beasts: new guinea

The second heaviest bird in the world, the cassowary is a territorial creature that can be quite aggressive against any other birds it encounters. It will make a brief exception for mating, though as soon as the eggs are laid, the mating pair are quick to separate again. It is the male however who stays behind, watching over the emerald green eggs for several months, even though they might not all be his. 

Mailu facial tattooing, ca. 1915. This woman has the aisava motif on both sides of the forehead. It consists of two parallel lines forming a double-angled zigzag on either side of the central line of the forehead, terminating at the upper end in a coil. Aisava means “frigate-bird.” The “bake” pattern, not to be confused with “beak”, curves upwards and backwards near the corner of the eye and seems to be another bird design. The curving lines that emanate from the corner of the nose and travel to the ear are called boi, or the “reef heron” motif. The repeated zigzag which forms the dominant feature of the cheek represents the frigate bird. It has been suggested by some scholars that the frigate bird symbolized “the host of the spirit of
the dead” among some coastal Papuans.

Hula facial tattooing, ca. 1915. The stepped tattoos (lakatoi) on the woman’s cheeks and nose note that her father participated in several successful trading voyages. However, some scholars believe that this design evolved from the concept of an elbowed birds’ wing, possibly a predatorial bird. The motif on the throat denotes that the woman is married.