“Cultural Significance of Morelia boeleni”
There is strong anecdotal evidence that within Papua New Guinea the Boelen’s python is regarded as a species with distinctive cultural value. Regarded by many as belonging to “Papa Graun”, it is the only snake species in PNG fully protected by law.
Accounts attributing regional importance to M. boeleni are scarce, however Lawong and Olo (2006) recount testimony from the Huli people, in the Papua region, as having given the Boelen’s python the title “Dalapadi” and as such “regard the species as a God”. Yet, despite apparent cultural prohibitions regarding the hunting or killing of M.boeleni a village Counselor in Papua makes reference to the unfortunate fact that warriors will hunt and eat Boelen’s pythons before battle, to ensure strength.” 6
Snake totems feature prominently in the lives of the many Southern Highlands people. The Wola people tell the story of “Burum”, a spectacularly decorated python. It was Burum who first wore the feathers of birds of paradise and lorikeets, the bill of a hornbill, and the red, yellow and white colors that later adorned their warriors. He was magnificent! However, in the midst of a melee Burum fled into the undergrowth, shedding his wonderful decorations. In doing so, he became the drab black and white serpent (Boelen’s python) that today roams the rainforest. Fortunately his beautiful adornments were not forsaken, rather, they were gathered and worn by the other animals, and through them came into the hands of man. 8
Traditional knowledge of pythons, and indeed other animals, in the Southern Highlands is largely undocumented. We would suggest that both WWF and OSL would be making a large contribution to the cultural conservation of local communities by establishing a project to collect, collate and preserve traditional stories within the communities from which they originate.
6 Lawong B, Olo G. (2006) Rapid biodiversity survey of North-West Paua proposed drill site, PDL 5, Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. Scientific report submitted to HSES, Oil Search Limited 12 June 2006.
7 Biersack A. (1999) The Mount Kare python and his gold: Totemism and ecology in the Papua New Guinea highlands. Am. Anthrop. 101(1): 88-97.
8 Sillitoe P. (1988) From head-dresses to head-messages: The art of self decoration in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Man (New Series) 23: 298-318.
Indigenous tribes from Central Wemena and Western New Guniea have the belief that the Boelen’s python “Sanca bulan” takes on the souls of lost tribal members. It is seen as a powerful snake to be respected. (T.MENDELSON, personal communication)Tags: anecdotal evidence, feathers of birds, Morelia, papua new guinea, regional importance, snake species, southern highlands, traditional knowledge, undergrowth, unfortunate fact