Just a few days after my arrival, I had the opportunity to join a group of visiting students from Mount Vernon Nazarene University for a mumu. We were hosted by Gertrude, one of the local church leaders, and her family. It was a fabulous time as we not only observed but participated in the process!
So what is a mumu? It is truly one of PNG's cultural highlights. Essentially, a mumu is a big feast that is cooked in the ground using hot stones as the heating elements. It may be prepared in celebration of a bride price, a marriage, family get-together, resolution of a tribal conflict, or any other reason to have a party.
Preparations begin early in the morning. Fresh fruits (cooking bananas), veggies (sweet potato, "English potato," taro, and whatever else you want to throw in there), greens (ferns and other unidentifiable plants) are gathered from the garden. The women prepare these: peeling and cutting and washing, and peeling and cutting and washing some more. Men are responsible for heating up the cooking stones. The cold stones are placed on top of a stack of wood. More wood and branches are piled on top of the stones. A roaring fire heats the stones to red-hot. The guys also prepare the main courses, pig and chicken. The pig is killed by two bonks on the head and carefully butchered at the site. And in case you ever wondered, chickens really do run around with their heads cut off.
Once the mountain of food is ready. it is carefully placed into the pit. The first layer is a lining of banana leaves. The hot stones are then moved from the fire using bamboo "tongs." Ferns and other greens go next. The pork and some veggies are added, with more stones tucked under edges of the meat to ensure that it is well done. Another level of greens. More veggies. The chickens are stuffed with stones, again to make sure they are properly cooked. And a final layer of greens to add a top layer of insulation. Once everything is in, the banana leaves are folded over the top to keep any steam from escaping. Only one hour layer, lunch is served!
For more pictures of this interesting custom, check out my photo album by the same name. CAUTION: some of the pictures might be a little rough on the pig-sympathizers out there.