The History of Secret Societies of Melanesians in West Papua–knpb–tuntut-referendum_1265_711.jpg


Meta Description: One Of The Melanesian Cultures From The Past Is Secret Societies. The Need For Privacy And Secrecy Is The Reason For The Formation Of Secret Societies of West Papua.


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Melanesians of West Papua are rich in history. Its culture is complex since it has a variety of cultures. Melanesians are not only limited to West Papua or New Guinea but over all of the Oceania regions. One of the Melanesian cultures from the past is in the form of secret societies. The secret societies spread all over Melanesian, particularly in the southern part of Melanesian in the small islands of the Banks and Torres groups. 

Secret Societies Are Usually Found On The Smaller Islands

There is a correlation between the development of secret societies and the size of the islands – secret societies are usually found on the smaller islands (Rivers, 2017). There is a need for seclusion if migrants live on a small island. This is because it is difficult for the migrants to practice their former rites freely without some interruptions from the indigenous. 

This does not happen on larger islands because there will be plenty of spaces and room for the migrants to do their rites. Two peoples in larger islands usually do not merge. They are different in culture and physical appearance. They even have a regular conflict with each other, and thus they are separated and distinct from one another. And that is why there is a division between the people of the coast who live in the outer part of the island and the bush people who live in the inner part of the island. 

The Need For Privacy And Secrecy Are The Reason For The Formation Of Secret Societies

Kava-people’s need to practice their secret rituals becomes the reason for Melanesian secret societies’ existence (Rivers, 2017). They brought their former rites when they migrated to Melanesia. And because they did not want any interruption from the indigenous, they felt the need to isolate and seclude themselves from them. 

The distribution of Melanesian Secret Societies is mostly found in Oceania, such as Torres and Banks Islands, northern New Brides, the island of Florida, northern Bougainville. The findings of these societies manifested in the form of houses, masks, and other features related to secret societies. The places with the most secret societies are in Mota and Ureparapara.

People who are involved in secret societies are usually present in the dual organization of society. The dual organization is an ancient social system of Melanesians. There is an association between secret societies with a form of social organization which did not get external influence. Communities that do not get much influence make it less advanced. 

They are backward in culture, and the social organization is ancient. If there is an exposure or influence to a particular island, the secret society is not likely to exist. For example, there are not any secret societies on Solomons island because there is heavy external European influence on this island (Rivers, 2017)

As the name suggests, secret societies are about secrecy and mysteriousness. The names of these secret societies are Sukwe and Tamata societies, resulting from the blending of aboriginal culture and the indigenous. But there is a reason for the formation of secret societies. According to Rivers (2017), an ancient cult that requires secret practice is the reason for the formation of secret societies. 

The ceremonial of secret societies contain the aboriginal element, and after the public exposure to the superior newcomers would then come the formation of secret societies. Tamate societies need to perform their religious rites in secret, so they go to lonely places to perform them. The secret societies would then form if the presumption was that the numbers of newcomers were relatively small and the indigenous were not against them. 

There is a possibility that aborigines discovered the newcomers’ rites and need to increase their privacy and secrecy. Moreover, the need for privacy increases if the rites are very important to them and it requires silence with no interruption. But the dividing line between the immigrant and the aborigines becomes blurred if the newcomers marry the indigenous women and have a family with them. In this way, members of aborigines have access to the secret societies‘ rites. 

To ask for permission into the rites of secret societies, one needs to have courage. People must have the characteristic of openness toward new people and willingly share in their everyday life (Rivers, 2017).

However, this hypothesis is not eligible since Melanesian societies are complex, and thus it is hard to believe that the early inhabitants have an inferior cult. So it can be that the rites of secret societies are derived from an immigrant element. So Sukwe and Tamate societies perform rites that contain the immigrant element. 


Melanesians’ history is rich. There were secret societies among Melanesians in West Papua. This society is born due to the need for privacy to perform one’s rites. The newcomers brought their rites and performed them in their new homeland. To avoid getting interrupted by the indigenous, they go to lonely places for privacy and secrecy. The name for these secret societies is Sukwe and Tamate societies. 


Rivers, W., H. (2017). The History of Melanesian Society. CUP Archive.