Simbu people

(Papua New Guinea  – )

Koskong (presentation basket for pandanus nuts)

Not on display
Further information

One of the most important food crops in the highlands of Papua New Guinea comes from two species of pandanus tree: the nut-bearing 'Pandanus julianettii', commonly known as 'karuka' in Tok Pisin, and the fruit-bearing 'Pandanus conoideus', known as 'marita'. Domesticated pandanus are planted in groves and their harvesting is an important aspect of ritual life across the highlands. The groves of the 'karuka' are planted and maintained by men and only grow in high altitudes. When 'karuka' are in season, entire families migrate from villages to high-altitude camps for several weeks to harvest and eat the nuts. The kernals are 'eaten raw or cooked by roasting in an open fire, baking in hot ashes or steaming in a stone oven' [1]. These prepared nuts are stored in baskets, hung from the rafter's of the men's houses, often becoming soot-encrusted from long-term storage. Baskets for storing and trading smoked 'karuka' are known as 'koskong' among the Simbu, and are woven from rattan cane.

Harvest festivals are held in many highlands regions, partiularly in Simbu Province, where the great nut festival, 'wubagl' or 'wubalt' involves a phenomenal display of food [2]. These festivals demonstrate friendship between clans and a donor invites trading partners and other relatives to contribute and distribute their harvest. The more food presented by the donor clan, the greater the praise from the recipient clan. A conspicuous display of excess demonstrates prosperity. As Marie Reay wrote, 'food has an intimate place in all formal procedures, and giving it expresses sociality and common interests' [3]. These festivals commemorate a successful harvest and are an act of thanksgiving to the spirits [4]. After the 'karuka' are gathered, parcels made and carried to a clearing where a mound of food is stacked. Bundles of sugarcane, bananas and florescences of 'marita' are stacked with the 'karuka'. Food gathered for the festival is kept in the parcels in which they were offered by individual growers and each man is able to identify his own distinctive way of parcelling 'karuka'. This particular 'koskong' basket closely resembles the form of the 'marita' fruit, which is collected and presented during the pandanus nut festival [5].

[1] R Michael Bourke, 'Indigenous edible nuts in Papua New Guinea', in Alan Quartermain and Barbara Tomi (eds), Fruits and nuts: research and development issues in Papua New Guinea, National Agricultural Research Institute, Proceedings No 9, May 2010, pp 89-90
[2] Marie Reay, 'The Kuma: a study of tradition, freedom and conformity among a New Guiena people', PhD, ANU, 1957, pp 219-226
[3] Reay, p 239
[4] John Nilles, 'Kuman of the Chimbu region, Central Highlands, New Guinea', Oceania, vol 21 no 1, Sep 1950, p 42
[5] For similar basket see Michael O'Hanlon, 'Paradise: portraying the New Guinea highlands', Crawford House Press, Bathurst, 1993, p 38; and Kay Owens, 'Visuospatial Reasoning', Springer International Publishing, 2015, p 155, fig 5.15c

Place of origin
Simbu (Chimbu) Province, Papua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Simbu people
mid 20th century
Ceremonial object, Weaving
bamboo, rattan cane, red and white pigments, smoke residue
186.0 cm length; 22.0 cm diam.
Gift of Chris Boylan 2017. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number