Crawford House Publishing
Animals the Ancestors Hunted An account of the wild mammals of the Kalam area, Papua New Guinea

This is a very special kind of animal book. The first author, Ian Saem Majnep, grew up on the edge of the cool upper montane forest, hunting, foraging and gardening and absorbing an immense body of traditional knowledge and belief about animals and wider Kalam natural history. Saem gives an insider’s view of the wild mammals of his home area and shows how Kalam animal lore is woven into the customary life of his people.

Some 53 species of wild terrestrial mammals (28 marsupials, 24 rodents and the wild New Guinea singing dog) are present in and near the Kaironk Valley. The Kalam high-order taxonomy of mammals is very different to that of Western zoologists. They divide terrestrial mammals into two broad categories: kmn ‘game mammals’, that is, the larger marsupials and giant rats, that are mainly arboreal and are men’s prime game, and as ‘small mammals and frogs’, that are mainly ground-dwelling and are hunted chiefly by women. In over twenty chapters, Saem describes these animals, grouping them in terms of their appearance, habitats and behaviour. Over the past 50 years the Kalam have gone from pre-contact isolation to partial participation in the modern world. This shift has come at a price - much of the natural history knowledge that Saem records is in danger of being lost to younger Kalam, and to the scientific world.

The book includes three major appendices detailing the mammals recorded in the Kalam region, their Kalam names, and the hundreds of plants that are of significance in the text.

The Authors

Ian Saem Majnep was born about 1948 among the Kalam people, in the remote south-west corner of Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, a region that came under government control in 1959. At the age of 15 Saem met the anthropologist Ralph Bulmer, who had begun an interdisciplinary team study of Kalam society, language and environment. Later he became Bulmer’s leading field assistant and co-author in a series of projects. Their first book was the ground-breaking Birds of My Kalam Country, published in 1977. Saem then began to write in Kalam the core chapters of Animals the Ancestors Hunted. Bulmer translated these and added commentaries to some. Ralph Bulmer was Professor of Anthropology at the University of PNG from 1968-73 and then at the University of Auckland until 1988. Much of his own extensive fieldwork among the Kalam was devoted to ethnobiology.

After Bulmer’s premature death in 1988 the tasks of completing the commentaries, indices and appendices and editing the English text for publication were undertaken by Andrew Pawley and Robin Hide.

The Editors and Illustrator

Robin Hide is an ecological anthropologist who has worked extensively in PNG.
Andrew Pawley is a linguist who has worked with the Kalam since 1963.
Christopher Healey, who drew the illustrations, is a social anthropologist who studied bird of paradise hunting and trade among the Maring, the eastern neighbours of the Kalam.


Ian Saem Majnep, Ralph Bulmer


Back List




20 photos,18 drawings, 3 maps


Paperback, 452 pages


225 x 150 mm



© Copyright 2022 Crawford House Publishing Australia