Hatohobei Festivals: Hoho

In 1972, in a meeting about my research on Hatohobei, the people of the island decided to enact a traditional custom for the first time in many years so that my then wife Mary Martin and I could photograph and film it. Unfortunately, the video she shot has been lost. I still have the photographs and have arranged them in the sequence in which the hoho occurred.

Because the event was to be recorded, it was decided that the encounter between men and women at the beach, which is the highpoint of hoho, would not involve physical contact (which might bother a visiting Roman Catholic priest if he ever saw the video). Instead the people decided to engage in a kind of bargaining.

Click on the photos to see larger versions.

Text and photographs: Peter W. Black, Hatohobei Island, 1972
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Women of the island harvested taro from their gardens and made many coconut frond baskets in preparation for the hoho.

Harvesting taro

Women harvesting taro

Women harvesting taro

Women harvesting taro

Women carrying taro back

Woman making baskets

Resting

Resting

Resting

Resting

Waiting for oven to be ready

Carrying taro

Carrying taro

Carrying taro

Women making baskets

Women making baskets

Making baskets

Making baskets

Cleaning, packing taro
Women making baskets

Women making baskets
Women making baskets

Woman making baskets

Woman making baskets

Women making baskiets

Women making baskets

Women making baskets

Resting


The men dug a huge ground oven and built a fire in it, while the women prepared the taro for baking in the oven.   

Digging the oven

Burying food in the oven

Burying food in the oven

Covering oven

Wrapping baskets

Covering oven

Covering oven

Covering oven

Watching oven

Watching oven

Watching oven

Watching oven

Oven

Oven

Oven

Oven

Oven

Oven work

Oven work

 

The oven was opened and the taro was removed.

Opening the oven

Waiting for oven to be ready

Waiting for oven to be ready


Preparing taro



The taro was pounded in the meeting house. A huge old wooden bowl was used and both men and women took turns pounding it. The men occasionally pounded their fingers to everyone's amusement.

Pounding taro

Pounding taro in the abai

Cutting taro in the abai

Cutting taro in the abai

big bowl of taro in the abai

pounding taro in the abai


After every household was provided with a portion of the baked taro, the women dressed for dancing and danced a basket of taro to each house where a man who was currently fishing was living. They sang a song which proclaimed the very good quality of the taro grown on Hatohobei by the very hard-working women and which criticized the men for being too lazy to go out to kill the sharks that were eating the fish the men should be bringing home for the families to eat with the delicious taro.

Shark dance

Shark dance

Shark dance

 

The men caught a shark, brought it ashore, cut it open, and left it on the beach where the outgoing tide would carry its bodily fluids out over the reef. The idea was that this would smell so bad to any sharks in the area that they would all swim away. That evening all the able-bodied men and older boys paddled out the channel and started fishing. The women made up many basket meals of taro and fish and tobacco and drinking coconuts.

The shark

Fixing taro

Fixing taro

Channel scene


Early the next morning as the men came back in the channel with their canoes filled with fish, the women came running to the beach carrying those meal-baskets. They splashed out into the water and called to the men, telling them to hand over some fish if they wanted some taro. The men insulted the taro and the women insulted the fish. There was lots of laughter and a kind of bargaining that went on until every canoe had taro and all the women had fish. In the evening, much more food went from the women to the men they had taken fish from.

Hoho canoes

Hoho canoes

Hoho canoes

Women coming down

Exchanging

Exchanging

Exchanging

Exchanging

Exchanging

Exchanging

Exchanging

Exchanging

Exchanging

Exchanging

   
Discussion:

The primary behavioral rule of this custom is the same as the rule for the gift dance, in which men dance behind women who have good things (like tobacco, or fish hooks, or even a live rooster hanging from their waists), before reaching out to untie a gift and then running away.  In both events, people who would not be forbidden to marry are those who seek each other out, while those whose kinship relationship forbids marriage, avoid each other.  The people who must be avoided in these events, however: mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, are the very people who provide food for one another every day.

In the hoho which is illustrated here, men and women insulted the foods they were arguing over as they bargained their way to an exchange of foods from the land with foods from the sea. This was in its way as much of a reversing of the rules for ordinary polite behavior based on generalized reciprocity (the very opposite of hard bargaining), as the bawdy wrestling matches between men and women that by all accounts characterized hoho when there were no cameras around. Furthermore, the very fact that the men returning from fishing were met at the shore was directly contrary to the ordinary rule that when fishermen are coming in, everyone should leave the beach. And this is to say nothing of the amazingly anti-male lyrics accompanying the woman’s dance, expressing a sentiment which ordinarily would be unexpressible.

The community’s agreed-upon editing of the event for its reenactment, which substituted bargaining instead of wrestling between potential spouses as its central event, preserved the performance as an extraordinary illustration of how men and women should not act. Nor did it at all undermine what I take to be the hoho’s main point. 

Thinking about this event all these years later, I am coming to think that what the people wanted to have recorded was the most basic value of their life together on their small island: universal, openhanded, and good-humored sharing, regardless of whatever tensions, grievances, or anger might exist. 

Here is a videoed discussion in ramari Hatohobei about the custom of hoho.

If you are interested in the names of the people who participated in this hoho, here is a list with my best guess 50 years later.

For more information, see Sisma Andrew: the custom of hoho in Black, Peter W. and Barbara W. Black. 2014. Documenting Ramari Hatohobei, the Tobian language, a severely endangered Micronesian language. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. http://elar.soas.ac.uk/deposit/0295.

Barbara W. Black organized and posted this material. 


Updated: June 10, 2019
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