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Pangia

Pangia is the name given to a district in the Southern Highlands Province lying south of Mount Ialibu and extending to the Iaro River, where it borders the areas of Kagua and Erave. The name originally belonged to a small locality where the colonial government station was set up in the 1950s after earlier patrols were made from Ialibu. As a result of the colonial presence, it came to cover the whole area which was patrolled by officers stationed there. In 1967, the station consisted of a government office, a school, some dwellings, a store, a health center, an airstrip, a jail, and the headquarters of the Lutheran and Catholic missions. These facilities formed the core of the government presence as it had been built up over the previous decade. Beyond the station lay the rolling grass and tree-clad ridges of the Wiru speakers, stretching north toward Ialibu and south in the direction of Erave.

The total size of the Wiru-speaking population in the Pangia area is about the same as that for the Duna, about 20,000 people. The Wiru language forms an isolate of its own within a group of languages related to the large Enga language. This group includes the Kewa, neighbors of the Wiru (Josephides 1985). In terms of population density, most of the Wiru areas would be intermediate between the high-density and intensive agriculture of Central Hagen and the low-density and extensive gardening sites of the Aluni Valley Duna (Feil 1987:44). Thus, in the lower-altitude and lower-population-density areas in the south of the Pangia District (the Lower Wiru) there is more reliance on swidden cultivation of flat-bed gardens cut into forest and old fallow, whereas in the areas further north the practices of mounding, known from Ialibu, are more prevalent. Such a distribution supports the idea that mounding and open-field gardening reflect horticultural intensification. However, the diffusion of mounding from Ialibu southward can also be seen in cultural terms, as we have argued already for a parallel process affecting the Aluni Valley Duna. The Pangia village described here lay at the point of juncture between mounding and flat-bed gardening, and the people pointed out how mounding, like other innovations, had spread to their area from Ialibu in the north. Recent colonial history further strengthens this image of change coming from the north. Wiru social structure differs from that of either the Duna or the Hageners. The Wiru in the village area described here had recently been brought together by the colonial administration in 1967. Previously they had lived in smaller places (dendea ta).The sites people used for their colonially promoted villages, however, were not randomly chosen. They tended to be the locations of ritual centers that were important to the local members of a particular named, dispersed phratry, a category of people with a distinct origin story. Such ritual centers were called “the big places” (tumbea ta) to which “the small places” were affiliated. In the big places were cult sites for the skulls of male ancestors (tapa yapu), for the Timbu Spirit (timbu yapu, sky house), and the Female Spirit (Aroa Ipono). People from the small places, or hamlets, would come together to make sacrifices, dance, and hold general pig kills that were associated in one way or another with these and analogous spirit cults.

The inhabitants of the small places were united under a single "big name," the name of the group dominant in the affairs of the big place and its associated lands. We can thus speak of the land area of a big place as a parish. Here we use the term in the same way that is used to describe the territorial units or rindi of the Duna, and in this regard there is a parallel between the Duna and the Wiru speakers of Pangia. However, the internal structure of the Wiru parish is different. There is no insistence on a single agnatic line having precedence in land matters within the parish area or possessing an exclusive genealogical narrative to underpin a claim of precedence, such as is found in the Duna case, although there is an idea of the general precedence of the localized members of the phratry within the political affairs of the parish as a whole. In the parish primarily referred to here, there were three subgroups that self-identified as belonging to the dominant group, known as Peri. Each of these subgroups had some account of its own origins, without tracing the narratives back to a single ancestral founder. Their origin stories explained how they had all historically come together to the place and developed alliances and rivalries. To these subgroups others were in turn attached which belonged to different phratries by origin. These group narratives accounted for their arrival as migrants or refugees from elsewhere and their development of friendships with the "ground owners" (tapinango) already in place. The tapinango tended therefore to have ritual and political precedence as the Duna anoagaro lines do, but this was not executed through specific lines of agnatic succession as clearly as in the Duna case; nor was there, on the other hand, any idea of cognatic descent as a principle of group membership and access to resources. Indeed, a sharp distinction was made between paternal and maternal kin, since maternal kin were those to whom payments of wealth were owed for the body/skin (tingine) of children. Such matrilateral ties were important as a foundation of exchanges, not as the basis for co-residence within the parish; although, since intermarriage between the different subgroups was practiced, there was a network of matrilateral and affinal ties within the parish.

Despite the recent coalescence of hamlets into consolidated villages, land claims and gardening in 1967 still tended to operate as they had before, each family tending to use land in small-place sites where they had formerly lived. Indeed, after some further years and the acquisition of independence by Papua New Guinea in 1975, patrolling by government officers all but ceased and the people shifted back into their former hamlets, attending church in the big place as they had formerly held cults there. In the parish studied, the Lutheran and Catholic churches were separately associated with the two major political blocs, and inter-marriage between Lutherans and Catholics was discouraged, in effect producing greater separation and hostility between the blocs than had previously existed. This prohibition also tended to be relaxed after the early colonial impact was over.

Within the parish as a whole, then, individual families tended to make their own decisions about where to cultivate gardens based on earlier hamlet residence patterns. At the edges of the parish, the tapinango group could come into conflict with their equivalents in other parish complexes, and in 1967 there were such cases of conflict that had either recently been settled by decisions of a patrol officer or were awaiting such decisions, or had been referred to a higher body, the Land Titles Commission. These disputes were not about land shortage but about politics, and they tended to reflect the enmities and hostile actions of the recent precolonial past, even though the people at the time played down discussion of that past.

Wiru gardens were like those of the Duna in that they showed a division between the sweet potato monocrop or near-monocrop areas interspersed with Rungia greens and maize (mondo ipe), and the bush swiddens cut into fallow (lama ipe). Colocasia taro was planted in wet places prepared from fallow and sometimes was fenced behind special cane barriers in order to protect it from pigs that frequented nearby streams. Stout fences and ditches were generally built to keep domestic pigs from rooting in gardens. The high rainfall in the Pangia area, which is remarked on by all observers, means that fences rot quickly and ditches become clogged with sediment and overgrowth, so that pigs easily find their way into gardens. The pigs in 1967 were also, according to the people themselves, harder to control than they had been previously, since the Australian colonial authorities had forbidden on hygienic grounds the co-residence of people and pigs, and had ordered that special stalls be made for pigs outside the consolidated village area. As a result, the pigs became less amenable to human control and more likely to wander into gardens and destroy parts of them. When people checked on their gardens early in the morning after pigs had been prowling about at night on these errands, women would wail and their husbands would shout angrily for the pig's owner to come and fetch it, whether alive or dead (if it had already been shot in retaliation for its nefarious actions). An informal court would later be convened. Scenes of this kind reveal how much gardens were valued and also how great the recent colonial impact had been. We call this syndrome the process of "colonial compression" (Stewart and Strathern n.d.). Since pigs are most fond of sweet potatoes, it was this vital crop that they mostly targeted, threatening the garden owner's source of basic subsistence.

The high rainfall in the Pangia area sometimes threatened to rot sweet potato tubers. Mounding the garden soil decreases the risk of this happening, but in some months the rain falls so steadily that it is difficult or discouraging for people to go out and fetch food. Perhaps this helps to explain why people like to plant types of cooking bananas near their settlement area. When these are ready for harvest they can he conveniently cut, and they do not rot quickly as long as they remain on the tree. They are lightly roasted over a fire and are quickly available to eat; or they may be cooked in hot ashes for a longer period until they become hardened. In this condition they last well, and can be carried as a snack on journeys.

Sweet potatoes, by contrast, do not keep well, either after harvesting when raw or after being cooked, although when roasted in ashes they are much more durable than when steamed in an earth-oven. Rats can also attack the tubers and gnaw at them in the fields (Strathern 1984:76). The heaps of rubbish that women make in the gardens and use as markers of claims between themselves encourage rats to live in the gardens as well as making them vulnerable to traps. There is therefore a tradeoff between the risk to the crop and the opportunity to trap and eat the rats.

As is the case in some other areas of the Highlands, if men are asked who the owners of garden areas are, they will list men. A survey of all gardens in the area of one village in 1967 produced this result, the informant being a married man in his thirties at the time. The attribution is not without meaning, since men do tend to stay in their natal places and hold rights to land there, while women move in as wives from elsewhere. But if a woman comes from the same place as her husband she may continue to use some areas around her natal home, as does a woman separated from her husband. A man expects to initiate the process of clearing a garden of undergrowth and fallow grass, and when the land is prepared, to allocate portions of it among female kin or spouses. If he has more than one wife, the wives are proverbially jealous of each other's gardening areas, and there is a kind of magic (man angale) which a woman can use to entice the tubers from a co-wife's section of a garden into her own. She is said to plant one of her own vines in the rival's section and make a spell over it. Then all the tuber- bearing runners from the rival's area will migrate over into the co-wife's section. Suspicious, the two may fight and use counterspells against each other or tear up each other's vines and supplant them with their own. The result may be that the whole garden is spoiled and the two will fight again.

This example shows clearly the fiercely competitive agency that Pangia women may express and the tenacity with which they see their claims as exclusive. It also marks their readiness to fight each other, and their close identification of self with the sweet potato vines they plant. The reason why most gardens are divided into strips generally is that the labor required to prepare a new garden area is considerable and it would be too difficult to prepare an entirely separate fenced garden for each user. In principle, those who share strips are supposed to do so peacefully. In practice, because the quality of land in a single garden may vary considerably, disputes are quite likely to arise. Limestone rocks jut out from tilled surfaces, soil is leached away easily by rain, and vegetation cover can influence the degree of fertility of a fallow garden when it is put back into use.

Both men and women, then, maintain strong claims over garden areas. Men claim the main areas by inheritance and exercise a prerogative to begin clearing an area anew after it has been fallowed. Women claim rights of use and apportionment of practical resources. Men and women also make claims on certain kinds of crops. Men, for example, plant sugar cane and bananas, and specialize in growing certain sorts of Colocasia taro and fruit pandanus considered to be good. This specialization was connected in the past with the use of crops for distribution on occasions of spirit cult performances. Women plant all kinds of greens and beans as well as sweet potatoes and some taro. Maize is planted by both men and women (Strathern 1984:79). The person who plants and cares for a crop has the right to harvest and dispose of it. Women in the past used to give garden produce to their kin, who would return shells for it. The women gave these shells to their husbands, who in turn would use them as valuables to pay for the tingine (body/skin) of their children. This act of the wife in stimulating the body payments for her own children by feeding her kin is called langi toko (langi seems cognate with the Hagen word röng for vegetable foods).

Details given in Seddon (1985) largely correlate with information presented above, dating mostly from 1967. Seddon makes the familiar point that the advent of steel tools, especially since the 1950s, made men's work easier to accomplish, but did not free women to the same extent. On the other hand, both men and women use spades and bush knives, so much of women's work was also facilitated by the changeover from stone tools. Men in the past controlled, and continued to control after the introduction of steel, the use of axes for felling and splitting timber. Seddon estimates that at the time of her study (in the 1980s) in Poloko parish, women spent at least 50 per cent of their time in their gardens, and that a woman with only old gardens to harvest would find it difficult to meet the needs of her family and pigs. This observation reinforces our point made for the Duna, that women find it convenient to have mounded gardens close to their settlement. Coming home from the gardens, men are expected to carry firewood, women the netbags of harvested sweet potato. Seddon points out that the division between crops planted by men and those by women had been breached by 1967 as a result of the cessation of spirit cults (see Strathern and Stewart 1999a and 2000a for a further discussion of Pangia spirit cults). Consequently, women were more likely to plant and harvest Colocasia and fruit pandanus than before (Seddon 1985).

Fruit pandanus, as throughout the Highlands, was a much valued luxury food in 1967. It was formerly planted only by men, but both men and women could consume it. The only restriction on its consumption was that a man should not share pandanus with his mother-in-law. The cooking and preparation of pandanus was carried out with much gusto, and the man who mixed the sauce by squeezing the seeds would invite someone nearby to lick the sauce from his fingers as a mark of friendship. Pandanus grows best in altitudes below 5,000 feet above sea level, so it was commonly grown in the Lower Wiru areas, where the altitude drops well below 4,000 feet.

It was in this part of the area also that flat-bed horticulture predominated, as we have noted. The mounds constructed with the spade which are shown in Pangia photo no. 2 were made by a man who was explicitly spreading this innovation in his area. Mounding diffused southward in the Wiru area from the high-altitude area of Ialibu in the north, where it was used as it was in Tambul (Steensberg 1980:79), largely as a means of protection against frost. Since the village where these photographs were taken lies at around 4,000 feet above sea level, and the temperature there tends to be hot and humid, it is obvious that mounding does not always represent an adaptation to the same factors. What does it then represent? We offer here three answers, in line with our hypothesis that innovations in the Highlands have historically been diffused as cultural packages. First, at least some of the Wiru groups, including one of the subgroups in the village studied, trace their origins to the Ialibu area, and speak of their migration southward as a result of quarrels in their home area, said to have arisen over "the stomach of a cassowary"; that is, over the distribution of a valued kind of meat. The practice of mounding is therefore seen as one that fits with the original provenance of the people. However, they do not claim that the practice was actually brought by their ancestors. Rather, they say that practices of the lalibu or Hagen type began spreading from the time of the Australian colonial presence. Mounding in this sense would represent a kind of colonial mimesis, an imitation of the practices of people seen as in contact with modernizing influences. Finally, the Female Spirit cult also entered the Wiru area from the north (Strathern and Stewart 1999a). Female Spirit cults in the Highlands are associated with taboos regarding women's menstrual powers and with rules on the consumption of sweet potatoes (Stewart and Strathern 1999). It is possible to see them as having been linked with the actual historical spread of the sweet potato as a new cultivar or with newer and more intensive ways of cultivating it. This might explain why mounding did not reach into the whole Wiru area, but only about as far as the Female Spirit cult complex itself spread. This hypothesis would depend on the cult not having been practiced in the Lower Wiru area, where the Timbu and Tapa cults certainly were found.

Our photo essay on Pangia also contains an unusual sequence of photographs on a phenomenon which is peculiar to the Lower Wiru: a communal fishing event, in which women and unmarried girls played a major part. The fish caught were small and were called moneme. They were all brought home and steam-cooked and were distributed among kin and neighbors. People of more than one village took part. These fishing resources were treated as a kid of commons to which people had general access. The event was observed only once (in 1967), but it was explained as something customary and a regular, if occasional, way of supplementing the diet. After supplies of imported Japanese canned fish became more readily available in trade stores, they were incorporated into local prestations of food on ceremonial occasions, and became a supplement to the prestations of sugar cane (photo no. 18) and pork which were at the heart of feasting activities in the past. The introduced commercial fish was called mou, the term also used for carp, with which the colonial administration had stocked fish ponds dug as village development projects in the 1960s.

As with the Duna people, the influence of colonial and postcolonial change is evident throughout any discussion of Pangia gardening and subsistence practices. Equally, it is clear that earlier periods of history, prior to direct contact with the outside world, have also shaped Pangia lifeways. We will find the same is conspicuously true for the Hagen area.

Pangia gardens preserved the monocrop/mixed-vegetable-taro distinction, and also displayed a pattern of the diffusion of mounding as was found among the Duna. In 1967, there were extensive plantings of coffee trees throughout the Wiru, but sales of coffee beans were hampered by lack of passable roads. Among the Duna in the Aluni Valley, this situation still held in the 1990s, and coffee trees had grown wild and were untended. In Hagen, by contrast, coffee growing was already big business by the 1960s.

Pangia Photographic Essay

(all pictures from the Strathern/Stewart Archive)

Woman using large digging stick to dislodge earth in a preliminary stage of garden clearing. A small child stands close by as she works. Pieces of lopped sapling lie beside her. She has opened a small drainage trench. Brushwood and undergrowth are stacked nearby. They will be made into heaps and either burned for ash or left to stand in the garden to make homes for field rats, which women will then trap by laying out netbags or snares on the rats' runways. New sweet potato mounds in process of construction. These mounds have been made by a man with a heavy steel spade. The marks of the spade can be seen on the portions of earth cast up to form the mound. The ground contains clay and will need time to break up and become more friable for planting the sweet potato vines. A heap of vegetable rubbish stacked in a garden which is also being prepared by working with spades. Behind, a small heap is being burned. Soft, newly planted mounds in a roadside garden recently cut into fallow grassland. The flat, rolling countryside stretches to the south. Two men make some preliminary cuts in soil near their settlement area. The older man, on the left, wears a big bailer shell (tame) on his chest and a woven headnet on his hair. The younger man is dressed in shirt and shorts and wears a cowboy hat of a kind popular in the area at the time of the photograph (1967). Note the long handles of the spades which mimic the length of the traditional digging stick. People invariably replaced the handles of spades and steel axes with ones of their own making, preferring these for their fit and balance. In the background young sugar cane plants and bananas can be seen. A man and a youth work together to build shade towers for newly planted coffee seedlings. These were introduced into the area during the 1960s and were planted in areas along with vegetables such as the Colocasia taro seen here in the foreground and banana trees which also helped to provide them with shade. A completed row of shade towers constructed over coffee plants. Strong leaves of pandanus and sugar cane are tied over a post. Houses of a settlement and of a government station stand in the background. A man with a large bailer-shell chest decoration and woven headnet stands in the frame, as does a woman resting against a long digging stick. A special activity in the Lower Wiru part of the Pangia area, not observed in other nearby field sites, is the netting of fish in pools swollen with heavy rainfall. Women and girls wade into the pools with large netted circular fishing baskets and troll the water for the small fish, catching large quantities in a single day. The atmosphere is festive and people enjoy the activity. A row of women fishing with large nets. The nets are attached to strong circular frames. A youth aims his arrow at the pool's edge, hoping to shoot one of the larger fish, while a smaller boy watches. Women further out in the water are netting fish. Checking the net. Note the reeds near the edge. These are the kind used to make women's aprons (yei). This woman's head is covered with a rag to protect her from the sun. An older woman mends her net, sitting at the pool's edge. A young boy watches. He wears a small apron hung on a bark belt. Beside him is a young girl wearing a small reed apron hung on a band of fiber. Man with plentiful leaves attached to his bark belt for wading in the water aims his arrow at a larger fish. At a brideprice occasion, packs of indigenous ash salt are displayed on a post as a part of the payment. Small pieces might be extracted from such a pack and used in medicinal preparations, but the packs were generally kept together and displayed in a ceremonial transaction. At the conclusion, the salt packs were placed in the new bride's netbag and she would take them to her husband's place. Salt (too) and ginger (kambuka) are greatly appreciated as condiments, medicines, and magical substances. A woman examines two fine young piglets which she is carrying in her netbag. She has a pearl shell and a conus shell as pendants at her neck above her patterned dress. An infant lies in an open netbag tended by its mother, who wears a length of cloth over her head and back. A young girl learns early in life to carry loads of food from garden to house. This girl has maize in her netbag. She is walking through the main clearing in her village area. The villages in this area had been consolidated at the time in accordance with the wishes of Australian colonial patrol officers. Prior to ceremonial pig killings, men were invited to visit the place of their hosts and receive lengths of sugar cane (see Strathern and Stewart 1999c). Each piece indicated a promise to give a portion of pork to the recipient. The men here are decorated with hailer shells and cassowary-feather headdresses as well as nassa shell headbands. Their bows and arrows indicate the background of tension that can exist between donors and recipients on these occasions. The scene here reminds us that one of the major purposes of production in the Highlands was to convert garden foodstuffs into prestige via the rearing of pigs.

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