Hamtai Tribe: Introduction


People show their former weapons during a dance.
People show their former weapons during a dance.

The Hamtai tribe (pronounced Hahm-day) was a primitive, Stone Age group tucked back in the isolated, mountainous interior jungles of the Territory of Papua & New Guinea. The first of their villages were located about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Lae. They were a nomadic people, living in small hamlets where they could make gardens and gather nuts and wild game from the jungles. Their garden tools were a stone adze and a digging stick. The main staple diet was the sweet potato, supplemented by wonderful species of greens and other vegetables unique to New Guinea. Sugar cane was always available. Clothes for both men and women consisted of skirts made of grasses or reeds. However, the rear part or the the skirts of initiated men was made of bark. Their bark capes were long and durable, keeping them warm in their cool mountain air. Their weapons were well-made bows and arrows, and stone clubs of various shapes. Other clubs were made of black palm. They were known as the “Stealthy Little Killers in Bark Capes.”

The mountains of the Kapau Valley.
The mountains of the Kapau Valley.

The people have told us that in the early 1900’s, long before foreigners explored and started to develop the territory, their forefathers had begun to move in a north-easterly direction, raiding villages of the neighboring tribe and taking over their vast area. They were ruthless warriors, pushing the other tribe out into another valley, nearly wiping them out. When they reached the Watut Valley near Bulolo, their crusade was interrupted by the Australian government, who, after WWII, ruled the territory as part of a UN mandate. The Hamtais now cover a vast area of steep mountains and valleys extending from the Morobe Province on the New Guinea side south and southwest into Gulf Province on the Papuan side. It measures about 50 by 50 miles “as the cockatoo flies.” Whereas they numbered about 27,000 when our missionaries arrived, they now number over 50,000.

By the late 1930’s or early 1940’s the government patrol officers had gained control over the Hamtais in the Watut Valley getting them to stop their fighting and settle into villages. Since the people there were now living under Australia’s rule and in reasonable peace, that area was then called “controlled territory.”

However, over the 7,500 ft. continental divide, in the Kapau and other valleys, the people were still warring among themselves, raiding and fighting over land and the resources in their forests, and so the whole area was designated as “uncontrolled territory.” The government, after several patrols to pacify the people, established a base in 1950 in Menyamya, a neighboring tribe to the northwest, related to Hamtai.

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