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How to Preserve Melanesia; The Engan Experience through the Enga Take Anda Tradition & Transition Centre

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In the heart of Wabag Town, the capital of the mountainous province of Enga, lies a masterpiece of cultural learning and preservation.

The Enga Take Anda (pronounced Takkeh Andaa) Tradition & Transition Centre is a beautifully designed building that houses a great collection of Engan traditional and modern history, organised fantastically as exhibitions.

The Enga Take Anda Tradition & Transitional Centre ( more images below)

These exhibitions include wall montages, reprints of old and historic photographs, documents, stone artefacts, carvings, wigs, miniature buildings and examples of Engan architecture, explanations of folk lore and folk songs and more.

These exhibitions include wall montages, reprints of old and historic photographs, documents, stone artefacts, carvings, wigs, miniature buildings and examples of Engan architecture, explanations of folk lore and folk songs and more.

Each item is neatly labelled, each has a detailed explanation – you cannot walk past an inch of the building without learning something about the Engan ways.

The building itself pays homage to the Engan heritage as it is shaped as an Engan wig, a ceremonial item that is worn by all Engan men at cultural ceremonies, especially when they are bachelors.

Its hard to explain the effect of the walking into the building and seeing all the displays, the old photographs of long since passed warriors, the cultural displays, the totems, the stone deities, the explanations of traditional customs and practices and more.

For a Melanesian, it’s a sudden and total immersion into a living breathing oral past made permanent.

There are displays and information on fertility rites and love songs, on child birth. There are displays about tribal fights and peace ceremonies, on tribal fight leaders and the warriors for peace. There are montages dedicated to ancient trading practices and the elaborate Moka (exchange) ceremonies of the past.

Fascinating insights can be found on every wall on social dynamics of leadership, the origin of the sweet potato – the root plant that revolutionised farming and settlement in the highlands, and the Engan ‘black’ arts, of sorcery and spirits.

There is so much to see and to learn.

Even better, the centre has a lecture hall in one of the two wings where lectures on traditional and cultural Enga are given to school students and the public every week.

One of the strengths of the centre is that it contain information including photographs that document the early years of full contact with the ‘outside world.’

Thee photos were taken by missionaries, researchers, photographers, administrators and kiaps, people like the legendary photographer Don Jeffers and the researcher, Dr Polly Weisner.

Their images clearly capture the change of culture over the last 70 years of so of contact.

Traditionally, the preservation of cultural knowledge in Enga was done in the Engan Hausman (men’s house) and women’s houses.

But just as rapidly as change has come, so to has the almost overnight disappearance of these traditional learning centres, replaced with mission and government schools.

For many educated Engans, they realised that the only thing that holds them together is their culture.

Hence the center functions like a bigger ‘hausman’ responsible for the educating Engans about their culture. But even better, it is open to everybody regardless of race, sex or religion.

This centre is the only one of its kind that exists in all of Papua New Guinea.

This is not so much because it is an isolated Engan, initiative, but rather it is a show of the Engan spirit if perseverance.

In the 1970’s, after PNG’s independence, the Australian people gave to the newly established PNG Government K500 million to initiate programs to preserve Papua New Guinea’s diverse culture.

Some of these funds were used to set up the National Cultural Commission and the National Museum.

Some of the funds were given as grants to provinces to establish Provincial Cultural Centres.

Along with almost all the other provinces, the Engan Government set up the Engan Cultural Centre in 1976 at the current location, in the heart of the new capital of Enga, Wabag town.

It was opened by Sir Michael Somare.

Some 36 years later, it is the only cultural centre that remains.

But it also suffered like all the others when the money ran out and Government priorities lay elsewhere. But it never closed its doors.

In the mind 1990’s, it was evident to many Engans and friends of Enga that there was a great depletion of traditional and cultural knowledge in the communities.

As people died, as memories faded, as change came, the great stores of oral tradition in communities began to vanish, culture became lost.

But there was a counter to this loss.

There existed a great volume of research of Engan culture by writers, scientists, researchers, missionaries, kiaps and others dating back to the early years of first contact.

Also, there was still a great deal of oral tradition that existed in the communities.

So some of Engas leading researchers, people such as Akii Tumu, Pesone Munini, Alone Kyangali teamed up with Dr Polly Weissner from the Max Plank Institute of Human Ethnology, West Germany, to form the Engan Cultural Development Association.

This association goal was to preserve Engan culture.

They wanted to create a learning centre based on the existing cultural centre, but one that would house exhibition themed displays as part of an educational program that would teach Engans about their culture.

Part of this new centre’s innitiatives would include an educational program that trained teachers in the local schools to teach children cultural subjects.

The Engan Provincial Government and Engan Governor Peter Ipatas pledged to match kina for kina the money raised by the association for the new centre and its programs.

They raised a quarter of a million kina, assisted by the PNG Sustainable Development Program and the Tradition and Transitional Program of the United States as well as from the Engan people.

At the same time, nearly K5 million was raised by Dr Polly Wesiener from overseas donors.

On September 16, 2009, the new centre was opened by a much older Sir Michael Somare, 36 years after he opened the older building.

It contained up to 70 years of old and current research and documents mounted as themed exhibitions in a spacious and well-lit building shaped like an Engan wig.

It contained a lecture hall in one wing and a meeting room on another and was maintained by a permanent staff.

The centre also had miniature mobile versions of the exhibitions that could be easily transported out to the isolated and rural schools in Enga as part of the centre’s cultural outreach program.

The centre main goal it seems is the perpetual preservation of the spirit and culture of Engans, despite the changes that modernity brings everyday.

I have seen many things, been in museums all around the world, but the Engan cultural centre, though smaller and containing much less, gave me much more.

Standing in front of some of the large displays I was transported back in time when warriors were warriors and leaders were leaders, when the stone axe and the sweet potato shaped the world.

In the words of the traditional love songs and etched on the stone deities, the Melanesian in me could hear the Engan spirit calling.

But I also faced a great disconnect. My modern education has never really thought me much about our people.

Here in the Take Anda I learnt that once upon a time, two Sepik girls crossed the plains to climb the mountains into Enga. They were escaping their angry brothers who beat them badly when both girls refused to marry the men arranged for them. In their bags the women brought vines of the plant that would revolutionise the highlands region. They brought sweet potato.

I believe every province should restore their centres, to preserve their cultures, before our stories are lost forever. Enjoy the images (over 100!!). Special thanks to the PNG Tourism Authority for the assistance to Enga and the People of Enga and the Staff of the Enga Take Anda Centre for their Hospitality.

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Related posts:

  1. Albert’s Amazing Engan Botanical Garden
  2. Striving Against the Odds – for Peace & Business in Enga
  3. The Amazing Cultural Gem in Bougainville; the Manee Resource Centre
  4. Travelling to Wabag, Enga Province
  5. Wabag Town

4 comments

1 Stanley Mark { 03.27.12 at 6:17 }

Thank you so much for promoting our only treasure to the world. My name is Stanley Mark and am the assistant editor in the publications department of the Melanesian Institute (MI) in Goroka. I am from the Kompiam/Ambum district (Enga Prov). The MI is an ecumenical research, teaching and publishing institute. We have two annual publications, one is a journal. I would like to ask if I could put this article into our ‘Document’ section and publish it this year.
Please get back to me via email: Stanley.Mark@mi.org.pg.

Regards.

2 Vins { 03.27.12 at 16:35 }

Great Centre and great photos. I tried twice to send the article as PDF but both time and error message: The file cannot be converted. I was in Enga a few times.

3 Jaive { 05.06.12 at 3:27 }

Hi Stanley, please do

4 ANTON KAINAKALI { 07.30.12 at 9:07 }

Proud to be born Engan coz we have one common language spoken with beautiful environment like these on myamazingparadise.

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