Lasisi Canoe

Harold Gallasch, a long-time friend of Neil McLeod, was an Agricultural Officer (a 'Didiman") in PNG for seventeen years, where he marrried Neriba, a Tolai lady from New Ireland. His relationship to the people, both in his work but especially through his marriage, put him in an advantageous position to pursue his interest as a collector of artefacts and a recorder of cultural material. In this respect he shared many common interests and attitudes with Neil McLeod.

For Neil, his love of costumes, art, music and theatre  drew him  c.1982 to his first trip to the Sepik river. This was, as usual, self-funded. He travelled by himself, collecting much material, many artefacts, and taking many photographs. He still has the artefacts he bought there, including the very first  -  an "orators stool"  - a decision-makers stool used by the Chief when arbitrating disputes and settling cultural matters. He collected fifteen or so pieces, flew home himself, and sent the work home by ship.

The trip whetted his interest, and he started to visit Hubert Aumluff in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, also contacting Barry Hall in Queensland, thus beginning his collection of Oceanic art.

In 1994-5 he travelled to New Ireland with Harold Gallasch, a most helpful travelling companion who not only had firm cultural ties to the people, but also spoke their language.

In New Ireland Neil McLeod supplied the money to get the Lasisi Canoe built. First meeting was  with Noah Lurang, Cultural Tourism Officer in Port Moresby.  Harold Gallasch negotiated with the Libba Village in New Ireland, and the building of the canoe was undertaken with the full approval of the government and the village people.

Although the traditions and carving were strong in memory, it was many  years since the people had actually engaged in such a project. This was a revival of an ancient art. The main carver was Hosea Linge, arguably the best carver in New Ireland, with Ben Sisia as his chief assistant.

Each stage of the making of the canoe was accompanied by much ceremony and traditional song, which was filmed by Neil McLeod. This required many trips back and forth from Australia to New Ireland, as each stage was accompanied by songs, stories and feasting. Neil recalls some fifteen of these occasions, the celebration of 'Malagan', the way of living, the beliefs,  ideas and cultural practices which together make up the whole fabric of  life (and death) for the people.

The actual carving took over twelve months, with traditional designs carefully carved into the sides of the log, which was kept in a special enclosure, as women were not to see any of this. When it was completed everyone was invited back, officials from all over New Guinea,  representatives from Museums around the world, dancers and singers from all over the island and adjacent islands.

The ceremony began with long speeches stressing the importance of the canoe. Then the dances started, telling the story in dance and song, culminating in the walls around the canoe being knocked down, and the canoe revealed to all. Dancing and singing continued right into the evening, with Harold and Neil also invited to make speeches. After the ceremony the designs were handed to Neil, and he now holds the copyright of these.

Subsequently brought to Australia, the canoe was first displayed in Ray Hughes Gallery in Sydney, and then placed in the Museum of South Australia. It has since been shown in many exhibitions all over the country.

One of the important facets of this project has been that it has encouraged the people of New Ireland to revive their carving, to value their skills and their culture, to see that they hold skills which others do not, and to hold their heads high with self-confidence in the global village.

There are at least fifteen trips to PNG recorded in Neil McLeod's archives. These were undertaken to collect artefacts and cultural stories from the people, to unravel some of the depth and complexity of
the earlier island life, customs and beliefs which had been suppressed by successive waves of colonists :  the Germans, the Japanese, the Christian missionaries and the Australian Protectorate.

Preservation Project
Papua New Guinea Spirit House ( Haus Tambaran)
Nyambikwa Hamlet, Apangai Village, Maprik Region, PNG

In the Maprik Region in the mid-1970s there were twenty Longhouses (Men's Spirit Houses) central  to  initiation, religious practice and associated arts. By mid-1980  only nine Men's Spirit Houses remained in the region and today none are used in the full ceremonial context. One Longhouse sells artefacts to tourists, while all others are in a state of decay.

The village of Apangai in the Maprik Region is important in the retention of Abelam culture, and only one Longhouse remains there.

It was asserted by Apangai villagers, both to Museum officials in Port Moresby, and to Neil McLeod, that Christian organisations such as "New Tribes" and the "Assembly of God" wished to destroy most forms of traditional worship and culture, including the Apangai Longhouse. Fearful that it would be burnt, the traditional owners and PNG Museum officals asked Neil McLeod to buy the Men's Spirit House (Haus Tambaran) in order to preserve it, and to reassemble it and its contents in a safer location.

In consultation with the Director of Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, Soroi Marepo Eoe, Neil McLeod undertook, in 2004, to assist by providing the funding required for research in the Maprik Region by Dr Andrew Moutu (Department of Anthropology, PNG National Museum). Permission was also obtained to document and film preparations and the final initiation ceremony to be held in the Men's Spirit House.  After the final ceremony, with advice and assistance of Sebastien Haraha from PNG National Museum, arrangements were made for Neil McLeod to purchase the Men's Spirit House and contents from the traditional owners with the eventual aim of transporting it to a Museum in Australia or elsewhere overseas.

Despite extensive studies of Abelam language and culture relatively little material is on public display worldwide. A complete Haus Tambaran has been assembled in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland. The Leiden Museum in Holland has artefacts and a Haus Tambaran in storage, while the Museum of Sydney also has artefacts, and the facade of a Haus Tambaran, in storage.

Neil McLeod agreed to buy the Haus Tambaran, and with considerable difficulty eventually  managed to get it transported to Australia. At an early stage of the project, some few days after he had paid in full for the House and contents, many of the artefacts were stolen, necessitating  a further trip into more distant villages ( not an easy undertaking in PNG) to buy more to replace them. Further extensive delays occurred before shipping, and once in Australia there were the usual delays as Customs needed to carefully check the contents.

Long delays also occurred in having the Haus Tambaran assessed for valuation purposes, but at long last all hurdles were cleared, and in 2009 the Haus Tambaran was donated to the Museum of South Australia.