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The making of the ‘green axes’ during the Stone Age in New Guinea

By PETER S. KINJAP

Before the first Australian patrol to Mt. Hagen in 1933, stones axes (green axes) were used daily in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and were widely traded, often in the context of ceremonial exchanges.




In recent times, a group of axe factories located in Waghi and Jimi Valleys accounted for the bulk of production was in circulation at the time.
An anthropologist had spent 3 months, during the late 1963 and early 1964, journeying through the New Guinea highlands in an attempt to trace sites where stone axes (green axes) have been made in recent past. In the Simbai (Tsembaga) and Kaironk areas in Simbu, steel axe has effectively replaced stone axe only within the last ten years, though some steel axe have been traded in a decade or so earlier.
In other highlands areas, stone working axes had probably dropped out of use by the early 1940’s, of the ten quarry sites then examined, three had been visited before by earlier workers, two were reported to the writer by an anthropologist, C. Criper, working in the Upper Simbu, and the others were found by walking about the country pursuing local information.
Stone axes (green axes) were also used in West Papua (Irian Jaya), when Ronnajdn Frank traveled up the isolated Brazza River in West Papua in 1989, the ‘tree-house’ men would only trade a stone axe in exchange for steel axe. They needed their steel axes on a daily basis and would not easily replace the stone axes (green axes). Something which money, tobacco or other traded items wouldn’t do.
During the Stone Age period, there are many known areas on the Island of New Guinea where green axes are used and traded but only few areas were tipped as ‘factory’ where it was made. 
Simeon Nikints of Moika village in Mt. Hagen Central district, Western Highlands Province could be one of the last remaining survivors of the ‘green axe’ makers in the highlands of PNG, acquiring the skills from his father and grandfather. Simon is currently living in Taurama suburb in Port Moresby with his daughter Grace Mone selling some of the last remains of his produce from the highlands, the ‘green axes’ he made. He renamed the stones axes as ‘green axes’ that he produces because of the colour of the fine stone that he gets after months of rubbing against each other. Simeon is married to a lady from Sinasina village in Simbu Province. He has 3 daughters and a son.     
“My father made the stone axe and I watched him when I was a small boy. I started imitating my father and trial few myself when I was still young. I later realized I could make stone axes from this experience.” Simon said.
“I started collecting stones (raw material) from the Rondon River upstream in Mt. Hagen and started sharpening them against each other” he added. “It’s not an easy task to rub them against each other to get the expected sharpness and toughness of the stone axes. It took us months to rub the stones against each other. Only the committed men could do that.” A confident Nikints said.   

“We have to rub, sharpen and publish until we get to the core which is the green part of the stone that gives us the sharpness and the ‘green’ colour” he added. “Too much energy; you got to spend hours to strain your muscles to get to it. I had to spend hours of my days in the afternoon to do that.” He said. “When I spend full day working on it, I can get a finished product in few weeks. But when I spend few hours in the afternoon, I get to it in months”, he said. 
Simeon said he had never used the ‘green axe’ himself. He made them to sell or trade. In his youthful days, steel axe was introduced.  Jim Taylor, the first explorer of Western Highlands Province arrived in his village when he was only a boy. He recalled he was only a child during World War 2 which ended in 1945 when Japanese and American war planes flying over and making strange noises up in the air. “Jim offered us salt; some kids especially young girls tasted it first. I was amongst those kids but did taste as I was afraid of the white man. I was also afraid of my village elders. They restrict us from getting anything he offered or going closer to him saying he could be a spirit of a dead man from the enemy tribe to kill us or poison us,” Simeon added. After leaving the Moika village, Taylor later settled in Nebilyer valley. 
“One day I saw a group of foreigners taking photos and videos. A man was invited to demonstrate cutting a tree using a ‘green axe’ and those photographers and video crew were taking photos and video footages. The ‘green axe’ cut like a steel axe. It was exciting watching the show,” he said.
Like many other traditionally made items, ‘green axe’ was also used in the ceremonial events such as the traditional singing. The Western Highlands men in traditional full attire would hold a traditional green axe or carry a green axe under his armpit while marching around in traditional attires and chanting out in loud voices the ritual traditional songs.
The green axe was mainly a tool for gardening, cutting trees and building houses. Rough hard rocks were found near the rivers and creeks.
The handle of the green axe is made separately. Then it was fitted. The hardest task was to get the stone from the river side or creek and rubbing against each other. Smoothing and making the handle is easy.
“Some tourists told me when I was selling some green axes during the 2028 APEC in Port Moresby that I have done the toughest job of all indigenous artwork, that is, to make a green axe.” Nikints said.
“Carving is another special gift that I have. I produced through my own imagination a board of paradise and carved it. Or a human face and carve it, as well as other designs too. I can produce a human face from a wood or any other design from my imagination,” he added.
“I am still carving and doing my artwork in producing the green axes today. Any museums or historians or just about anyone who is interested to get a ‘green axe’ for their display and exhibition or a souvenir from the Island of New Guinea, you can find me at the back of Holiday Inn Hotel in Port Moresby where there is a craft and paint market or alternatively you can contact the writer of this story who knows where I live.” Simeon Nikints said.
The ‘green’ axe is a sustainable and eco-friendly tool that has been used in the past, especially during the Stone Age. Today when humanity is facing humiliation and suffocation from climate crisis, remains of such tools as the ‘green axe’ being produced and used without causing any disturbance to the environment should find a special spot in the museum exhibitions and environmental conservation forums around the global.   
*Peter S. Kinjap is a freelance correspondent in Climate Change issues (REDD+ in PNG) and advocates for Travel4Green (T4G) PNG project. Email: pekinjap@gmail.com  
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