVILLE, W. J. V., 1926. In Unknown New Guinea. London, Seeley Service & Co.
  • SELIGMANN, C. G., 1910. The Melanesians of British New Guinea. Cambridge, University Press.
  • SOLHEIM, Wilhelm G., 1952. “Oceanian Pottery Manufacture.” Journal of East Asiatic Studies, 1, no. 2:1-39.
  • The Resources of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, 1951. Two volumes: Volume 1, text; Volume 2, maps. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Territories.
  • TUETING, Laura Thompson, 1935. Native Trade in Southeast New Guinea. Honolulu, Bishop Museum, Occasional Papers Vol. 11, No. 15.
  • TURNER, W. Y., 1878. “The Ethnology of the Motu.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 7:470-497.
  • WILLIAMS, F. E., 1932. “Trading Voyages from the Gulf of Papua.” Oceania, 3:139-166.
1   Haddon 1900:431; Seligmann 1910:204; Lewis 1951:124-125 (photographs).
2   Turner 1878:489-490; Haddon 1900:431; Seligmann 1910:114; Lewis 1951:125-126.
3   Seligmann 1910:45.
4   Haddon 1900:431; Tueting 1935:28.
5   Seligmann 1910:25 n.; Malinowski 1915:641-643; Saville 1926:143-151; Tueting 1935:28; Lewis 1951:126-127.
6   Seligmann 1910:535.
7   Seligmann 1910:204.
8   Seligmann 1910:45.
9   Groves, Price, Walsh and Kooptzoff 1958:222-230.
10   Malinowski 1915:622; Saville 1926:151, 161.
11   Seligmann 1910:535.
12   Belshaw 1957:65
13   Grateful acknowledgement is made to the University of Melbourne, the Services Canteens Trust Fund of Australia, and the Australian National University, who successively financed the field-work upon which this paper is based. Map I was drawn by Mr. W. Ambrose, Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland, to whom I am grateful. Map II was drawn in the Geography Department at the Australian National University by Mr. H. E. Gunther, to whom I also give thanks.
14   Barton, in Seligmann 1910:96-120.
15   The Resources of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea: 49.
16   Groves, Price, Walsh and Kooptzoff 1958:222.
17   Malinowski 1922.
18   Williams 1932.
19   Seligmann 1910:114 n.
20   These techniques are defined and their distribution is discussed in Solheim 1952.
21   Motu words and place names are here spelt according to the orthography recommended by Lister-Turner and Clark, but following the pronunciation now current in the Hanuabada village cluster. It is not always easy for an untrained ear to distinguish between Motu consonants, but nowadays Hanuabadans undoubtedly say lagatoi though Barton and Seligmann spelt the word lakatoi. Similar differences occur in the spelling of place names. Gairi (Map II) is Seligmann's Kaile; Gabagaba is his Kapakapa; ReaRea is his LeaLea. The spelling employed in this paper is not based merely on the way words sound nowadays in Hanuabada, but also on the spelling that the Motu themselves currently employ in their publications, for in such matters Hanuabadan fashions are in the ascendant.
22   Turner 1878:489 noted that Motu made pots “in two pieces, one being the body, the other the mouth”. His authority on this point has subsequently been accepted by Lewis 1951:126. Nowadays Motu never make pots in two pieces, and they deny that their forbears ever did so. Observing pots at the stage when the potter was healing a breach in the wall, Turner may have falsely concluded that she was joining two separate pieces together. Haddon 1900:431 specially noted that Motu made pots from a single lump of clay.
23   I owe a great debt to Dr. Price, and must thank him here, for the painstaking work that he has done at my request on this and many other occasions. I also thank Moi Higo, Kaira Daro and Daure Ua for their assistance.
24   I am myself responsible for the English translation. The Motu text will be deposited eventually in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, together with all my other Motu texts. In translating this text I have attempted to find an equivalent for each idea, so to speak, but not for each word. Both with technical terms, and in cases where I have taken substantial liberties with a Motu word or phrase, the orginal Motu is given in round brackets. Between square brackets I have included words, phrases and sentences for which there is no equivalent in the orginal text, in order to make the meaning clearer. I have also taken liberties with that the standard grammar regards as the future tense in Motu which is widely used in the third person—baine abia, bae abia—where we use the present tense, in order to describe a customary procedure.
25   Seligmann 1910:114 n.