Simbu is a small mountainous province locked in the middle of the Papua New Guinean Highlands. At its northern boundary it has the country’s highest peak, Mt. Wilhelm, at nearly 15,00 feet (4,509 metres). It is the most rugged of all PNG’s provinces. Almost 50% of the land is mountainous, with deep narrow valleys and fast flowing rivers. The name Simbu is sometimes corrupted to Chimbu. Legend says that it was named thus because when steel axes and knives were given to the tribespeople they said they were “simbu” – very pleased.
Simbu is one of the more densely populated provinces in the country. The Simbus are renowned for being energetic and enterprising people, competitive in all economic and social activities. Not surprisingly, Rugby league has a big following. There is a local saying, “When the rugby ball was first kicked off from Sydney, it bounced off Loyd Rodson Oval in Moresby and landed here in Kundiawa, the capital of Simbu.” During the season truck loads of supporters follow wherever the local team, the Warriors, play. The Kundiawa grand finals attract up to 5,000 spectators.
Population pressure has forced one fifth of the people born in Simbu to migrate to other provinces. This is despite the population growth rate being one of the lowest in PNG. Those who live in Simbu are expert gardeners, who leave no accessible square metre of earth unturned. They have developed ways of draining and enriching soil that helps them grow food on the same steep hillside year after year at high altitudes. The Simbu landscape is like a patchwork of gardening effort. Sweet potatoes are the staple food, except along the southern border where sago takes over.
Archaeologists believe that people lived in Nombe near Chuave 24,000 years ago. They have also found pig’s teeth in Chuave dated at 10,000 years. Pigs are still the main meat and are eaten at all ceremonial feasts. Pig killing was traditionally a great ceremony and is now re-enacted along with food exchanges, marriage and compensation ceremonies to encourage young people to value old traditions and to hold onto them. It is hoped that these events and the annual Simbu Women’s Show will be sufficiently attractive to draw more tourists into the Province. At present only 3% of the population are engaged in any form of cash economy. Tourist revenue would be most welcome.
There is plenty in Simbu to attract tourists. Both Simbu men and women are skilful at making artefacts, carvings and bilums. The crafts are sold along busy pathways or even taken into town and hawked from office to office.
For the daring and adventurous visitor there is mountain climbing. Mt. Wilhelm has both a visitors cabin near the peak and a lodge. One guide book mentions the most delicious strawberries ever tasted, at the start of the walk. However it is a very high mountain and should be treated with respect. It can get very cold, it often gets fog-bound and sometimes it even snows. Climbers can suffer from altitude sickness, sunburn and hypothermia all in one day. There are at least six other mountains with good walking trails, rich in flora and fauna. There are caves, rock shelters, rock paintings, burial sites, salt making sites and an ancient stone axe quarry. What’s more it has, reportedly, some of the most exciting white water rafting in PNG. The river Whagi goes through deep chasms, under small rope bridges over long stretches of rapids and past waterfalls.
The northern half of Simbu is pretty well served with a dense road network reaching into just about every village in the area. The southern half has no form of road network at all. The only way into some parts of Karimu is by plane. People there rely on the small airstrip for all their store goods, medical supplies and transport to the outside world. Road transport around Simbu is by any form of moving vehicle, from the back of an open pick-up truck to the occasional government vehicle. It is not uncommon to see people coming into town on big dump trucks. Simbu sits astride the Highlands highway, PNG’s central artery, between Goroka and Mt. Hagen.