On the 17th November 2017, it was such an honour for me to accept the name Seiserei that was bestowed to me by the indigenous Asmat people. I was the first woman in Asmat history to be given a name in Atsj, Asmat. It was my three months of stay at that time which I dedicated myself to empower the Asmat people. I empowered young women and went from one Jew house (Asmat traditional long house) to another in the area of Atsj District to motivate men to preserve their culture despite the modern era. I was given privilege to speak inside the Jew House and sit near the wayir (centre of the Jew house where important people -the tribal council usually have discussions, sing ritual songs, make decisions and do cultural activities), a place that only a man is allowed to do. Women are restricted to enter the Jew House and only during occasional events. So, it was such an honour for me to receive this privilege.
The ceremony took place inside the Bakasei Jew house in Bakasei village, Atsj District, Asmat Regency, Papua Province. Seiserei was the Ancestor of Atsj a very long time ago and she was a respected Chief of War. She was one of only a few women that achieved the title of chief of war that normally is reserved for the role of man. Chief of War were fierce headhunters, have the highest rank in the society, considered prestigious and also the most respected besides the elderly and Wayir people.
There used to be an initiation to become Chief of War through a process of weeks of quarantine in the Jew house. The elder chief would mentor the selected and chosen boys & young man from the area. Other than being as chief of war, instead they could also be role models of the village or act as ambassadors to develop the village.
The name Seiserei means fast, work fast, quick in doing duty or activity which has the same meaning in Asmat word of Serimar that means fast/quick. She was a figure example or role model for women, mothers, and young women because of her bravery to fight enemies and most importantly in balancing her role as leader for her people and a Mother for her family. Her character was described as fierce, strong, smart, firm, and a brave woman who would defend her territory with planned strategy and she would also embrace her identity role as an Asmat woman. She understands her nature to give birth to children and act as Cesma Couc (Woman Chief of War). She was known to be able to make weaves, awer (traditional skirts made from sago leaves) and many other handmade specialities of Asmat. While her husband is out for headhunting and war, she would be the one to lead in the territory if there would be enemy attacking the village of Atsj. She wears attributes that symbolises Chief of War such as bipane (nose ornament made from human bone or cassuary bone), salawaku (shield), spear, sokfin (head ornaments made from feathers), pacin (head ornament made from couscous fur) and wear white powder from crushed shells over her skin aesthetically.
The name giving ceremonial process
I wore Asmat attributes such as Sokfin, Pacin, betem and pisua when I was preparing for this ceremony from where I stayed at the missionary parish in Atsj. I was picked up by chi (Asmat traditional canoe) by one of the descendants of Seiserei. I was standing in the middle of the chi when we were going to the ceremonial location at Bakasei Jew House with Pastor Eko OSC, Head of Atsj Missionary Parish and as Bakapem – a name given to him of one of the Atsj Chief of War ancestor – as he paddled standing up in front of me wearing Asmat attributes too and behind me also paddling standing up is Takayu, Seiserei descendant.
The intense and wide brown River Bets was calm and the sky was bright. As we nearly arrived at the location, our chi was navigated facing towards the Jew House moving straight towards it. It took around 25 minutes of travel. As the chi hit the mud and the traditional canoe can’t be moved, I was greeted spiritedly and energetically by five to seven women as they are the Seiserei descendants. They grip my arm firmly and carefully took me out from the chi. I was walking barefooted with them squashing mud from the waterfront river. I followed their guidance while figuring what will happen next. It was like a surprise; I didn’t know what experience will unfold in front of me as we walked towards the middle door of the long house and the women’s hand still gripping my arm.
In front of the main door, they washed my feet for me as a token of honour and respect. After that, they took me inside the Jew House and let me sit at the Seiserei’s whole family fireplace. Inside the Bakasei Jew House there are seven fireplaces for 7 groups of family. Seiserei’s is positioned next to the wayir.
The students from school, all Seiserei descendants, and other Asmat family came to the ceremony. I was greeted and welcomed through a speech by the elderly of Seiserei’s descendant called Amandus Siwin. He is the respected chief of Bakasei, wayir and woodcarver. After that the ceremonial process started. I was asked to stand up in the middle of the long house and all the Seiserei’s descendant started to line up and rubbed sago around my face while saying the name Seiserei. Amandus Siwin was the first one and then followed by others. Some descendants cried because they remembered their respected ancestor. After it was done. I gave a speech. It was such a memorable moment that a new history was made and I hope it would be an inspiration for the young generations to preserve the Asmat culture.