enga3Enga, like other parts of the Highlands, was unknown to the rest of the world until it was reached by explorers in the years before World War II. An Australian patrol led by Taylor and Black in 1938 arrived first. They found a society of agriculturalists with pig exchange as the main economic arrangement.

Enga was created by administrators in 1973 from portions of what had been Southern Highlands and Western Highland Provinces. Much of the land is mountainous and a third of it over 2,000 metres above sea level. The high elevation of the province makes for a cold climate. The habitable south and central areas are quite densely populated, with low wooden house s scattered in the high valleys.

The people are subsistence farmers with coffee as the main earner of cash. The food grown now includes English potatoes and cabbages as well as sweet potato, taro, bananas, yams and other tropical vegetables. Enga Province has mineral wealth also and Porgera, in the north west of the province, is the site of one of the world’s larger gold mines.enga2

Although there are nine separate dialects, this is few by PNG standards and these are dialects of the same language group.

Enga, like other parts of the Highlands, was unknown to the rest of the world until it was reached by explorers in the years before World War II. An Australian patrol led by Taylor and Black in 1938 arrived first. They found a society of agriculturalists with pig exchange as the main economic arrangement.

Both the formidable geography and the fierce reputation of the Engan people has tended to deter outsiders. Consequently Enga is possibly the least modernised or menga1issionised of any province, with many traditions unchanged. Life is conducted according to customs that have prevailed for many years. Singsings, the name for gatherings and celebrations where singing and dancing occur, are still common. Pigs are still the best form of wealth and a good number of pigs is necessary to indicate status. Money itself is not well understood. Marriages involve brideprice.‘Payback’ is common and tribal fighting is considered to be a legitimate way of settling disputes.

‘Payback’ is compensation for an offence, either social or physical. It occurs in all other parts of PNG. Knowledge of payback is embedded deep in the consciousness of most people. They understand its logic, even if they are Christians for whom the forgive of sins is fundamental. Payback is usually in the form of money or pigs. A clan will exact payback on behalf of one of its members. Failure to give payback is itself a serious crime and, if compensation is not forthcoming, violence might ensue, such as the burning down of a house or damage to other property of the clan of the person who caused the offence. Murder is sometimes committed in the name of payback. A n innocent and uninvolved clan member can be the victim. In fact payback is one of the main reasons for murder. Adultery is considered one of the most serious crimes and often attracts payback. Car accidents are a relatively new and lucrative occasion for payback.enga4 enga5

Disputes about payback can escalate into actual warfare, which is conducted with axes and bows and arrows and results in injuries and, occasionally, deaths. Tribal warfare is not uncommon but nor is it an everyday event. Disputes will normally be resolved with a payment of payback, whether or not the case has also been dealt with by the courts.

Compensation is, of course, also a fundamental concept in western law and compensation to landowners forms the basis of the arrangements by which mining rights are assigned to mining companies. Enga Provincengae has had experience of both the benefits and the problems associated with mining for some time now. Mt. Kare, now closed, was the province’s first mine. Porgera began producing in 1990. It processes 10,000 tonnes of ore a day. It has brought a great deal of money to Enga Province, much of it now vested in the Porgera Development Authority. Millions of kina have now been paid, something like a thousand times more than Pogera district was used to receiving as a support grant from the national government. The essential contradiction of pouring money into a non-cash economy has resulted in total disruption of the traditional lifestyle and much wastage. However, people in Porgera are coming to terms with their situation and beginning to invest in local businesses.

Western-style development and, in particular, the introduction of those western ideas which emphasise individual rights, may bring certain benefits to Engan society. The ‘big man’ system which dominates so much of PNG’s politics is particularly strong here. Concepts like equality, democracy, freedom of speech and individual human rights are not as compelling as whatever custom dictates. Whatever the ‘big man’ says should happen, happens. Women, for example, have no autonomy of action and a wife is the property of her husband. A change in this way of thinking will probably be a long time in coming in Enga.