Volume 91 1982 > Volume 91, No. 3 > Samo initiation: its context and meaning, by R. D. Shaw, p 417-434
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Long ago van Gennep (1960) pointed out a relationship between ritual and social interaction, demonstrating that rites de passage affect people's relationships. Gluckman has developed this idea in a critical review of van Gennep's writings, emphasising that the “roles which whole ceremonies and specific rites play in the ordering and reordering of social relations” are more central to understanding a culture than merely focusing on the mechanism of rituals (Gluckman 1962:4). Both the mechanism of the ceremony and the relationships of the participants are important to initiation since the ceremony acts as a catalyst for bringing together people who know the mechanism and its meaning.

For the Samo of the Strickland Plain of Papua New Guinea (Shaw 1973, 1974a, 1976), relationships are central to life in the longhouse and affect how that community interacts with all others. Before administrative control in the mid-1960s the Samo lived in 24 scattered communities, each consisting of a single longhouse occupied by elderly males and their wives, their sons and wives, and their grandchildren. These three generations formed a patrilocal extended family numbering from 25 to 40 individuals. Each household was a distinct social unit which engineered its own recruitment and provided for the needs of its members. Endemic raiding, cannibalism, sorcery and disease in the precontact era provided the rationale for an elaborate alliance system among the longhouse units.

The co-initiation of males and females, the interaction of male siblings and their relationship to allies through female sibling exchange, the importance of a cross-sibling link in the sponsorship of the initiate, social status and the reordering of relationships, and ongoing effect of ceremonial and military protection — all this is kandila, 1 ‘initiation.’ Social relationships expressed through military and supernatural co-operation are the foci which give initiation its meaning. Samo culture depends on initiation for its viability, and initiation, in turn, takes its meaning from the broader cultural context of which it is but a part.

The literature detailing initiation in New Guinea has focused on various - 418 themes, e.g. the severity of the rites (Bateson 1958, Whiting et al 1958), sexual polarity (Meggitt 1964, A. Strathern 1970), and ritual dissemination of lore vital to social maintenance (Koch 1974). Some groups initiate early, others late; some with little ceremony, others with great fanfare. The Samo initiation, though fitting within the Melanesian arena, places emphasis on the cultural contexts which are affected by the ceremony: a social structure enhanced as initiates reinforce old alliances and establish new ones, a political structure bolstered by new warriors, a ceremonial system in which initiates may henceforth participate. This paper focuses on the centrality of initiation to the Samo cultural milieu.

Samo initiation provides contrast with other New Guinea cultures in observable patterns of behaviour as well as the meaning for those involved. As Gluckman (1962) and Leach (1961) have pointed out, we are far beyond classifications based on external similarities (or dissimilarities), but rather must concentrate on the dynamics of our object of study.

For example, both the Mae Enga (Western Highlands) and the Samo initiate youths quite late, most being over 15 years of age, and both decorate the initiates in finery as part of the ceremony. However, the dynamics of late initiation for the Mae pertain to antagonism between the sexes and is one of a series of ceremonies, whereas for the Samo it establishes the complementation of the sexes and is a single event. For the Enga the elaborate decoration is a demonstration of clan wealth and vitality when men parade before women in their “new skins” (Meggitt 1964:215ff). In this the Samo are similar, vitality on the part of men being essential to maleness (Shaw 1981). Yet thé dressing up process and the wearing of the finery pertain not to vitality as such, but to ceremony and the male's role as protector. Females are also decorated and demonstrate their productivity by attending to the needs of their male co-initiates and the amassed guests. For the Samo the focus of kandila is not on initiation per se, as important as that ceremony may be, but rather on all that the ceremony implies for the whole of Samo life.

In contrast to other New Guinea cultures, Samo initiation is not a cult activity. The ceremony in its entirety may be viewed by anyone of any age. Secrecy and instruction in tribal lore are not a part of the ceremony. Neither is there a focus on sex. Indeed, the sexual complementation evident in the co-initiation of both sexes makes kandila a male and female initiation commensurate with their culturally defined roles as protectors and producers respectively. Only in the extreme south of Western Province has the co-initiation of both sexes been reported and there the focus is very different (Williams 1936). For the Samo, initiation is a social, spiritual and political buttress against a hostile physical and social environment: it is a contribution to security.

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Kandila marks a transition for each initiate from a primarily non-powerful condition to one of power and, therefore, value to the community and its allies. This incorporation in the Samo context can be compared to van Gennep's discussion of separation from the primarily asexual world to incorporation into “the society of the sexes” (van Gennep 1960:52). If we view sexuality in terms of productivity then we come closer to the Samo perspective with respect to the female initiates. However, the Samo do not view kandila as a rite of sexual advancement; for them it is not a puberty rite. Rather it is a rite of social identity which allows initiates to take up their rightful place in society. In van Gennep's and later Turner's (1977) terminology, kandila is a “postliminal rite,” a rite which incorporates the youth into adulthood.

Though I use the term “initiation” as a gloss for kandila, the Samo themselves view the event as a big “dress-up” party. Morphologically the word derives from the stem kan, ‘to put on, to wear,’ plus the causal affix -di, and the indefinite tense marker-la. Thus, ‘to cause to put on,’ i.e. to be dressed up, specifies the lexeme kandila. Following Keesing, such lexical usage relates to a world of cultural symbolism and pertains to meaning which underlies both the linguistic and cultural forms (Keesing 1979:20).

Kandila, then, pertains not only to being dressed up, but also to the activities which together make up the entire three-day ceremony. More broadly, it subsumes the two-year period of preparation followed by the activity of the initiates as they live out their lives based on the principles of kandila. Those principles express the meaning of the culture (and the language used to define them), and by their periodic enactment at ceremonies, they are validated through the incorporation of youths who must hold to them to be recognised as adults, and through the presence of adults who reaffirm their allegiance by their participation. Kandila allows the entire Samo community to recognise the initiates as they take up their positions in the society. Kandila represents a central stage in the Samo life cycle, a stage which assumes a knowledge of the cultural principles, their meaning and their application to life.

The three days of kandila can be described in relation to these cultural principles. The first day is primarily devoted to affirming the social structure as those within the household make final preparations to receive the guests who will predominate during the ceremony. That night the guests join their hosts in feasting and conviviality. During the second day the emphasis is on ceremony as the male initiates prove their strength and receive their lifetime ceremonial apparel which enables them to counteract supernatural forces. On the third day the focus shifts to military enterprise as the allies demonstrate their political power and the initiates prove their prowess as warriors by using their newly acquired weapons to conquer the - 420 “enemy.” See Table 1 for an overview of the activities during the three days.

With these cultural principles in mind, we turn now to look at kandila itself, to capture the context and emotion of the ceremony before analysing its meaning in light of the foci.

Timetable for Kandila
  Day 1 Focus on Social Relationships Day 2 Focus on Ceremony Day 3 Focus on Political Structure
Morning   Sponsors weave bark wigs into male initiates' hair  
  Gather bark for wigs Fathers slaughter pigs Male initiates relax and straighten finery
  Gather root and palm leaf for narcotic drink Initiates: Replenish water Female initiates dressed up
  Final preparations at host community Watch over preparation of pork Grand display of allies' military and spiritual protection
Afternoon   Prepare clearing  
    Rest while sponsors finalise ornamentation Male initiates given weapons
    Bathe Male initiates present fat to tolo
  Female sponsors arrive Sponsors: Dress male initiates in ceremonial finery Female initiates distribute food to amassed allies and sago to tolo
    Teach initiates to dance  
Night Male sponsors arrive in mock raid and protection dance Male initiates guard community Male initiates present tolo with pig carcasses
    Allies arrive in mock raid and protection dance Initiates sleep for first time since collecting bark
  Feasting Feasting  
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As youths mature and the pig herd increases (a six- to eight-year cycle), talk over the resin fires turns to kandila: to previous ceremonies held by the community, to others in which they participated as guests, and to the one they now begin to plan. All uninitiated youths who have reached mid-teens are designated and begin to relate as a group calling each other somon, ‘co-initiate.’ Their first responsibility is to prepare the garden to feed the large number of invited guests. While female initiates clear the undergrowth at the chosen site the male initiates guard the area, protect the women from enemy attack and perform ritual to ward off evil spirits and make the garden grow. Once the garden is established the initiates turn their attention to collecting large amounts of sago. Men fell the trees and guard the area while women process the pith to remove the starch, which is then stored in large black palm sheath troughs. For the first time in their lives these young adults are entirely responsible for food production. The produce is proof that they are able to provide for the needs of the community and perform their sex-related roles.

In the months before the ceremony, initiates spend leisure time making bark string wrist cinctures and shredded palm frond skirts, while older siblings instruct them in the values and meaning of kandila. As the ceremony draws closer, male initiates construct a series of pig stalls covered by a grandstand thatched with sago leaves collected by the female initiates. During the ceremony this structure serves as a slaughterhouse as well as a convenient shelter and observation stand for spectators. In consultation with the female swineherd, male initiates decide on the number and identity of the pigs to be presented to each male sponsor (see Table 2). They then search out the foraging animals and with great vitality, place them into the newly constructed stalls. The initiates also gather a large quantity of firewood, which is stacked against the house ready for cooking large amounts of food.

Initiates are not the only busy people. Their sponsors are active hunting and gathering the necessary animals and plants to fashion into the coveted items which mark each initiated Samo.

A fortnight before the ceremony the male initiates paint themselves with yellow stripes and don their special skirts and wrist cinctures. So set apart, and with much whooping and stomping about, they perambulate to old longhouse sites to collect coconuts while the females harvest and store produce from the initiates' garden.

On the first day of the ceremony, initiates devote their time to interaction with household members: cleaning the grounds, ensuring the availability of food and the means to cook it and tuning the drums. Male initiates, instructed by their older brothers, search for and collect the bark - 422 for wigs. They also gather a large quantity of oyo (Piper spp?) root and palm leaf for the preparation of a narcotic (kava-like) drink.

Tiliyabi Kandila: Distribution of Pork by Male Initiates
Initiate Number of pigs tolo tolo's place of residence
Dabeleman 3 Uobe Siganbi
Dawongon 2 Tolofa Giwonabi
Hafeya 3 Hondanwon Sodiyobi
Koonsoon 2 Ifagu Bugalibi
Omandi 2 Obi Sokabi
Toyo 1 Hanyu Sogiyonbi
Danlin 1 tinned fish Ifagu Bugalibi
7 13 6 6
1   For some time before this event there had been talk of initiating me. Accordingly, the group of initiates began referring to me as a co-initiate and I was included in their activities. However, the sponsors collectively refused to make me endure the bark wig saying I had the wrong kind of hair into which to weave the bark. Being unable to contribute a pig, tinned fish sufficed and was appreciated by my tolo. At this kandila an average of 2.2 pigs were given to each sponsor while mine received tinned fish as well.

By afternoon the interaction shifts to allies, as women, formerly exchanged, return to sponsor the female initiates. Their husbands, who act as sponsors for the male initiates, search out black palm trees in the nearby forest and fashion decorations for a dancer as well as camouflage for themselves. This, combined with protective ritual, disguises them as they stealthily creep up to the entrance of the host longhouse. There they emit a deafening roar before running through the house whooping and plucking taut bowstrings. Arriving on the porch, they encircle the main house post and chant a long rising and falling death knell to complete the “raid.” The entire group then troops from the house to the waiting dancer and solemnly re-enters to gather in the main section where one of their number begins to beat a pre-tuned drum and the dancer dips and sways to the rhythm. This military and ceremonial display foreshadows the activity of the next two days during which initiates will be dressed up so they, too, may perform ceremony and will be given weapons necessary to start their military careers.

The remainder of the first night is spent feasting and drinking with occasional interruptions as each sponsor arrives, announcing his presence with a “raid.” The drone of the drum and the dancer's hypnotic movements cast a protective spell over all.

In the dawn light of the second day the initiates' fathers slaughter the pigs. Butchering, singeing and removing the fat occupy these men for much of the day. Simultaneously, the male initiates gather on the long- - 423 house porch to begin their ordeal by strength. Assisted by the initiates' older brothers, the sponsors weave tightly-tied rolls of the collected bark into each initiate's hair. With this 12 to 15 kilogram encumbrance the initiates must vigorously engage in the day's activities. They must replenish the water used during the night, ensure proper care of the pork to be given to their sponsors, and clear a place in the forest for their own decoration. By early afternoon the initiates complete the clearing and collapse, exhausted, for a short rest allowing the sponsors time to display the initiation finery and add last-minute touches.

The activity now shifts to one of the primary principles of kandila: ceremonial might as symbolised in the finery which gives man power against supernatural forces. Following an exhilarating bath to remove the yellow stripes, the initiates undergo the metamorphosis from Samo youth to initiated Samo adult with ceremonial finery.

Amid great fanfare, each sponsor, assisted by the initiate's older brothers, places each piece of finery on his sister's son. Leg and arm bands are adjusted and the waist strings which hold the breechcloth in place secured; the entire body is painted with red ochre while the face is blackened and outlined in white or yellow; the coveted initiation bands are arranged to form a large “X” across the chest. Continuing under the light of split bamboo torches, the sponsors breathe incantations as they bedeck the initiates with bark girdles, grass skirts, necklaces and shell pendants. Cassowary quill, possum fur and bird of paradise headbands are layered to form an exquisite multicoloured headpiece which completes the bird of paradise imagery. 2 The lightened bark wig is covered with a small painted bark cape and a cylindrical cassowary bone replaces the bamboo nose-piece.

This activity in the forest is paralleled in the longhouse as a comparable number of females, including initiates and newly acquired brides, are painted with red ochre and don possum fur headbands and white cockatoo feathers. When the decorating is complete, the women assemble near the trail where they greet the whooping men as they enter the community. The married women begin a bobbing dance as they shake seed pod rattles and lead the entire procession to the front of the longhouse where same-sex initiates join hands to form two lines near the entrance. Here the sponsors give the initiates a dancing lesson, teaching them how to bend at the knees with a slight hop. Although it is now nearly midnight, everyone is wide awake. This is a moment of great pride for each initiate, who now has power to influence the supernatural world which plagues every human being and can use that power for the benefit of those who surround him.

After a few minutes of dancing, the sponsors lead the initiates into the house, the women remaining in the kitchen area while the men gather in the main section. A large trough of cooked bananas is brought and a - 424 sponsor takes one while blowing and intoning an incantation. He then gives a morsel to each initiate who eats and is thereby supernaturally strengthened. The entire trough of bananas is then consumed silently. Revived, the male initiates spend the remainder of the night in the role of night watchmen. Accordingly, a speech and sleep taboo forces them to consider their adult responsibility of protecting the community from danger. This is no idle game, for throughout the night camouflaged allies “attack” the longhouse in consecutive waves. The initiates' signal warns the occupants thereby reducing the surprise factor of mock raids. Following each “raid,” a dancer performs to ceremonially balance the military power. Each party then returns to the forest where they prepare for the final display of the combined power of their alliance structure.

As the third day dawns the speech taboo is lifted and a relaxed mood prevails as the male initiates return to the forest clearing. Initiates rest and straighten their finery while sponsors and others indulge in frivolity and ribald jokes. Older brothers are conspicuously absent for they have now joined their fathers' sisters in the longhouse where the female initiates are “dressed up.”

Though decoration is not as elaborate as the males', being decorated is a significant event for the young women. A new string skirt is followed by the coveted chest bands which are put in place amid whooping and bow plucking. Headbands of birds of paradise plumage and possum fur are adjusted on the forehead and a woven armband slipped above each elbow. Finally a large unpainted bark cape is positioned to cover the head and back.

Meanwhile, the steaming of pork fat by the initiates' fathers is punctuated by frequent whooping from the surrounding forest indicating the allies, readiness to mount their final “attack.”

Towards midday the male initiates gather at the edge of the clearing and, as 12 hours earlier, are met by the women before lining up and dancing in front of the longhouse. Suddenly a great din of whooping and twanging bowstrings announces the arrival of a raiding party. One after another these allied groups make an impressive entry, camouflaged with soot, white earth stripes, and flowing palm fronds. An occasional arrow shot over the house leaves no doubt about the military intent of their presence. As the warriors stomp around the initiates, two representations of death, one for each sex, dart among the crowd scaring children and drawing cheers from adults. Having encircled the dancing initiates, the intruders retreat to the edge of the clearing only to return and meet with opposition as the male initiates take up clubs and defend their house in hand-to-hand combat. However, the “enemy” gains the upper hand and enters the longhouse to sound the death knell while the initiates realign - 425 themselves. The sponsors thereupon quickly face them and thrust a new bow and set of arrows into each initiate's hands while shouting “tolo.” As the intruders emerge from the house, the initiates grab their weapons and force them out of the community. When each of the allies has performed, the collective force gathers and begins to whoop. The ground fairly shakes as the phalanx of warriors stomp round and round the initiates, bows twanging as arrows fly. Brandishing their own weapons, the newly initiated warriors evict the “enemy” at arrow point to the edge of the clearing where“friend” and “foe” mingle, voices ringing as kinsmen are greeted and each initiate is acknowledged as kandiman, ‘initiated one,’ those who protect against natural and supernatural forces.

Now the female initiates come into focus again as they prepare large quantities of food for the amassed guests. Female initiates join their brothers in kandila, thereby defining their social position with respect to other Samo, i.e. to place them in the kinship system. Their functions during the ceremony are symbolic of their status as marriageable women: those who provide food and maintain the social viability of the group through their exchange.

While the food is cooking, the male initiates open the large bundles of cooked pork fat. Amid shouted pleas from the allies for the coveted delicacy, male initiates shout their denial, and, in the manner each received his weapons a short time before, thrusts the fat at his sponsor while shouting “tolo.” The sight of sponsors gorging on the fat incites the mob and they incessantly chant their desire for food. This hastens the female initiates, who carry out large troughs of cooked bananas, pitpit and other produce from their garden. Feasting occupies the next several hours.

As demands for food diminish, female initiates gather around the displayed sago troughs. As their brothers before them, each initiate shouts “tolo” as she presents her sponsor with the coveted bundle of sago. In the dusk the male initiates distribute the butchered pork, each sponsor receiving a portion. Together the pork and sago are taken from the host community to be redistributed and consumed at the sponsors' discretion.

In the aftermath of the ceremony, initiates doff their finery and collapse into exhausted sleep. Children, no longer afraid, re-enact the raids and antics of the “death clowns.” Men and women alike relax and review the ceremony and the old reminisce. Strengthened by the ceremony, community members rest secure in the knowledge of their socio-political position affirmed by the allies and their religious protection enhanced by the newly initiated.


Kandila, in fact, adheres to Turner's consideration of initiation as a - 426 postliminal rite. As a result of kandila, individuals may participate fully as adults with all the respective rights and responsibilities as they adhere to the values and principles of the society. In spite of this analytical perspective, the meaning for the Samo is very different. For them, the dynamics of the ceremony pertain not to incorporation but to what they perceive as adult functions: social maintenance, political well-being, and ceremonial protection. These principles are the driving foci from which kandila takes its meaning. Thus, we must understand the meaning of sexual complementation, reciprocal food exchanges, ritual incantations, speech and sleep taboos, raiding, dancing, decoration and death in relation to the whole of Samo culture in order to understand the symbolism of the initiation ceremony. Within a three-day period the principles upon which Samo culture is based, its values, fears, and glory are re-enacted and affirmed.

It is no accident that males and females are co-initiated. In spite of a strong division of labour and male dominance, there is considerable male-female complementation and mutual dependence; men protect (ceremonially and militarily) while women produce food and children, providing the primary source of recruitment. Neither sex can be totally independent. Kandila establishes the sexes as complementary equals, roles which follow throughout their lives. Nevertheless, same-sex relationships predominate: virile men are distinct from menstruating women who pollute, necessitating separate sleeping quarters and activity areas (women spend much time in the kitchen area while men dominate the porch at the opposite end of the house). Male siblings maintain close relationships and manipulate the distribution of their female siblings to enhance their socio-political position in the society. The division of labour clearly defines distinct sex-related activities which pertain to ideological beliefs and values. Though these distinctions do not reach the level of male-female antagonism reported in the highlands (Meggitt 1964, M. Strathern 1972), they make for a structural contradiction which affects relationships, within the household and beyond, to interaction with allies. The items initiates receive from their sponsors are, in fact, determined by sex as is the reciprocal food prestation. For both sexes kandila determines individual position within the social sphere and establishes their group within an initiation cycle: a range from father's initiation to the birth of children; a continuum within which siblingship marks interaction within a community and alliance relates that community to all others who are not considered enemies. Siblingship, then, does not specify genealogical co-filiation but rather co-residence and the relationship of individuals based upon time of initiation (Shaw 1974a).

On the nearby Papuan Plateau, researchers have also found siblingship to be vital to social structure. Kelly (1977) sees siblingship, together with - 427 exchange, as central to the Etoro “structural masterplan.” There sibling-ship takes precedence over descent and is manifested in the high percentage of co-resident siblings of both sexes. The mythology further supports sibling interaction and extends it to patrilines (Kelly 1977: 266ff). Among the Kaluli, Schieffelin states that “ties of sibling relationship are in contradiction to those traced by descent and that the sibling relationship takes precedence over descent whenever the principles are in conflict” (Schieffelin 1976:56). Though the structural principles are somewhat different in Etoro, Kaluli and Samo, it is clear that siblingship is an idiom of relationship in all three.

For the Samo, siblingship, in complementation with the initiation cycle, establishes authority and maintenance of group solidarity. The direct exchange of female siblings between males of separate communities results in symmetrical alliances which establish relationships between same-cycle men in each location (Shaw 1974b). It can be argued that these same sex alliance relationships are an expansion of the characteristics inherent in siblingship. Allies are, in fact, brothers-in-law married to each other's sisters, and their patterns of interaction closely resemble those between brothers, viz., sharing in and contributing to the economic, social, political and religious stability of the other. Siblingship is extensible, through the alliance principle, to men of other communities. Together allied communities form an integrated social structure. They are the ones who gather for kandila.

Five social groups are represented at kandila: the initiates; their sponsors who, at this time, become their tolo; their older brothers who act as assistants; their fathers who care for the pork; and their allies who demonstrate the cumulative political and spiritual strength of the social structure. The interaction among all these groups was made possible by the alliance between the fathers and the sponsors. At kandila, fathers care for the pork and thereby relate to their allies (the initiates' sponsors), through a food presentation which maintains the reciprocity of the alliance relationship. Each sponsor follows through in his relationship with an ally (the initiate's father), by interacting with his sister's son. He takes great pride in his handiwork, for not only has he made the ceremonial items and weaponry, but also by their presentation, he develops the initiate into a man. It was through the exchange of a sister and her relationship with his alliance partner as wife, that the youth standing before him came into being. Each sponsor is, in effect, ensuring the well-being of himself and his household through a possible future marriage to a daughter and a quantity of food ensured by the meat taboo on the initiate.

During kandila the older brothers represent the authority structure of the society, ensuring that initiates behave in a manner appropriate to the - 428 occasion and assisting the sponsors as they paint the initiates and adorn them with the finery. Later they exert authority by choosing the initiate's bride/groom in order to maximise alliance protection.

The presence of allies at kandila is a multivocal statement of the cultural principles in focus during the ceremony:

  • (1) a single household without alliance is vulnerable to enemy raids, symbolised by the warriors;
  • (2) without allies a household is subject to supernatural attack, symbolised by the death clowns;
  • (3) the military and ceremonial protection offered by allies is strong, symbolised through the mock raids and protection dances;
  • (4) these essential relationships had best be maintained through future exchanges of women, symbolised by the initiates and youth from throughout the region.

By designating allies as the initiation sponsors for its youth a community ensures its continuity and demonstrates to all the intricacies, the genius, of its alliance/recruitment structure. No Samo community is an isolated clearing in the vast rain forest. Each is a member of an alliance web which exists for the benefit of all. These allies together with the new warrior/shaman establish the host community at the centre of its self-made socio-political system.

Though kandila is not a harsh initiation in the sense of mutilations, secret rituals or long periods of seclusion as in other parts of the island (Bateson 1958, Schieffelin 1976), it necessitates a considerable amount of endurance particularly on the part of males. The stamina necessary to carry the weight of 15 kilograms of wet bark hanging from the scalp while participating fully in all activities effectively establishes the virility of manhood. The speech and sleep taboo during the second night serves to define the protective qualities of warriorhood while their ability to handle weapons as they fight off all attackers demonstrates the invincibility of the community. Similarly, the ordeal of three days without sleep while engaging in vigorous activity demonstrates the endurance of the initiates. Such stamina becomes crucial to successfully carrying out a raid or dancing all night in a curing or protection ceremony. Most Samo ceremonies are all-night functions and adults are frequently called upon to endure two days without benefit of sleep.

Whereas militarism during kandila pertains to the socio-political order, the dressed-up initiates symbolise man's relationship to the cosmic order. Indeed, this appears to be foremost in the Samo concept of initiation, for the ceremony takes its name from being dressed up. All the finery acquired from the sponsor serves as an initial deposit for a lifetime of ceremony. Whenever an individual performs a dance he dons the parapher- - 429 nalia received at his initiation. The bird of paradise imagery focuses on the helplessness of man who, through the finery, can inspire awe and force the powers to notice.

The Samo cosmology is a duality embodied in the disruptive forces of evil bush spirits and the benevolent spirits of the dead. Through spirit mediums, the Samo interact with the departed spirits which are interested in man, because they once were human themselves, and through reincarnation may become so again. During a seance the contacted spirit may indicate the appropriate ritual, ceremony, or counter-activity which will force the affecting powers to relinquish their hold. These rituals and ceremonies must be performed by initiated adults who use the ceremonial regalia acquired at initiation in efforts to control evil. Such items belong only to their owner and upon his death they are hung on a pole to decay with him, a testimony to the frailty of life and the tentative balance of supernatural power which maintains that life. Yet death is only a transition from a finite to a transcedent state whence the departed can assist man in his cosmic struggle.

Notions of cosmology, however, are not divorced from human relationships. There is an interface between religious belief and the social order. Thus, dressed-up initiates encircle the community with protection during the second night and in the future will perform ceremonies to ward off evil influences as in the case of a curing ceremony when a male sibling of the “sick one” dons the regalia and dances.

Supernatural power is also invoked through the chanted incantations which accompany all aspects of kandila. Such ritual often precedes gardening, hunting, and healing activities. The use of amulets, cordyline leaves and incantations proliferate into every so-called “secular” activity. As a sponsor breaks the blessed banana and gives a morsel to each initiate he acknowledges that strength and vitality are imputed qualities from a supernatural source.

The fearsome death clowns further represent the forces of evil which bring about death. No Samo just dies; there is always a cause. Preventing death involves ritual and ceremony the performance of which makes each initiated Samo, in effect, a shaman on behalf of his fellow man. 3 There are no full-time religious practitioners in Samo; each individual appropriates ritual and ceremony as dictated by the needs of the kinsmen surrounding him (Shaw n.d.).

The basic beliefs and values of Samo culture, then, are symbolised during kandila when those who hold to them interact to ensure their viability. Thus, we come full circle. Kandila ceremonially relates to life and life in large measure is dictated by social, spiritual and political considerations which are the dominant principles from which the culture, and, therefore, - 430 kandila derives its meaning. Understanding these principles explains the details of the event including the lack of secrecy and seclusion: the host community desires not to seclude its initiates, but rather to parade them before the gathered allies, to show off their strength and their future potential for furthering the socio-political and religious order. Kandila is the means by which individuals take up adult responsibilities which are recognised and acted out during the preparation period and focused upon during the ceremony, a three-day period of cultural actualisation.


Turner (1967) has impressively shown how the passage from child to adult is symbolised in ritual. Ritual in turn pertains to the context out of which it is taken. Gluckman speaks of the “ritualization of social relationships” which are expressed and altered during rites of passage (1962:24). Keesing (1979) has called for an inclusion of semantic/linguistic structure in our cultural analyses. Thus, we must be concerned not only with the symbol of ritual but also with the meaning of the symbols within the context of the culture.

For example, the initiates' bath on the second afternoon marks a transition from being initiate designates sporting yellow stripes, to becoming initiated adults wearing finery. This bath could be analysed as a rite of separation, a symbolic purification from which each initiate emerges as a naked child to be dressed up as an adult; a symbol of death and rebirth. However, I have not focused on this transition because the Samo do not view it as symbolic. For them, the bath has meaning not as a symbolic transition but as an opportunity for initiates to relax and enjoy a refreshing dip while washing off the stripes. Thus, its meaning is functional rather than symbolic. Wilson (1957:9) notes that “symbols and concepts are employed in rituals but are subordinated to practical ends.” There can be no doubt that the bath is symbolic but for those who bathe the symbolism is practical, it propels them refreshed into the next phase of the ceremony which is symbolic of the whole of supernaturalism. The initiates symbolise insignificant man caught in a cosmic struggle against forces beyond his control. The dressed-up condition symbolises infused power to affect the cosmos and provide a measure of security. If we are interested in Samo meaning and symbolism, we cannot linger at the pool side but rather must follow the men into the clearing and there share in the glory of becoming kandiman.

I once attended an abbreviated kandila 4 which truncated the entire ceremony into a 24-hour period. Guests arrived in the afternoon, initiates wore the wigs from 4pm to 8pm, were dressed up during the night, and fought off the enemies in the morning. What was deleted on this occasion - 431 was more significant for analytical purposes than what was included. The sponsor communities did not “raid” their hosts upon arrival and the allies were met and fought off only as a grand finale (eliminating the need for nightwatchmen). The very presence of these guests was validation of the alliance structure, and protection from the dances they would have performed was delegated to the initiates as they learned to dance. Great care was taken, however, in dressing both male and female initiates. The grand military display along with the acquisition of weapons and the subsequent feasting and reciprocity of pork and sago were in no way diminished for these aspects pertain to the meaning of kandila. On this occasion redundancy was eliminated but the meaning held intact through the enactment of the primary cultural foci. For the Samo, post-liminal ritual is integrated with a ceremony (three-day or otherwise), which dramatises the foundations of adulthood: a multivalent event focusing on maintaining life in a relatively hostile environment.

Of prime interest, then (contrary to Harris 1976), is the meaning people attach to their symbolic behaviour (the emic structure), and how they in turn discuss that meaning among themselves. Fortunately, cultural meaning is expressed through verbal communication allowing us to understand those who act out their meanings. Following Keesing, the Samo use words which take their meaning from the cultural context. For example, the self-reciprocal term tolo designates a subtle and difficult relationship to specify. In general, it is a relationship between an initiate and his/her sponsor. A name taboo prevails and kandila acts as a grand display of their lifelong interaction. When a tolo dies, the other member of the dyad displays grief violently. It is a highly emotive relationship, the meaning of which goes far beyond the genealogical specifications of the objective definition MB — ZS/FZ — BD.

When asked to define the word tolo, an initiated Samo will usually respond with a folk definition indicating ‘the one who made weapons and for the purpose of dressing up gave many things.’ Reciprocity is nearly always indicated as well. Nogle (1974:28ff) demonstrates the importance of obtaining such folk definitions which contain a wealth of information that gives the analyst insight to the principles people apply to their life style. These principles, he maintains, often distil the essence of meaning. The folk definition above describes the setting of the tolo relationship and expresses the dynamic interaction by focusing on exchange. However, there is no mention of the ongoing ceremonial significance of the “put on things” acquired from tolo, the ongoing gifts of food resulting from a taboo or the close emotional bond between individuals so classed. Every adult knows all this and if asked to discuss the relationship is able to make it explicit, helping the analyst to put it into cultural perspective. “People's - 432 recognition and understanding of a phenomenon is part and parcel of that phenomenon” (Fisher and Werner 1978) and the way they talk about it.

However, meaning is more than a cluster of background information gleaned from the cultural world. It is a dynamic, a composite of communication which is distilled in a word, sentence, discourse or even non-verbal event. When Samo discuss the term tolo they do not detail the cultural repertoire necessary to convey to non-Samo what tolo means. All of that is assumed in what Keesing calls “cultural knowledge,” the understanding of which encapsulates a concept which evokes “a world of meanings they share” (Keesing 1979:21). But what is emic knowledge for the Samo must also be understood by the analyst if he is to grasp the concept and communicate Samo meaning to others.

Out of cultural context comes the meaning of Samo initiation, an attempt to deal with the world as they perceive it and derive a degree of security so they can face that world. The principles which give Samo culture its raison d'être are symbolised during kandila and answer individual needs and concerns: feelings of self-worth and personal identity; how the individual relates to the group as well as its allies and one's position in the cosmic order. Initiates stand on the threshold of a corporate future: men to maintain group identity and security while women expand the influence of their brothers by incorporating into other communities. Kandila is their commencement. For both sexes, kandila is a trial run on life, a period of two years (not just the three-day finale), during which they engage in the entire range of Samo activity which demonstrates to all, their ability to take their place as full adults. During the ceremony they receive the necessary accoutrements to carry out their adult responsibilities. Kandila establishes such a male initiate as a kinsman, politician, and shaman; a protector of all that being Samo means. Females proudly stand beside their co-initiates and take their place as producers within the culture: those who maintain the social order and ensure its viability.


Research on which this paper is based was funded by the New Guinea Research Fund and the Summer Institute of Linguistics Scholarship Fund. Both are gratefully acknowledged. A special word on behalf of my tolo, who taught me how a tolo should act, and the meaning of those actions. This paper is dedicated to his memory: it is my display of grief and appreciation (a cultural composite).

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1   Samo sounds are pronounced much as corresponding sounds in English with the following notable exceptions. /1/ has two allophones: [n] which occurs word initial or when surrounded by nasalised vowels, and [l] which occurs word medial. Nasalised vowels are symbolised with an ‘n’ following the vowel. In rapid speech sounds elide particularly between morpheme boundaries within a word. Thus, kandila is pronounced kandiya. The orthography used here is the same as that used by the Samo (Shaw and Shaw 1977).
2   This imagery derives from Samo aesthetics which considers the bird of paradise (Paradisiae reggiana) the most beautiful creature in the forest. Though, like man, the bird is not strong, it inspires awe and respect when in display. Hunters recount stories of being mesmerised and unable to shoot as they watch the creature. Just so, the initiates with their elaborate decoration command awe and respect from those human or supernatural beings who view the spectacle.
3   Though not adhering to Eliade (1964) in the strictest sense, the use of shaman here establishes the function of the performer each time he uses the ceremonial regalia to effect supernatural influences.
4   The kandila at Sodiyobi was affected by a call for labourers sent out by the Australian Petroleum Company. In order for everyone to attend before going off to join the exploration unit the men decided to hurry up and shorten the proceedings.