duk duk if you see them coming

In Papua New Guinea there is a secret religious society known as the Duk Duks.

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It represents a rough sort of law and order through its presiding god Duk-Duk, a mysterious figure dressed in pine branches down to its waist, with a leafy green helmet like a gigantic candle-extinguisher made of leaves. Women and children are forbidden to look at this figure – but shemales are permitted to do so.

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The society uses male Duk-Duk and female Tubuan masks. Both types are cone-shaped and are constructed of cane and fibre, with short, bushy capes of pine needles. Traditionally the Duk-Duk was taller than the Tubuan and was faceless. The Tubuan had circular eyes and a crescent-shaped mouth painted on a dark background.

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Only males could belong to Duk-Duk, the entrance fees often being 50 to 100 human limbs.

Below is an excerpt from The Western Pacific and New Guinea by H Romilly (1886)

This curious and interesting institution, by working on the superstitions of the rest, enables the old men of the tribe to secure for themselves a comfortable retirement and unbounded influence.  The appearance of the Duk Duk is announced well in advance by the old men. Great preparations of food are then made to appease them.

The day before the Dukduk’s expected arrival the women usually disappear, or remain in their houses. It is immediate death for a woman to look upon this unquiet spirit. Before daybreak everyone is assembled on the beach, most of the young men looking a good deal frightened.

At the first streak of dawn, singing and drum-beating is heard out at sea, and five or six canoes, lashed together with a platform built over them, are seen to be slowly advancing towards the beach. Two most extraordinary figures appear dancing on the platform, uttering shrill cries.

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The outward and visible form assumed by them is intended to represent a gigantic cassowary, with the most hideous and grotesque of human faces. The dress, which is made of leaves, certainly looks much like the body of this bird, but the head is like nothing but the head of a Dukduk. It is a conical-shaped erection, about five feet high, made of very fine basket work, and gummed all over to give a surface on which the diabolical countenance is depicted. No arms or hands are visible, and the dress extends down to the knees.

Cassowary found here

As soon as the canoes touch the beach, the two Dukduks jump out, and at once the natives fall back, so as to avoid touching them. If a Dukduk is touched, even by accident, he very frequently tomahawks the unfortunate native on the spot.

NOT this kind of Tomahawk

In the evening a vast pile of food is collected, and is borne off by the old men into the bush, every man making his contribution to the meal. The Dukduk, if satisfied, maintains a complete silence; but if be does not think the amount collected sufficient, he shows his disapprobation by yelping and leaping.

When the food has been carried off, the young men have to go through a very unpleasant ordeal, which is supposed to prepare their minds for having the mysteries of the Dukduk explained to them at some very distant period. They stand in rows of six or seven, holding their arms high above their heads.

The Dukduk selects a cane, dances up to one of the young men, and deals him a most tremendous blow, which draws blood all round his body. There is, however, on the young man’s part no flinching or sign of pain. After the blow with the cane he has to stoop down, on the ‘tail,’ which must be most unpleasant. Each of these young men has to go through this performance some twenty times in the course of the evening. He will nevertheless be ready to place himself in the same position every night for the next fortnight. The time of a man’s initiation may and often does last for about twenty years, and as the Dukduk usually appears six times a year, the novice has to submit to a considerable amount of flogging to purchase his freedom of the guild.

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Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 8:08 am  Comments (40)  
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40 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Blimey, that’s worserer than joining the Masons. I chuckled at ‘leafy green helmet’ ….. I’m sooooooo grown up ………

    I met a cassowary at a zoo once …… absolutely terrifying ……. tried to head-butt me through the fence ……

    • He was wary of you too daddyp

  2. What a racket, I may install a version of this in my household. At the very least I will be able to avoid doing the dishes six times a year.

    • Good luck with that FJ, let me know how it pans out

  3. I’m thinking the women stayed hidden by choice – brilliant move on their part considering those “hats” in action.

  4. Are these get-ups any sillier than the Pope’s big purple hat? I wanna be a Dukduk. I like saying the name. Dukduk. Dukduk.

    • I like saying it too. Dukduk. Dukduk. Dukduk.

      • I hope you guys are pronouncing it correctly. What are you rhyming it with? 😉

  5. so let me get this straight… a guy in a costume with a pointy hat demands more resources than he can possibly consume, ritualistically torments the youth, and banishes the women to the shadows? how primitive! could never happen in modern society…

    • Just why does the Vatican have lightning rods?

      • a “conical shaped errection” that has been “gummed all over”

        oh my, it rather does smack of a papal pajama party.

    • Why did a mental image of a bishop spring into my mind!

  6. But I wonder where they get the 50 to 100 human limbs to ‘pay’ as an entry fee. That’s a lot of appendages.

    • I want to know that too! No wonder the women hide.

  7. Not a big motorcycle fan but I think I could take a spin around the block a few times on that thing.

  8. In researching the pronunciation (rhyming with “book” or “duck”?) and failing, I stumbled upon the Hamamas Hotel of Rubaul which provides cultural entertainment in the form of ‘the excitement of a dukduk ceremony.’ Now that’s a real initiation into eco-tourism.

  9. This is somewhat similar to the “Featherfoot” personage who appears and torments the locals in the area where I live and work. The initiations can be quite brutal and the ritualistic scarring, both male and female can be quite horrendous!

    • Thanks Archie, you should do a post on it.

      • There probably will be – after I have left the area for good 🙂

  10. When Donald goes bad…

    • … even Daisy can’t stop him

  11. Oh, come one. Plenty of women have gazed upon my unquiet spirit and it hasn’t killed one of them. At least not that I know of.

  12. Meh….the average English public schoolboy could teach these chaps a few things about initiation ceremonies.

    • There’s a post in that for you Nick…

  13. Leather aprons, licking toads, mutual caning after lights out… aye, Masonic rituals if ever I saw one. Fuk-fuk the Dukduk and their English rites of passage.

    • I think those blue and white Masonic leather aprons are pretty cute!

  14. I daresay that the Duk duks are now just a tourist attraction, although they could have been born to become priests!

  15. Duk Duk GOOSE!!!

  16. The nuns beating my knuckles with a ruler couldn’t hold a candle to those crazy MFs. I thoughts the Penquins were crazy . . . those fluffy nutter birds would have them for lunch. Outstanding educational piece, NM. BRAVO!

  17. At the risk of sounding like a total ass, I don’t think I could keep a straight face living among the DukDuk. Goose!

    Then again…I don’t know if a giant cassowary would bring me to hilarious tears or running away trembling.

    • Cassowarys are really aggressive, I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near one

  18. 20 years and human limbs. The world is an odd and varied place. 🙂

  19. Duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, duk, GOOOSE!

  20. i hope i never see a dukduk, even by accident.

  21. I’m wondering if I should cross out Papua New Guinea from the places I wanna visit. Don’t think I could handle a dukduk.

  22. I think I have a few limbs around to pay the entrance fee, but why would I want to get knocked senseless but these guys? Where’s the beer and good times?

  23. Had a week on Duke of Yorks. Definately not put on for tourists.Duk Duks command respect.Chiefs still rule over them.Try a week on a tiny island with 15 rampant Duk Duks.

  24. Duk rhymes with book. It’s payment of 50 to 100 metres of shell currency, not limbs. It was never limbs. Translation stuff-up I’m assuming.

    The dukduk societies have died out and have not been active since the beginning of the 20th century, when white men arrived and deemed it unnecessary, in that funny controlling way that they do.

    Now fake dukduks dress up and dance over fires to entertain little sweaty tourists, who hand over lots and lots of money for the pleasure. Now who’s primitive?

  25. I’m from east new britain and that practice is acceptable in my society, and to answer your statements when the dukduk is in the process of beating teens woman and children are to take shelter in their houses until the process in over, and I have many experiences with them, one of the leaders in my clan is my uncle. Its really not that bad, since European missionaries settled in the 1900 the traditions became less brutal but its still strongly practiced.

  26. their society is very much alive, its just kept in secrecy from the public eye.


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