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Enga - where, without history, people are not people

A gourd used to store tree oil
An Enga gourd used to store tree oil


WABAG - Enga is the only province where a rich cultural history is taught in all schools to help students draw knowledge and wisdom from past traditions and apply them in their lives.

In 2017, American ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Catherine Ebert-Gray, launched two important text books now used in a pilot project across Grade 6-12 in the province.

One of the books, ‘Enga Culture & Community, Wisdom from the Past’, is an ethnography that provides an overview of Enga culture including stories, songs, poems, kongali (words of wisdom), nemongo (magic formulae), drawings and early photographs.

The second book, ‘Teachers Guild for the Enga Cultural Education Pilot Program’, provides recommendations, questions and activities to help teachers integrate material into the curriculum for Grade 6–12 subjects.

The two books are the result of 30 years hard work, research and study on Enga culture by Professor Polly Wiessner, Akii Tumu and Nitze Pupu.

The pilot project is the first major attempt in PNG to teach the rich and fascinating oral traditions that have been passed down from elders to youths over so many generations.

The project was designed to teach these values as well as cultural history to students as part of Enga history.

It is also hoped that the reference book will be widely read and enjoyed by the general public because learning and understanding are lifelong challenges.

“Engans are not a people if they don’t have a history,” says Professor Wiessner, a professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, who has been conducting research in the province since 1985.

It had been realised that the rich oral traditions and cultural knowledge that used to be passed on in the men’s and women’s houses, known as Akalyanda and Endanda, were no longer being transmitted to younger generations.

Rapid change meant that the Enga people were experiencing change resulting in the rapid loss of traditional frameworks for cultural education like rituals and feasts like the Sangai and Mena Yae that had brought people together were disappearing.

In 2014, they asked the team Enga provincial government to support a proposal to teach cultural education in schools and it was approved by the Enga Provincial Education Board and the Provincial Executive Council.

An example of what will be taught is birth control.

It was said that people should not breed like pigs, but space their children between three and five years to have time to care for each child properly.

Men retired to men’s houses at night and women stayed in women’s houses with girls and boys under the age of eight. Women did not resume sexual relations with their husbands until their infants stopped breastfeeding at about three years of age.

Sometimes serious quarrels broke out when women wanted wider birth spacing than man. But social norms supported woman’s rights to decide. Magic spells, poto nemongo were used to avoid pregnancy, however there were no effective means of birth control.

Here is the poro nemongo magic spell to avoid pregnancy:

Wanaku naa poto puu lao pato pelyo,
Tatali puu lau pato pelyo
Dilya potai, mama potai.
Niki langapu, kana langapu.
Wanaku naa ingi potai, kondonge potai,
Dilya potai, mama potai,
Aikena puu lao pato pelyo.

I, this girl, will be like a poto vine
Will go like a tatali vine
Be strong like dilya wood,
be strong like mama wood.
Cheat the sun, cheat the moon.
I, this girl, stomach be strong,
intestines be strong.
Be strong like dilya wood,
Be strong like mama wood.
Be strong like aikena pandanus.

The Enga people greatly appreciate that their rich cultural heritage is taught in schools, displayed at the show and preserved for the benefit of future generations.

And visitors who come to this year’s show will take with them memories of a dynamic people who embrace their rich cultural heritage with both hands up in the mountains of Papua New Guinea.



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Garry Roche

Daniel, some of the Engan students I was trying to teach in Bomana back about 30 years ago were obviously familiar with some of their 'stori tumbuna'. The late Lawrence Kambao, (from Tsak valley) had written about 'Tiri Akali Puio' ('Titi Akali Puio') and the Sandalu rituals, and likewise a Matthias Magnapem from the Ambum valley had writen about the Sangai initiation rites. Both took a serious approach to their folklore and what they wrote was quite interesting. I think Lawrence Kambao did publish something in the periodical 'Catalyst', but I am not sure about Matthias Magnapem. Likewise a Damian Arabagali had written about Huli folkore.

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