Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

Lesu is the name of a village in the Notsi-speaking area of New Ireland, an island province of Papua New Guinea. The Lesu are one of the nine main indigenous ethnolinguistic groups in the island. Other groups include the Nokon, Mandak, Usen Barok, Nusu, and Lavongai. There is no social cohesion among these groups and, prior to European dominance, various groups as well as villages within groups, were often at war with one another. Contact between villages is confined mainly to joint attendance at ceremonies. There is no apparent name for the people speaking the same language, so Lesu is used as the “culture name.” The Lesu practice slash-and-burn horticulture, supplemented by fishing and hunting.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Oceania --Melanesia


Papua New Guinea

OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

In addition to this culture summary, the Lesu collection (OM24) consists of other documents, all of them in English, covering a wide range of ethnographic information collected in 1880s to late 1980s.

The main source to consult is Powdermaker (1933, no. 1) which provides a firsthand ethnographic account of Lesu social organization and cultural practices as observed in 1929-1930. Major themes covered in this book include childcare and socialization, initiation rites, marriage, organization of labor and the family, sexual life and gender relations, magic and religion, community and exchange systems. Powerdermaker’s other works further enrich this information by providing in-depth information on specific themes including mortuary rites (1931, no. 2), vital statistics and demographic trends (1931, no. 4), and major feasts and organized rituals (1932, no. 5).

Three of the documents in the collection are recent articles, each revisiting Powerdermaker’s description of Lesu society and culture from the theoretical perspective of anthropology in the 1980s. The focus of these includes community organization and regional history (Rosman and Rubel 1991, no. 6), house types and their symbolic meanings (Aijmer 2007, no. 7), and initiation and life cycle rituals (Lewis 1969, no. 8).

Since the focus of Powdermaker’s fieldwork was the Lesu area, much of the information in the collection is limited to this region of New Ireland.

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Anua Kulau –house of the young men– Use PUBLIC STRUCTURES ( 344)

Gas –spirit double residing on clan land of each individual– Usewith ANIMISM CLANS ( 618) and/or REAL PROPERTY ( 423)

Luluai –government appointed chiefs– Use LOCAL OFFICIALS ( 624)

Malanggan –ritual carvings connected with mortuary rites and initiations– Use SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES ( 778) with PUBERTY AND INITIATION ( 881) and/or WOODWORKING ( 322)

Orang –chief or important community elders– Use COMMUNITY HEADS ( 622) or STATUS AND TREATMENT OF THE AGED ( 888)

Tinuato –ghost– Use CULT OF THE DEAD ( 769)

Tsera –shell currency– Use MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE ( 436)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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