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Cultural Anthropology, Enga People

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Over the centuries the Enga people of Papua New Guinea have adapted certain cultural characteristics to cope with varying environmental and social changes. Some aspects of the Enga peopleís lives that have shown the most cultural adaptation to the surrounding ecosystem are their horticultural practices, system of tribal warfare and clan organization. Through these adaptations, the Enga have gained ways to regulate their population, reduce their risk, control, communal resources, and regulate the environment through rituals. In our paper, we will look at each of these aspects of Enga culture and how they allow the Enga people to live within the environment constraints they are faced with.

The western highlands of Papua New Guinea are home to a group of people called the Enga. The Enga speaking people make up a population of over 100,000 people. The Enga people are sub-grouped into two large groups, the Central Enga and the Fringe Enga (Meggitt, 1977). The group that we will focus on for the majority of our paper is the Mae Enga. The Mae Enga inhabit the western highland region of the Enga providence (Meggitt, 1977). The Enga people have adapted various aspects of their culture to deal with the changes in the natural surrounding environment and the social climate.

The western highlands of Papua New Guinea are mainly composed of rugged mountains, high plateaus, and valleys. Most of the province is 2,000 meters above sea level (PNG ON LINE). This higher land is less populated than the valleys, making the valley lands densely populated with almost no region of unclaimed land. Grasslands cover the majority of these valley regions and also the swamp basins located throughout the Enga territory (Meggitt, 1977). With seventy two lakes, the Enga territory holds a sufficient water supply. This area is also home to the headwaters of the four greatest rivers of Papua New Guinea. Natural forested regions cover the less populated areas in the north and west sections of the Enga province. In the drier months of the year, May through August, the nightly temperatures, in area above 1600 meters, drops to near freezing. The average rainfall in the Enga province for this time of year is 3051 mm. The western highlands also hold a precious and valuable gold deposit (PNG ON LINE).

The Enga people do not live in villages: instead families live in rather permanent houses that are scattered throughout their specific clan region. This dispersal works to improve clan security. In the clan system there is no hereditary chief, rather an appointed Big Man. Males and females, even within the same family share separate dwellings. From the age of eight or nine the Enga male resides in a separate dwelling from all females (PNG ON LINE). Gender segregation is a very important part of the Enga culture and the women are considered autonomous and self-sufficient (Meggitt, 1977). The traditional origin belief held by the Enga people is that they are descendants of the sky people. The first man and woman on earth were the daughter of the moon and the son of the sun (Meggitt, 1977).

Many changes have occurred in Papua New Guinea since the end of World War II. Both educational and business opportunities rose for the Enga people. Local governments were also introduced in New Guinea, along with village carts. In 1975, national self-government was achieved (Fiel 1984). These introductions and changes to Papua New Guinea have reached all areas of the country including the Enga territories. The Enga people have been most influenced in recent years by three outside forces. These sources include the mining industry, the tourist industry and western missionaries.

The mining industry has begun to strip the Engaís land in search of the rich gold deposits. Located in the Enga province is the Porgdera gold and silver mine, which is estimated to be the largest gold mine outside of South Africa. Tourism has also become a part of the Enga province. In the capital, Wabag, a rich cultural center has been developed. This center houses both a museum and an art gallery that displays the traditional ornate sand paintings of the Enga people (PNG ON LINE). Various tourist information sites have warnings posted about the ferocity of the Enga people, calling special caution to their tendencies toward cannibalism and tribal warfare. Although in recent years many of the Enga people have adopted particular sects of Christianity, such as Lutheranism and Catholicism, the Enga people have continued to live similarly to their ancestors (Kohan, 1984). Today most Enga people still rely on subsistence agriculture and pig exchange for both their dietary and monetary needs.

The majority of the Enga people practice subsistence agriculture, relying on a long fallowing period to restore nutrients to the soil. The intensive horticultural practices of the Enga people date back to at least six thousand years ago (Feil, 1984). Traditionally, both males and females work in the garden. Men are mainly involved in the cleaning of the land; however, they help the women in their task of planting and harvesting the crops. A family gains prestige within the clan when they yield a successful crop (Feil, 1984). Some of the foods produced by these highlands horticulturists include bananas, beans, leafy vegetables, sugar cane and pandanus nuts. These crops supply the Enga people with important supplements to their daily diets, however, the main crop is the sweet potato (Meggitt, 1977). In the time span of the Enga people, the sweet potato is a relatively new introduction.

The sweet potato is an important crop to the Enga people for two main reasons. The sweet potato is able to withstand the frosty nights of the dry season, better than any other crop currently grown in the western highlands. Just as importantly, the sweet potato is a vegetable that is liked by the pig. The pig plays an important role in the Enga culture (Feil, 1984). Pigs are the greatest symbol of wealth among the Enga people and are a way to measure a certain manís prestige. One married man must own at least five pigs to carry a good standard amongst the Enga people. The pig also plays a central role in religious ceremonies, diet, and exchange. Hunting supplies little protein supplement to the diet of the Enga people and is looked at as more of a recreational sport. With the limit of meat in the Enga diet, the ceremonial sacrifice of pigs supplies the clan with a valuable supplement of protein (Meggitt, 1977).

The introduction of the sweet potato has allowed the Enga people to cultivate a crop that can survive the cold nights of the dry season and provide them with suitable food to increase the number of pigs families are able to support. Although there is some controversy as to whether or not the introduction of the sweet potato has had a substantial effect on the human population of the Enga people, there is definite evidence



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