Gogodala people

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Gogodala is the name of an ethnic/language group from the Middle Fly District of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, one of about a thousand different cultures that make up Papua New Guinea, each with its own languages and lifestyles.


The Gogodala are a tribe of approximately 25,000, located in 33 villages in Papua New Guinea. Their territory extends from the Aramia River to the lower Fly River, and is the most populous Local-Level Government area in the province. Their territory is divided up into West, East and Fly areas and the Gogodala occupy mostly the flat terrain and the floodplain areas. (Wilde 2004)


Canoes are a very important part of the Gogodala culture. "The Gogodala use of dugout canoes for everyday activities such as fishing, collecting firewood, carrying house posts, transporting sago and garden produce, people also characterize themselves as metaphorically 'being inside', or standing inside, their clan canoe." (Wilde 2004) Because they are located along a river, canoes are an important means of both transport and hunting. The fact that the tribe is located along a source of water means that they are able to get along easily as well as fish for a source of food. The network of rivers and water channels provide an excellent way of getting around and in fact the origins of the Gogodala are that their ancestors traveled to the area in large canoes. The Gogodala are able to trace their lineage back to these original clans and even more specifically, they trace their lineage back to the canoes that they used to travel there. (Wilde 2004)

Until the mid-twentieth century Gogodala villages consisted of a single communal thatched-roof longhouse, often more than 100 m. in length. The longhouse at Isago,constructed in the 1950s, was three stories tall and 127.7 m. long, and was pulled down in 1979. The Gogodala now live in smaller one- or two-room thatched huts scattered about the village site. (Baldwin 1989)

Since the Gogodala use a clan based system to trace their descent, their origins are traced back to eight clans that originated from Ibali, the father of the Gogodala. It is said that he gave a powerful canoe to each of his eight sons, which later on went towards the formation of eight clans. "Within each of the eight clans, people are further divided into several sub-clans, or canoes, which trace their lineage back to the primary ancestor and clan canoe. The premise of this clan and canoe system is a marriage practice that continues to be organized along the lines of a prescribed clan exchange system, referred to elsewhere as 'sister-exchange'." (Wilde 2004)

For males in the Gogodala tribe, their lives are determined by their power or strength, which they call kamali. "An entity that resides in blood, kamali is the substance responsible for bodily efficacy and health." (Wilde 2004) From this notion the Gogodala derived that a persons kamali is seen through their work. Thus villagers are characterized by how they work in activities such as house-building, sago making, hunting and gardening.


In the Gogodala tribes, work is divided through gender division that is based around extended families. This means that both men and women work and provide assistance when it is needed. Work for men ranges from paid employment in Balimo to hunting, making gardens, building houses, constructing canoes, clearing land and cutting grass. Jobs for women include "cooking, fishing, making sago, sago bags, grass mats and fishing baskets, collecting firewood and other bush materials for use in the house, caring for animals and maintaining the house." (Wilde 2004) Although the Gogodala "desire the benefits of money, clothes, food, houses, water tanks, electricity and store goods that town people enjoy, town people lament the loss of freedom afforded by the village lifestyle". (Wilde 2004)

A very important form of work for the Gogodala, as was mentioned before, is the production and preparation of sago, for which women are normally responsible. Since Gogodala villages are normally near swamps and lagoons, they are provided with an ideal location to grow sago palms. Still, these swamps are not located directly on the villages, and so often a fair amount of traveling must be done. "Women are primarily responsible for the production and preparation of sago, from cutting down the palm, to cooking and preparing the sago flour for eating." (Dundon 2002) The origins of Sago are that a male ancestor brought the original sago with him and cultivated it in certain areas for others to collect. If eaten correctly, Sago gives energy, and thus it is a very important part of the Gogodala culture to consume Sago. (Dundon 2002)

Law and religion[edit]

Since the Gogodala are a part of Papua New Guinea, they are governed by a Parliament that follows English common Law. The main goal of the courts was to determine certain customs that could be established throughout the whole country but that at the same time would not infringe on the many cultures. Because of the many different cultures in Papua New Guinea, it is extremely difficult to properly enforce the law.

Since the law remains tough to enforce, cultures rely mainly on religion to establish norms and customs. The main religion in Gogodala tribes is that of Christianity. While originally there was a very strong opposition to the establishment of the churches, because of missionaries and the creation of the Evangelical Church of Papua, in 2003 over 90% of the 25,000 Gogodala claimed to be Christian. Ever since it’s establishment, Christianity has caused immense changes on the Gogodala.

Because of the establishment of Christianity, there have been bans enforced by the church on tobacco smoking (a ban that actually brings a return to pre-Western contact) as well as drinking of i sika or kava, all of which was grown locally. Missionaries also determined that objects and dances that were associated with male initiatory processes, mainly those associated with Aida ceremonies, were not suitable for Christianity. Thus, missionaries and Gogodala Christians traveled to neighboring villages and emphasized that these traditions and objects be banned and destroyed. (Dundon 2002)


  • Wilde, C. From Racing to Rugby: All Work and No Play for Gogodala Men of Western Province, Papua New Guinea. Australian Journal of Anthropology v. 15 no. 3 (December 2004) p. 286-302
  • Dundon, A. Tea and Tinned Fish: Christianity, Consumption and the Nation in Papua New Guinea. Oceania v. 75 no. 2 (December 2004) p. 73-88
  • Wilde, C. Acts of Faith: Muscular Christianity and Masculinity among the Gogodala of Papua New Guinea. Oceania v. 75 no. 1 (September 2004) p. 32-48
  • Dundon, A. Dancing around Development: Crisis in Christian Country in Western Province, Papua New Guinea. Oceania v. 72 no. 3 (March 2002) p. 215-29
  • Dundon, A. Mines and Monsters: A Dialogue on Development in Western Province, Papua New Guinea, Australian Journal of Anthropology, 10358811, Aug2002, Vol. 13, Issue 2
  • Baldwin, J. Requiem for a Longhouse, East Lakes Geographer v. 24 (1989), p.164-171

Further reading[edit]

  • Aida, Life and Ceremony of the Gogodala, by A. L. Crawford, 1981