Spirits’ houses, Blak Wara, Sepik River (PNG 2012)


In 2012 I went on a two month trip along the Sepik River, from Middle Sepik to West Sepik, joining the people I was meeting on the way and following their stories.

In Ambunti, an administrative centre on Middle Sepik, I met Kaipuk, a “savvy men” from the Kwoma clans. He invited me to join him, to Blak Wara, a flooded area at the foot of Waskuk Hills, to show me the haus tambaran (spirits’ house) of his clan, Teg-Asaul. Teg – the Dogs, Asaul – the Vulture. Kaipuk is an Asaul.

Blak Wara is one of the few areas on the Middle Sepik where the tradition of haus tambaran survived the missionaries’ assault. Haus tambaran is a powerful place, the gathering of the spirits of clans’ ancestors. Pillars, crossbars, roof and walls are all carved and painted with spirits and scenes from their mythology. They exert their powers over people and lands and watch the customary laws. The men gather there to find strength and guidance, to debate, teach, learn, chill and share stories.

When I arrived in Blak Wara, the Sepik River was high and a black-tea -like water was covering the wide plains. The villages were connected in a maze of channels and lakes. The calm, dark waters looked like big mirrors with green patches, surrounded by steep hills in the background. Besides the ferocious mosquitoes, it was fantastic and it was matching the stories from haus tambaran.

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