Geru ceremonial boards


Ceremonial geru or spirit boards were worn for the Wahgi Pig Ceremonial called Konggol. Marie Reay described the geru boards in Wives and Wanderers: "These were small boards, about six inches square, which the Agamp decorated with colourful geometric patterns and wore for certain dances of the Pig Ceremonial. They were known by the name of the great spirit concerned with pigs."

Many of the geru boards held by the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology date from Marie Reay's first observation of a Pig Ceremonial in the Waghi Valley during her 1953-1955 fieldwork. She wrote:

"At the time of my first arrival, three clans—Konumbuga, Kugika, and Tangilka—were preparing for the Pig Ceremonial. Traditionally a clan would hold this important festival at long intervals, ideally the time casuarina trees planted on the ceremonial grounds take to mature. Kugika clan had held its Pig Ceremonial fifteen years previously. Intervals between the festivals held by some of the other clans suggested that the accession of new wealth with the arrival of Europeans was shortening the interval a clan needed to build up its stock of pigs. The festival required many months of preparation, more months of dancing and display, and finally the climax came in a series of spectacular ceremonies and a mass slaughter of pigs. The central idea of the Pig Ceremonial was fertility—fertility in the clan’s women, pigs, and gardens—and the consequent aggrandisement of the clan as an important, large, and wealthy group."


In her notes Marie Reay described the many variations of the geru boards she observed from her 1953-1955 fieldwork:

These are small head boards, mostly about 8' by 6', carved from a white softwood...The geru boards are roughly rectangular in shape, with rounded edges at the top, and terminating at the bottom in two sticks which come down at either side of the head. Sometimes a geru board is arrached [sic] to a bamboo frame which fits closely over the head. These boards are painted, nowadays with trade pain, but formerly with ochres and clays, in geometric patterns. The dominant motif used is the diamond shape which represents the female vulva. Mose [sic] of the designs are variations on this diamond shape, and sometimes a diamond-dhaped [sic] hole is carved in the centre of the board. Triangles, which are conceived of as half diamonds, chevrons and dots are arranged in parallel lines."


Marie Reay continued to work in Papua New Guinea in the Waghi Valley for many years, and it is likely that some of the photographs below are from later pig ceremonies that she observed, as most are undated.