Navy given a traditional welcome in Rabaul

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Kara Wansbury (author), ABIS Richard Cordell (photographer)

Location(s): Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

Members of the Tolai tribe perform an initiation ceremony for Commodore Peter Scott and Petty Officer Oliver Kause in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. (photo: ABIS Richard Cordell)
Members of the Tolai tribe perform an initiation ceremony for Commodore Peter Scott and Petty Officer Oliver Kause in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

Commodore Peter Scott and Petty Officer Oliver Kaese were granted a once in a lifetime experience today, when they were inducted into the Tolai tribe by its elders, at a ceremony in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

The ceremony began with a change into traditional dress - a lap-lap with shell money attached to the belt. Once Commodore Scott and Petty Officer Kaese were dressed, they emerged from the sacred men’s hut to commence the ceremony. 

Members of the Tolai tribe perform an initiation ceremony for Commodore Peter Scott and Petty Officer Oliver Kause in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

Members of the Tolai tribe perform an initiation ceremony for Commodore Peter Scott and Petty Officer Oliver Kause in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

Intended to welcome and initiate, the ceremony also has religious and political meanings; it represents a form of law and order through its presiding spirits. In ritual dances, members of the society invoke the male spirit duk duk and female spirit tubuan, depending on which mask the dancer wears.

Both types of mask are cone-shaped and are constructed of cane and fibre. Traditionally the duk duk was taller than the tubuan and was faceless. Both masks had short, bushy capes of leaves, which cover the torsos of the dancers so that only their legs are visible.

Commodore Peter Scott and Petty Officer Oliver Kause during their inititation ceremony in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

Commodore Peter Scott and Petty Officer Oliver Kause during their inititation ceremony in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

Commodore Scott said the welcome was a tremendous privilege.

“We, the Australian Navy, have come here for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to be friends with the Tolai people and to enjoy their hospitality,” Commodore Scott said.

The initiation for Petty Officer Kaese, born in Rabaul, was particularly poignant.

“I left here when I was very young and didn’t get to go through that traditional role and initiation, which is the rights to your area. Without that, you are just a visitor,” Petty Officer Kaese said.

The ship’s company of HMAS Yarra and the Sydney detachment of the Royal Australian Navy Band watched the three-hour ceremony, along with well over 300 locals. The local Chief, Geoffrey Maira, said it was a rare event. 

“Tubuan society is very important in the Rabaul district. This does not happen often, only on special occasions,” he said.

“And an even rarer event still is initiating a local born sailor, who lives in Australia.”

“It is great that Oliver can be back here and be initiated into the Tubuan society, as he has been in the Navy for so long. We are privileged to have him back here to be initiated,” he said.

HMAS Yarra and the Sydney detachment of the Royal Australian Navy band are in Rabaul for Centenary of Anzac commemorations marking the Battle of Bita Paka and the loss of HMAS AE1.

Sub Lieutenant Ivanka Zeko interacts with children from the Tolai tribe in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

Sub Lieutenant Ivanka Zeko interacts with children from the Tolai tribe in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.