New Ireland Province Papua New Guinea
New Ireland Papua New Guinea

people and culture of new ireland png

New Ireland people have been blessed with rich and varied cultural practices and values that blend well with the environment. The people of New Ireland are Melanesian and speak 22 local languages. Traditional clan power is wielded by chiefs, but clan rites and land claims are passed on in a matrilineal system.

The traditional art of calling sharks is practiced along the coasts of New Ireland, but particularly on the West Coast around Kontu and Tembin where certain men have the ability to call up sharks. The unfortunate shark swims up to the caller’s boat where they can bespeared and netted. Alternatively the shark propeller is used – a noose is hung with half coconut shells which make a rattling noise, attracting the shark up through the noose. A rope attached to the noose is connected to a wooden propeller which is spun round to tighten the noose and simultaneously pull in the rope. The shark, unable to keep moving, effectively drowns.

The people of New Ireland have three distinct culture or traditional practices: Malagan, Kabai and Tumbuan. While Malagan and Kabai are unique only to New Ireland including "traditional shark hunting", Tumbuan which is a men's sacred society and widely practiced by the Tolais in East New Britain Province, actually originated from the southern area of New Ireland in the Lak/Kandas area where it is mostly practiced. New Ireland’s culture is rich, colourful and intricate.



Unique to New Ireland is the carving of Malagan figures. They are only a concluding, but integral, part of months long mortuary ceremonies in the northern New Ireland area, but because of their 3-dimensional nature and intricate interweaving of one figure into another they immediately caught the attention of early travellers. Museums in Europe, especially Germany, have many fine examples that today would not be found. In fact in the last 25 years the number of recognised master Malagan carvers has reduced from 15 to only 2, and they are now old. Many thousands of these art pieces were collected in the German period that would otherwise have been destroyed.

The Malagan practice once covered the areas extending from Tabar Islands, Madak, Kuot, Noatsi, Nalik, Kara, Tigak, Lavongai and Djaul. This is evident as you visit museums all over the world which hold pieces from areas mentioned that once upon a time was practising the malagan tradition.

Today only the Tabar Group of Islands and a few of the Nalik villages on the east coast of New Ireland mainland, are still active in observing the rules and the use of Malagan carvings in their cultural feasts.

In Panatgin and Lamasong villages of the Madak area, Lossu, Langania and Libba of the Noatsi/Kuot areas, the carvers are mostly creating for tourists. Whilst not observing its cultural values and use, these areas are still maintaining the Malagan art and craftmanship.

Malagan, Tubuan and Kabai traditions combine with the rich cultural traditions of the various clans, to form the complex social patterns of New Ireland province.



Kabai culture or traditional practice involves activities similar to that of the Malagan practice. However, in this particular tradition, there are no carvings or carvers involved. Instead, a tree trunk or a large branch of a tree, specially selected is cut, neatly trimmed up, and placed in a selected location in the village.

As in the Malagan culture, the Kabai is staged as final feast to remember and honour deaths in a family, whether it be one or two deaths. The important components of a Kabai are pigs, traditional shell monies ("mies") and taros. The planning, preparation and co-ordination of a Kabai feast is very similar to that of a Malagan feast. However, there are variations in the conduct of activities.



Collections of carvings, shell jewellery, woven baskets and bags can be seen and purchased from the New Ireland Tourist Bureau, the Kavieng Hotel, Malagan Beach Resort and Nusa Island Retreat or you can do a day trip from Kavieng Town down to Libba Village to see one of the remaining two Master Malagan Carvers, Ben Sisia. The people of Nusalik Island also make beautiful shell jewellery, which are available to buy on Nusalik Island.

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