Papua, or British New Guinea

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In the year 1909 I tried a man called Avai, a native of Baimuru, who was charged with the murder of Laura, a woman of Baroi, who was living at Baimuru; his statement of what had happened contained some curious details. He said: "Bai-i told us to kill the three Baroi people. He told us to get into a canoe. We did so, and caught the three Baroi people (Aimari and his wives Laura and Aipuru) in Era Bay. Kairi killed Aimari, I killed Laura, and Iomu killed Aipuru. I killed her with a dagger of cassowary bone. We put the bodies in the canoe and took them back to Baimuru. I did not bite off Laura’s nose; it,is not the custom to bite off the nose of a person whom you have killed. If I kill a man, some one else bites off his nose; Aua bit off Laura’s nose, Kwai bit off Aimari’s, and Omeara Aipuru’s. We bite the noses off, we do not cut them off.

"Before we go to kill any one we consult the spirit of the kopiravi; the spirit comes out of the ravi [clubhouse] to the canoe; and if the expedition is to be successful the canoe rocks. The spirit is invisible; the kopiravi does not come out. We got to Baimuru at night and left the bodies in the canoe till morning. Then we took them to the ravi and put them on the platform outside, then singed them outside the front of the ravi, cut them up into small pieces, mixed the pieces with sago, cooked them, wrapped them up in leaves of nipa palm, and distributed them. Women and children may eat human flesh.

"I eat a hand of Aipuru; I did not eat Laura, because I had killed her. It is not our custom to eat a person whom you have killed. If, after killing a man, you sit on a coconut, with a coconut under each heel, and get your daughter to boil the man’s heart, you may drink the water in which the heart is boiled, and may eat a little of the heart, but you must be sitting on the coconuts all the time. Otherwise you must not eat any part of a person whom you have killed yourself. In the evening I went on to the platform of the ravi with a torch in my hand, called out the names of the kopiravi, and threw the torch on the ground; any of the village people could then have connection with my wife. I slept in the ravi. My ravi is called Kaumoro. There are ten kopiravi in it, each with a different name five for each side of the ravi. The kopiravi are never brought out from behind the screen."

I cannot personally vouch for the truth of any of Avai’s statements, but I have had independent evidence of the existence of all the customs referred to, even of the particularly grotesque one which allows the murderer to sit upon coconuts and to drink the soup made from the heart of his victim.1

1Murray, J.H. P.n/an/an/an/a, , 179–180 (Charles Scribner’s Sons. By permission).

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Chicago: Papua, or British New Guinea in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: . Papua, or British New Guinea, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: , Papua, or British New Guinea. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from