ETHNONYMS: Banar, Banara

The Banaro are a group numbering about 2,500 located along the middle course of the Keram River, a tributary of the Sepik River in Madang and East Sepik provinces, Papua New Guinea. Banaro is a Papuan language isolate belonging to the Sepik-Ramu Phylum. The Banaro are today concentrated in two villages. Formerly, they lived in four villages, two on either side of the Keram. Each village consists of from three to six hamlets, which in turn have from three to eight multi-family houses. Each hamlet also includes one communal structure, sometimes referred to as the "goblin hall." Subsistence is based on sago processing, the cultivation of taro, yams, bananas and sugarcane, fishing, and the exploitation of wild and domestic pigs. Sibs are the landholding group among the Banaro. The Banaro produce their own pottery and use bows and arrows.

The Banaro are organized into several patriclans, each of which is further divided into two subclans. Affiliated with each subclan are several localized patrilineages. Marriage among the Banaro is an exchange of women between exogamous patriclans. Sister exchange is the ideal, although the actual choice of a husband is generally in the hands of the girl and her mother. Bride-price is required. The domestic unit is a group of coresident brothers, along with their wives and children. The families live in a communal house, divided into apartments for each nuclear family. Each Banaro hamlet consists of a single patriclan. The communal houses are divided in two, each half belonging to each of that clan's subclans. The latter are totemic, unilineal, exogamous groups. Each subclan is allied with several other subsibs in wife exchanges. The alliances are effectively self-perpetuating and new alliances are established by the old and influential men among the Banaro. These leading men also have the responsibility of settling disputes and making economic and military decisions. The headmen lead by persuasion, not by command, and their power base is secured through a monopoly on magic.

The Banaro place great faith in magic. Magic is regarded as the primary means of manipulating the natural and supernatural worlds. Boys and girls both undergo initiation, with the girls marrying shortly thereafter. The most important supernaturals are the ghosts of the ancestors and the mischievous goblins, or minor spirit beings.


Thurnwald, Richard (1916). Banaro Society. American Anthropological Association Memoirs 3 (4).Menasha, Wis.

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