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Development is difficult & culture is beautiful


Beauty of Enga Culture: Untold Stories by Tony Sulupin, Edited by Daniel Kumbon & Barry Taverner, Independently Published, 2022, 206 pages. ISBN: 9798364376510. It is available from Amazon in the USA for US$13.78

LAGAIP – After I completed my schooling in 2007, a new chapter in my life began when New Britain Palm Oil Limited in Kimbe hired me as a plantation supervisor.

I completed my industrial training with the company and enjoyed the work immensely but a nagging thought kept disturbing me.

I wanted to do something personally that would yield benefits for my marginalised people in the central Highlands. So I resigned from NBPOL and returned home.

Here I formed a community-based organisation, Lagaip Poverty Relievers Association, with the aim of alleviating poverty and related hardships among my people.

But things didn’t work out as easily as I thought they would. I encountered many challenges.

The people I worked with wanted instant rewards. They couldn’t understand that rewards for hard work often take a long time to come to fruition.

The lack of markets was and remains a considerable challenge; politics continues to present major setbacks and government infrastructure and support hardly reaches the people.

Nevertheless, I remained optimistic.

I envisaged that Laiagam could become a hub for agriculture and an ideal centre for tourism so I endeavoured to find ways to unveil these potentials.

I hope that one day Laiagam and surrounds will serve as a food bowl for the nation in much the same way as the Wahgi Valley.

In 2019, I registered the Lagaip Sangai Festival with the National Cultural Commission of PNG and in 2020 staged the first ever district show to exhibit our diverse cultural heritage.

The annual festival will continue to revive cultural practices, including those written about in this book.

The festival is the only platform in this area where these intriguing rites are demonstrated, exhibited and recorded for educational, promotional and preservation purposes.

I also started the Pilikambi Traditional Salt Art Festival, an entity endeavouring to market the salt ponds and products to lure tourists to villages in Pilikambi where these traditional salt ponds are situated.

This book is the result of initiating the Lagaip Sangai Festival which shows what makes Enga a culturally vibrant society.

It encompasses several of the ancient traditional practices, myths and legends of our culture, such as salt making and how Lake Lau and Lake Ivae came into existence. 

It looks at the beliefs surrounding Mt Mugalo, which relates to the ‘miracle water’ and the significance of the Sangai initiation ritual that cleanses young men of moral flaws.

The book also contains stories have been told.

Engan folklore seems to offer prophecies that are being fulfilled today.

It tells of the eagle origins of the Sambe Tribe in Pilikambi, and about the bowerbird which shows future direction for young people's marriages.

It tells of the methods of feeding and talking to the natural spirit world and surviving extreme hunger during crises caused by severe frosts and droughts.

It also describes how childbirth, prenatal and postnatal care were managed as there was no health care available in olden times.

I have found it inspirational to learn about these cultural beliefs, practices and values.

Not least the lifestyles of Engans in the past which were lived within the customary codes of conduct and natural laws that served as guiding principles to deliver justice during the time when there were no written laws.

This was the beauty of Engan culture, the binding factors that held the people together.

This book hopes to inspire Engans to appreciate and embrace the beauties enshrined in our cultural events.

It is intended for all Engan students, especially at high school to tertiary level, but it can also be a relevant resource material for students in other provinces who wish to learn something about one of the more than 800 traditional cultures of PNG in comparison to their own.

And I hope it will be of interest to friends and wantoks in PNG and overseas who wish to gain an insight into some aspects of Engan traditional culture and how it is threatened by the fast-changing modern technological world.

Tony Sulupin was born in 1979 and grew up in Titai village near Wanepap Catholic mission in the Laiagam District of Enga Province. He is from the Ambai clan of the Sambe tribe in Pilikambi. He has a Bachelor of Agriculture degree, a Diploma in Education and a Certificate in Agribusiness. In 2020, he won the PNG Australia Alumni Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.


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