“The Time When Everything Divided”; The Creation Story of The Kaluli Tribe

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All cultures and religions have their creation stories. One creation story is of the Kaluli people who believe everything in the world was created to solve the problems of cold and hunger.

Papua New Guinea Kaluli tribe ©pinterest

The Kaluli are a clan of indigenous people who live in the rain forests of the Great Papuan Plateau in Papua New Guinea.

The traditional creation story of the Kaluli people was first recorded by anthropologist and ethnographer Edward L. Shieffelin whose first contact with them took place in the late 1960s.

According to the Kaluli creation story everything in the world was created as to solve problems of cold and hunger, and the efforts were initiated by one or two ordinary and unnamed men rather than any deity or deities.

Their creation story begins in a time the Kaluli people call hena madaliaki, which translates to “when the land came into form.”

During the time of hena madaliaki, people covered the earth but there was nothing else: no trees or plants, no animals, and no streams. With nothing to use for food or shelter, the people became cold and hungry. Then one man among them gathered everyone together and delegated different tasks.

He directed one group to become trees and they did. He directed another to become sago, yet another to be fish, another banana and so forth until the world was brimming with animals, food, streams, mountains and all other natural features. There were only a few people left and they became the ancestors of present-day human beings.

The Kaluli describe this story as “the time when everything alə bano ane” which means roughly “the time when everything divided”.

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This concept of all world phenomena as a result of a “splitting” has many echos in Kaluli thought and cultural practices. In the Kaluli world view, all of existence is made from people who differentiated into different forms.

Animals, plants, streams and people are all the same except in the form they have assumed following this great split. Death is another splitting.

The Kaluli believes that death is another event that divides beings through the acquisition of new forms which are unrecognizable to the living.

The Kaluli are an indigenous people whose first contact with contemporary western civilization began in the 1940s.

Following extensive Christian missionary efforts in the region, variants of the traditional creation story have adopted a few Christian elements. Prior to contact, the Kaluli people believed the creation efforts were initiated by one or two ordinary and unnamed men rather than any deity or deities. But since the missionaries entered their region they now tend to identify one or both of them as “Godeyo” (God) and “Yesu” (Jesus Christ).

The Unseen World

“All that cannot be seen is a very real part of Kaluli life. The forest is thick and hides many things from the eyes, but is full of sound.”

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The Kaluli believe in spirits in the forest and animals.

People that are unseen are either a “shadow” or “reflection”; if the shadow dies or is killed the Kaluli counterpart does also.

Spirits of the dead also live in the unseen world, along with spirits that never took a human body. Reciprocal spirits take place in wild pigs and cassowaries. They do not believe that the dead bring ill will to the living.



Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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