PORT MORESBY - Kipilan, a leader of the Yanarian people near Wabag in Enga Province, was born in Tambori village, in the 1920s.
Three months before Papua New Guinea’s independence on 16 September 1975, he went to Port Moresby to record the story of his life in the Enga language and anthropologist Philip Nere translated it to English.
Europeans did not enter Enga until the early 1930s when Kipilan was a youth. He quickly learned to accept their presence and gladly made use of their metal tools. But he was not pleased with all the changes brought in.
Kipilan said that the women of the 1970s were no longer willing to raise pigs the way they used to and men no longer wanted to work hard.
“Our young men wear long trousers, sunglasses, drink beer and go to market with betelnuts in one hand and paper leaf in the other,” he said.
“They wander in the crowd, chewing and spitting.”
Kipilan was afraid that the old customs would completely disappear and he wanted to do something about it.
The moka, a form of exchange, was important in the lives of the Enga people. Individuals and groups came together to give away wealth to other tribal groups and by doing so hoped to win great prestige and have much influence in the community.
Later, gifts would be returned, perhaps with even great generosity. Kipilan’s big moka was in return for one that took place in February 1966, when members of the Kii tribe had been the givers.
Kipilan call all the men together from his seven clans. He told them to go to their friends and relatives and ask for gifts to make a big moka.
He said that, as well as the customary gifts, he wanted to give a modern gift, a car. His people collected $3,600 to buy a Toyota four wheel drive. A motorbike and thousands of dollars in cash were also added to the list.
When the time came for the moka, 20 cassowaries, 20 cattle and countless pigs were herded into the ceremonial ground. The people of the Yanarian and neighbouring tribes gathered for the ceremony.
The men decorated themselves with black clay soil on their faces and put on black caps with feathers on their heads and the women wore grass skirts and oiled their skin.
Kipilan made a long speech comparing the old ways with the new and made it clear to everyone that he was worried about what might happen after Papua New Guinea gained independence the following year.
He said he missed the old customs but knew he could do nothing to turn back the clock. As he handed over the blend of traditional and modern gifts, in one of the biggest mokas, he ended his speech with an important question for Tei Abal and all the new politician of Papua New Guinea.
“You members talk about self-government, you talk of the House of Assembly. Will your work go straight or will it go crooked? I do not know.”
In the 1980s, tribal conflict broke out and the traditional moka was replaced by compensation payments between groups.
The younger generation of highlands people have lost interest in old customs and are unlikely to see another ceremonial exchange to equal Kipilan’s big moka.
Jeremiah Munini is from Enga Province and in Grade 7 at New Erima Primary School. This is part of a school writing project initiated by PNG writer and author Betty Wakia to promoting literature in schools. If you can support this initiative or donate any used books to the school, you can email Betty on firstname.lastname@example.org