One Thousand One Papua New Guinean Nights

Women Burned the Spirit House
(Wantok 565, April 6, 1985, page 23)

Long, long ago, in Mansuat Village in East Sepik Province, there was a big spirit house [Bisis People]. Every man of the village slept in this house.

The women and children slept in their own houses because it was forbidden for them to go inside the men’s spirit house.

The men who slept in this spirit house never took care of their wives and children. The poor women of this village often worked very hard taking care of their children. The men would just father the children and leave them for the women to take care of.

The men always went to the forest to kill pigs, cassowaries and marsupials (kapul), then they would go back to the village, but they would not give any meat to the women. None at all.

The men would hide well and do this sort of thing lest the women of the village would see their detestable habits. They did this often. When they left the spirit house and went to the forest, they would leave two men to watch the spirit house. The names of these two men were Jari and Matugain.

Jari and Matugain

These two men, Jari and Matugain, were not tall men, they were short. When the other men left the spirit house, these two men would just stay inside. They did not go outside for even a short time.

When the women and children went to the spirit house to see the men, these two men, Jari an Matugain, would scold them terribly. This spirit house had very tight security because the men did not want their wives to see the despicable, greedy things that they did.

Among all the women of this village, there were two who leaders among them. The names of these two women were Cariak and Muriark. These two women often gathered the other women and told of what their husbands did to them.

One Law

During the day, their children would play in the village, and in the afternoon, they would go back to the houses and cry hungrily to their mothers.

Their mothers would say, “You have no fathers to take care of you.” When the children would hear this from their mothers, they would be very troubled and stop crying.

The men of the spirit house never rested from hunting wild game in the forest.

Cariark [Cariak] and Muriark knew that their husbands must be hiding something that they did not want the women to find out about. They often very tried hard to discover out what it was.

There was another law that the men of the spirit house had made. This law of theirs was as follows, not one man who lived in the spirit house could give a piece of meat to women or children. The law was that if one of the men did this, the other men would kill him.

The men were afraid of this law and the never gave meat to their wives or children. The two guards of the spirit house, Jari and Matuguain [Matugain], always just stayed in the house. They never went out of the house, even if they had to defecate or urinate.

When they wanted to defecate or urinate, they would just do it inside the spirit house. After they defecated inside the spirit house, they would cover it up with leaves and put it down. Then in the evening, when the other men returned to the spirit house, the two of them would go down to the ground and throw away their feces.

But one day, one of the men from the spirit house was very sorry for his child, so he took a small piece of meat and hid it. He took it to give to his child. His poor child did not eat this meat because its mother took it and hid it.

In the early morning, all the men of the spirit house woke up and left for the forest to hunt game. This woman woke up and took the piece of meat that her husband had hidden and carried to give to their child. She took the piece of meat and went directly to their two leaders, Cariark and Muriark.

Cariak and Muriark saw this piece of meat and they called out for all the other women of the village to come and begin talking about what they must do to the two men who led the spirit house.

The women spoke about going into the spirit house. Then Cariark and Muriark sent the women to the forest to get the tree fruits that women gather in the forest. These look like wild mangoes. They carried many of these tree fruits back to the village.

Then when they came to the village, Cariark and Muriark led all the women to the spirit house to see Jari and Matugain. The women carried the tree fruits with them.

When Jari and Matugain saw the women, they tried to chase them off, but they were unable to do so. The women were persistent and ignored the two men, Jari and his in-law Matuguain, and went inside the spirit house. Then all the women spilled into their husbands’ spirit house.

Seeing the Racks

Oh my, oh my, when they went inside the spirit house, they saw racks of meat all over the house. The place was completely filled with meat that the men had smoked carefully and piled up.

Then the women turned and told Jari and Matuguain, “So you men have hidden this meat from us, huh?” Jari and Matuguain listened and trembled.

Then the two of them got up and told the women, “We’re good men, but your husbands prevented the two of us from giving meat to you.” But the women did not listen to what the men said.

They turned, and Cariark with some other women held Jari and Muriark, while the other women grabbed Matuguain. They removed their loin cloths and laid them on the floor of the spirit house.

Then the group of women brought out the tree fruits that they had taken from the forest. They began to shove them up the men’s shit-holes. They kept shoving the tree fruits up until the two men’s tongues came out and they died.

After the women killed the two men, they got up and ruined everything inside the spirit house. After they ruined everything, they carried some big torches and put them inside the spirit house and went back to their houses.

After they went back to their houses, Cariark and Muriark gathered all the women and told them, “Go to each of your houses and stir the sago. Then cut off enough for a portion for yourself, leaving a big piece inside the pot. After you eat your portion, kill all your children and put them inside the pot with the sago. After you do this, come see us two.”

The poor women were very troubled about doing this to their children, but they listened to what their leaders told them to do. On this day, a terrible cry came from the village. All the women cried terribly when they killed their children. They killed all their children. Not one was left.


Some of the women were furious at what Cariark and Muriark had told them to do to their children. Only Cariark left her beautiful baby alone. The women were angry at her and said, “Why did you tell us to kill our children, but you yourself left your baby alone?”

It was nearly evening and the women went down to the spirit house. They burned the spirit house, and they began to walk towards the forest. As they walked, they saw Cariark still carrying her baby, so the women cursed her fiercely.

They cursed and cursed her, but Cariark still did not want to kill her baby. While they were still walking, Cariark looked and saw a fig tree standing.

So Cariark went underneath the fig tree and hung the baby up on the tree. Then she said, “If there is a person who lives in this fig tree, then come down and take this baby.”

After she said this, she left the tree and walked off. Before long, she saw an ancestral ghost woman come down the fig tree and take her baby.

The women’s husbands were in the forest and saw an enormous amount of smoke rising from their village. They got up and left the pigs, cassowaries, and other game, and ran back to their village.

When they arrived at the village, they saw that the fire had finished their spirit house. They were troubled and they cried terribly when they saw that it was ruined and that their children were dead inside the pots. They became eagles and flew around this fire.

So now when the forest is on fire, or when men make a new garden and burn the forest, we see these eagles flying around. It is just these men who had become eagles. This is the end of my ancestor story. I am from Mansuat Village in the Angoram District of East Sepik Province.

Benjamin Manowak (author)
c/- Steven Amenasik
Wewak Timbers
P. O. Box 291
Madang Province

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© 1997 by Thomas H. Slone, translator.

Last modified January 8, 1997.