I suppose being brought up in a Christian home where separation from the world was a pronounced theme, I was a bit naive when it came to understanding the powers of the heathen world of darkness.
I had missed a lot of ‘western’ heathendom, hence my jungle experience with evil practices profoundly impacted me.
I was just a 21 year old single guy; a little naive but intrigued by adventure and passionate to share my faith in Christ.
I went to Papua New Guinea as a missionary with a Bible, a Camera and a Theory!
I remember my curious ventures that perhaps I would have been better to avoid.
The photos in this article were taken during this period in the 1960s.
I visited a large village that was notorious for its heathen initiation practices.
It was during a period of cultural festivity that I, with trepidation, ventured into a darkened heathen arena and saw for myself a cruel practice that left an indelible memory.
Foolhardily, I wanted to subjectively immerse myself into the culture, thinking of the people to whom I was called to minister the Gospel.
I had been told about a large initiation ceremony that was about to take place in a large village near Maprik which was my home base.
Hundreds of tribal warriors were gathering. Some travelled from surrounding villages to witness what to them, no doubt ,was an important tribal event.
I was about to witness the cruel and crude practice of the initiation of young teenage boys and men into their manhood and the ultimate viewing of the “Gwaldu” (spirit entity) of the Tamberan cult.
Little did I realize at the time the true significance of this event, nor did I fully appreciate the demonic power, fear and spiritual influence that surrounded the whole event.
However, I was determined to make myself acquainted with these people, for I had come to minister life to them and not death, joy and not sorrow, peace and not war, love and not fear
As a Christian missionary I had come to bring Christ into their society and so with my camera in hand instead of my Bible, I foolishly entered into the arena of a dark heathen ceremony all in the name of ‘anthropology’.
After all Margaret Mead, the great anthropologist, and others had written about these people and they were somewhat critical of the work missionaries were doing in trying to convert them from their traditional & cultural practices.
I was determined to prove for myself that these people needed the Gospel. I wanted to know what made these people do what they do.
Later I thought and sought forgiveness for being so naive in my approach but not my message.
Did these dear people need to hear about the transforming power of the Gospel? Yes, of course and particularly after what I witnessed that day, when I ventured into the very heart of a ‘Haus Tamberan’!
The Bible says “– the dark places of the earth are filled with the habitations of cruelty.” Psalm 74:20
As I looked into their darkened eyes and gazed upon their painted faces, their mouths, stained by the chewing of blood-red beetle nut, their teeth blackened by this habit, I thought to myself, “Is it possible for fear and cruelty to be replaced with love and trust.?”
Is it possible to see this culture turn from an animistic, ancestral and evil-spirit worship, to worship the one true God?
In fact a whole lot of questions went through my mind that day as the clash of the cultures invaded my thinking.
It was a day that finally convinced me that all peoples need Christ as their Saviour.
I stood by in that milling mob and could hear the war-cries of enemy villages as they came through the jungle to witness and take part in this sing-sing!
Hopefully I thought, they came in peace and not war.
From near and far they kept coming. Jungle warriors danced round and round, feigning war. Some, their bodies blackened, and others painted brilliant colours.
Not a woman was to be seen in this male only initiation event (for fear of death.) Women are forbidden to be present at this ceremony and strictly forbidden to look upon the Tamberan’s image.
By this time hundreds of men had packed into the village square in front of the large spirit house or House Tamberan.
I stood by cautiously and watched as the scripture came to my mind, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great, and that every imagination of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5
As the initiation groups came into the arena a shiver went down my spine as a roar of demonic approval thundered through the jungle.
Immediately I was aware that the people were not acting out of their primitiveness, but were intelligently inspired and spiritually directed by what felt like an evil force of demonic power.
I strained to get a glimpse of the young men and boys who were to be taken through the final act of initiation. Their faces seemed expressionless, their eyes glaring, their lips tight.
They had been through experiences of cruelty, too graphic to mention in this post.
They were brutally flogged and beaten with stinging nettles and sticks as they were carried through the gauntlet.
Now they would become real men and their powers of procreation and success was validated.
Violently now they pushed and shoved, seeking entrance to the House Tamberan. Inside was a large idol called “Puti,” which to them was the ultimate in their spiritual superstition.
It was the “Gwaldu” or spiritual entity they had learned to fear.
Suddenly the jungle drums began to beat and echo from within the spirit house. The fear-torn group was led on hands and knees through the small opening in front of the House Tamberan with the initiating group.
With my Agfa camera and flashlight, I was discretely ushered into the Tamberan through a back entrance and crouched in the darkness to see what would happen.
Frankly, although I was trying to be objective I was “scared spit-less!” Excuse the terminology but fear doesn’t quite describe the apprehension I felt!
Heathen warriors were dancing and singing songs that sounded evil to me and were monotonously minor in their key.
In the semi darkness of the flickering naked bamboo flame, the initiated group crawled around on hands and knees gazing up at an image 12 to 18 feet high. I snapped this picture!
The sudden flash of light brought a roar of disapproval that echoed through that towering edifice.
It is a significant fact to note that no matter what society one finds oneself in, men tend to use semi darkness to create atmosphere. In this case an atmosphere of fear and awe of something supernatural.
I could only describe the atmosphere in the large spirit house as “demonic.” Painted and perspiring bodies danced near me. Naked men danced to the throbbing beat of the jungle drum.
A low suspended ceiling above me moved in eerie motion. I sensed the evil spirits and the satanic power that hovered in the building.
Yes, the god of this world, the god of pleasure, the god of deceit, the god of lust, the god of cruelty all of these seeking to create an atmosphere of fear and destruction. I felt shaken!
Shortly after, I had my opportunity to see for myself what it was that drew such crowds into believing a lie – there it was. A giant coloured monster image, the “Gwaldu,” an idol carved out of wood, a symbol of animistic deity, a false god.
In the semi-light of the flickering bamboo flame, this grotesque sightless image which was over 15 feet in height, shimmered with its brilliant colours creating an atmosphere which could be described as “fearful” and “evil.”
Later that night, as I drove home to the mission station in my old jeep, I felt that I had wilfully immersed myself into the spirit of heathendom.
I felt I had violated my spirit by my inquisitiveness. I repented and asked the Holy Spirit for cleansing from sin.
I’ve been living back in Australia now for many years and through the media I find that the same spirit of evil also pervades our society with drunken and drug induced festivities.
With the rejection of the Gospel by so many in are western culture, few realise that our society is slowly being destroyed by the evil one.
The Scripture clearly states “that we wrestles not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and against powers.” Ephesians 6:12
The Amplified N.T. renders it such that we are not contending only with physical opponents but against the despotism’s, against the powers, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the supernatural sphere.
Heathendom is generally relegated to people in so called “third world countries;” yet hypocritically in our own cities of Australia walking through the streets of our concrete and steel jungles, we find thousands of benighted souls bound by the power of Heathendom.
Our Night Clubs subtly create a licentious atmosphere whereby patrons are often drawn into behaviour that they regret later.
Drunkenness, violence and sexual immorality often reflect our willful heathenism.
The hedonistic counterfeit to the Kingdom of God, tries to hem us into our little church circle, to our small christian social groups, yes even to our mission station, lest we go out and share the good news of the gospel and bring salvation to the heathen.
Our governments try to legislate and control it, while in the homes of our villages, towns and cities, thousands are captivated by its spiritual power and its subtle intent to destroy families and send people to Hell.
The answer of course is found in the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation. Romans 1:16
What I witnessed in Papua New Guinea was nothing short of amazing.
From a heathen culture that had for millennia been influenced by the powers of darkness, was slowly turning into a Christian civilisation which was influenced by the power of the gospel.
In thousands of villages across Papua New Guinea you will find churches of many descriptions, that have taken root and are slowly turning a darkened heathen world into a culture with a Christian worldview.
Can Christianity make a difference?
Perhaps not if it is of a religious kind! However the Christ of the Gospel has the power to change not only individuals but whole societies through the grace of God.
I have had the privilege of witnessing in my life time, thousands of peoples changed by the power of Christ and the message of the Gospel. Your life can be changed also!
The video below which I took during the Jubilee celebrations of the Church in Papua New Guinea will show you what I mean.
Is the job completed?
By no means but the seed has been planted and the harvest is underway – as the indigenous church under the direction of the Holy Spirit continues the work until Jesus comes.
For the Word of God is quick and powerful. Our spiritual weapons are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds.