One of the best adventures to be had is in the rugged province of Enga, located in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea.
The province is not be known as a tourist hot spot compared to other places in Papua New Guinea. This gives it an advantage as it represents a true adventure of a lifetime for the intrepid traveler. There are some great places to visit and an amazing culture to experience.
Enga is the highest province of Papua New Guinea with altitudes of over 2000 meters. It is a mountainous region, filled with fast flowing rivers, spectacular waterfalls, high valleys and mountain passes. The lower altitudes in the province are the valleys and the plains that form the catchment systems for the two major rivers of the province, the Laigap and the Lai. The Laigap is one of the main tributaries for the Fly River and the Lai is affectionately known as the 'head’ of the might Sepik River by the Engan people. The total area of Enga is around 12,800 km2. The province has more than 200,000 people living in it.
Enga shares a border with the Western Highlands Province.
In fact it used to be a district of Western Highlands, but in 1975 just prior to Independence it became a province of its own.
The unique thing about Enga Province is that it is dominated by only one language. This language is Enga, hence the name of their province and the name of their major ethnic group. However there are other minor ethnic groups with their own languages in the province. These include Ipili, Huli, Hewa, Nete, Kantinja, Mandi, Wapi and Lembena. But these languages are overshadowed by the Engan language. You will find it fascinating that many people in Enga do not speak English or pidgin, having one language to communicate with each other is sufficient for their purposes.
The capital of Enga is Wabag Town. Wabag was an old airstrip and was important in the colonizing of this part of the highlands in the 1920’s onwards. As Independence came around in 1975, the airport was moved to Wapenamanda and the old landing strip of the Wabag airport became the main street of Wabag town which became the capital of the newly established province of Enga. These days Wabag is a sprawling and busy town that continues to grow along the Highlands Highway. The other major centers in the province apart from Wabag include Wapenamanda, where the airport is located and Laiagam, which has a government and botanical research station. Porgera is also an important center in Enga Province. It is where the giant porgera gold mine is located is also a major center of population mainly because of mining and related economic activities in the settlements around the mine. The others districts of Enga are Kandep District, Kompiam, Lagaip-Porgera and Wabag.
Things To Do & Places to See In Enga
This is one of the highest lakes in Papua New Guinea. It is a fresh water lake, created by a large catchment basin that is part of the Lai Valley. One of Enga’s major rivers, the Lai begins here at the lake and flows on to become a major tributary of the Sepik River. The lake is the habitat for a host of birds, fish and insects. There is a very comfortable resort near the Lake called the Yaskomo Resort & Hotel.
This is an isolated crater lake 3000 meters high in the middle of Enga. In order to get there, you must make enquiries with the Wabag District Tourism Office who will assist you with guides. There are no guest houses up there so you would rely on Enga hospitality.
Laiagam Salt Ponds
The Laiagam salt ponds are an interesting place to visit. They are salt ponds located closer to Surunki then they are to Laiagam. These salt mines were important in ancient highlands trading routes. The salt was made by laying special tree bark and branches in the ponds. After a period, the wood was removed and burnt in a specific process, producing the salt. This salt was then wrapped in special leaves and traded all around the highlands. From here, you can understand the various direction of trading routes that were taken by early salt traders. Some routes lead directly to the coast while others to neighboring highland communities. You would need local guides to escort you there by foot but before you go, you need to ask about the local situation there as this area is experiencing tribal unrest.
Laiagam Botanical Gardens
Located at Laiagam District is the Laiagam Research Station and Botanical Garden. The Garden has a collection of over 100 species of native orchids and more than thirteen species of rhododendrons. Laiagam lies along the Highlands Highway about an hour out of Wabag travelling towards Porgera.
Bird of Paradise Watching at Kumul Lodge
The Kumul Lodge is a birdwatcher lodge built on the slopes of the Mount Hagen Ranges. With much of the ancient highlands forests still intact on these mountains, the lodge is one of the few places where you can see various Birds of Paradise species on display in relative comfort. The entrance to the lodge lies along the highest point of the highlands highway between Western Highlands Province and Enga.
The Enga Show
The Enga Show is an annual event held every year in Wabag to celebrate Enga culture. A three day event, it is supported by the local Engan Government and features cultural groups from all over the province as well as groups from the rest of PNG. It is held in August every year.
If you get to Wabag town, the capital of the highlands province, there is one water fall you need to see, less than a minute by road north of town and a good 15 minute hike as well to get to it. It is the Yuo Waterfall, formed by the Lai River rushing through and over a narrow channel cracked between the bedrock to come crashing several down in a pool meters below, sanding white spray violently in the air and in every direction. The sheer power of the falls can be felt 20 meters away, when you are hit with air and fine mist, threatening to blow you off your feet and drenching you in seconds. See if you can find a local guide to escort you to see the waterfall.
Taekanda Cultural Centre
For any visitor to Enga who wants to learn about the culture of the people of Enga Province, the Taekanda Cultural Centre (also referred to as the EndeTake) should be high on their list.
The centre features years of research by scientists such as Dr Polly Weisener, photographs, books and articles by early missionaries and the work of photographer Don Jeffers in the 1960s onwards. With contributions by many local researchers and artists, all exhibits which include artifacts, wigs, war shields, miniature models of Enga architecture and more are displayed in the center’s modern facilities.
The center is an informational experience that covers almost all the customs and cultures of the entire Enga province. It also has an art gallery and an artists’ workshop where local Engan artists, including the unique Enga sand painters can be seen working. The center is located in Wabag Town and is open from 9am to 4pm on weekdays. The name ‘Ende Take’ means house of wisdom.
Porgera Gold Mine and Paiam Town
The Giant Porgera Gold Mine and its accompanying town of Paiam at an altitude of 2,300 meters is an interesting place to visit in Enga. It is an area of rapid human settlement since the open-cut silver and gold mine started more than two decades ago. Some of the settlement was planned for.
The small township of Paiam was built to house national and expatriate mine personnel and many locals. It is a unique town design, which according to the firm that planned it they wanted it to be a masterpiece. It has botanical theme, which includes planting of indigenous plants, and theme gardens, landscaping and paving.
The beautiful designed town market was built by locals and is the center piece of the town. But a giant mine in the middle of rural Enga quickly attracted large indigenous populations from all over the province hoping to strike it rich. As a result, Porgera has large unplanned settlements that house alluvial miners, illegal miners, ‘black market’ beer outlets, bettlenut settlers, second clothes sellers and entrepreneurs in all forms, peddling all sorts of goods and services. It is an interesting place to visit and there is accommodation available. Seek local assistance or a guide if you are there as a tourist.
Highlands Highway – Western Highlands To Porgera
One thing to do is take a road trip from Mount Hagen to Wabag and upwards to Porgera along the Highlands Highway.
Your journey will begin in the valleys of Western Highlands and rapidly ascend up the Mt Hagen Range reaching the Kaugel Pass at almost 3000m before descending a narrow corridor and following the paths of the tributaries that feed the Laigap and Lai rivers towards Wabag.
There are spectacular waterfalls that lie along this route to Wabag. After you leave Wabag you climb up into the Lai Valley. In many places the road is close to the Lai River. These areas are quite scenic.
As you go you will reach the Surunki area with the Surunki Lake visible. As you pass on, you travel up towards to the beautiful station of Laiagam and push on into the rugged interior of Enga towards Porgera. This area is marked by large mountains and limestone cliffs that the Highlands Highway snakes along. Sudden drops of the edge of the highway are almost 50 to 100 meters in places so drive carefully.
Enga culture and Enga people are fascinating. In this brief, we will only drawing your attention to a few of their cultural institutions and practices of these great people.
The best place to learn about the culture of the Engan people is to go to Enga yourself and visit the Taekanda Cultural Centre in the heart of Wabag, the capital of Enga. It is a cultural centre full of years of research into Enga history and culture and contains many fascinating models and displays.
Social Groupings: Families, Clans & Tribes:
The two social groups of most importance in Enga is the Family and Clan. Enga is full of clans made up of 300 - 600+ members. These clans are part of larger tribes.
The members of a clan are like brothers and sisters and look out for the traditional and the modern interests of each clan member. These interests include family land boundaries with other clans, rituals and cultural practices, compensation payments, bride price payments, building houses, looking after each others children, school fees, gardening and other activities.
Tribes are made of various clans that in most cases trace their lineage to one ancestor. These clans may not be in the same location but can be scattered all over Enga. Though clans may belong to the same tribe, they may often engage in inter-clan conflicts.
Other clans of the large tribe will get involved in some way to broker peace between the warring clans. In large tribal fights, one clan of one tribe may engage in a fight with the clan of another tribe. Other clans of the tribes may get involved. Very rarely have whole tribes (every clan) gone to war against another tribe.
There have been numerous studies on the origin of tribal fighting and conflict in Enga Province. For a small area of Papua New Guinea, Enga does experience a high incidence of fighting between tribal enemies and is a facet of their culture. Tribal fights can last for few days or run into years, depending on how this fights are resolved. Tribal fighting has a large influence in human settlement and interaction here.
Houses and villages are built in certain ways with fortified walls, strong fences and deep defense drains. In tribal fights, whole areas of settlement can be turned into barren land as houses, food crops, trees and anything else is chopped down, burnt and destroyed.
Tribal fighting influences leadership roles. They have leaders who can talk and bring peace and at the same time, they have important 'fight leaders,' men who were respected for their command and skill on the battlefields. Its influence is felt in strategic marriages and traditional feasting ceremonies as well as male initiation rites. Boys are encouraged to partake in play fights with toy bow and arrows from a young age.
When they around the eight, they are moved into the men's house and are subjected to war stories and discussions of war tactics with older more experience fighting clansmen. They are encouraged to watch nearby tribal fights to learn tactics and weapons. In their early teens, they can be found taking up the rear in fights as more experienced men lead from the front.
Boys who are reluctant to fight are pushed to fight. In Enga every male is a warrior. But enemies will only fight with enemies. If you are not a tribal enemy, you will not be attacked or harmed. After war must come peace.
The peace process between two warring tribes has certain rules that must be followed, certain beliefs and practices that must be adhered to. This ensures peace. Sometimes this peace becomes permanent, sometimes not so and fighting resumes. Though many of Enga's progressive thinkers want peace to replace the culture of tribal fighting, it is still a problem that causes much heartache in these modern times.
Many tribal fights in Enga are over land disputes between clans. Thankfully, more tribes are looking at resolving blood feuds using local authorities and the intervention of tribal leaders from other tribes to resolve the issues.
Like most of Melanesia, leadership is not inherited in Enga. They do not have chief or king systems and the passing down of titles. Leadership is attained on merit and not through any blood right.
People became leaders in a community in Enga by displaying strengths as a fight leader, as a person who is familiar with rituals and cultural practices, as a good orator skilled in public speaking, has charisma, possesses an ability to make many friends and ally's, looks out for the welfare and status of the clan he belongs to and is skilled at providing and meeting the clan obligations at large traditional feasts.
The requirements to be recognized as a leader in a community can be quite complicated but in the end it comes down to influence. Those with the most influence in a tribe are seen as the clan leaders. Leadership here is traditionally a male domain, but in the history of Enga there have been a number of females who have assumed male roles and become very powerful tribal leaders.
Tee: Traditional Ceremonial Exchanges of the Enga People
The 'Tee'is a ceremonial exchange of gifts in Enga. The 'Tee' is a cultural institution of the Engan people. The word 'Tee' means 'to ask for' in Enga.
A Tee cerermony is an exchange of gifts in an open and public place which is often a ceremonial gathering place between two parties. These gifts can be money, pigs and other ceremonial gifts. Often Tee ceremonies are important for leaders to demonstrate their influence and wealth and the wealth of their clan. It can be between two families, or two clans or even bigger Tees between entire tribes.
The ceremony can represent compensation payments between clans and tribes or it can be one clan saying thank you to another tribe.
On larger and more complex scale is a Tee known as the Mamaku Tee which was between clans all over the highlands region with clans from Enga. Mamaku means Kina Shell. The Mamaku Tee created ties with clans and tribes between Enga, Western Highlands and Southern Highlands. The Mamaku Tee was important for trade that existed in the Highlands at that time and allowed gifts to travel long distances and establish relationships between individuals of two different clans and who spoke entirely different languages.
Historically, it wasn’t one large Tee ceremony but countless of smaller Tees happening at various times between clans all along an established trading route, each exchanging gifts of pigs, stone axes, bilums, kina shells and other gifts to and fro, wealth and reciprocal wealth being passed to and fro. Sisters would become important, marrying into other clans who were part of the Tee ceremonies and thus creating strategic alliances for gift ceremonies which were part of the Mamaku Tee.
The Kina Shell is obviously from the coastal parts of Papua New Guinea, but had high value in highlands. The Mamaku Tee was important to the trade and spread of this early form of wealth all over Enga and parts of the highlands.
Making friends is important in Enga culture. Thus when a visitor arrives at a place in Enga, they are often given the best cut of meat and the largest sweet potato to eat. They are treated well and given the best bed to sleep in.
To this day, this culture remains. If you are in Enga and make a good friend, you will be treated this way.
General Travel Information about Enga
As the highest province in Papua New Guinea with elevations of up to 2000 meters, Enga Province can be quite cold with temperatures ranging from 5 - 27 degree Celsius all year round. Enga has been known to under go severe cases of frost and drought and for travelers exposure to the elements in many places can lead hypothermia and death.
It is important for travelers not be lulled into a false sense of comfort just because Papua New Guinea is said to be in the tropics. When you are up in Enga, bring warm clothes. Enga experiences rainfall all year round. Hot air from the coastal areas of PNG rapidly cools up here in the mountain ranges of the province, releasing significant amount of rainfall in the province. This has created some of the highest wetlands in the world and rapid rivers.
Internet: There is internet access in town through the Telikom dail up services but rates are slow, it can be expensive and unreliable. There is no broadband high speed internet service up here. The mobile phonce company Digicle 3G network can be picked up in town and in many areas where there is a mobile phone network. You can either access it through your phone or use a Digicel modem on your laptop/computer. You can purchase the modem in town.
Mobile: The Digicel and the BeMobile networks are accessible in Wabag town and in many areas in the province such as Porgera and Laigam. The Digicle mobile network is more extensive than the BeMobile one. Phones can be bought cheaply in Wabag town and units to recharge your mobile account are sold in stores and along road side markets all over the province.
Landlines: The Telikom Landline service operates in Wabag town and in other centres of the province. However, it can be unreliable.
Electricity: There is regular electricity in Wabag and Porgera and along stretches of the Highlands Highway several kilometers out of Wabag in either direction. Everywhere else relies on petrol generators. The power in Wabag is unreliable and you may experience long periods of blackouts.
Getting to Enga
By Air: Air Nuigini flies weekly flights to Wapenamanda Airport in the province. You can also fly to the Kagamuga airport in neighboring Western Highlands and travel up to Enga on the Highlands Highway. Go here to book your ticket www.airnuigini.com and pay online if you wish.
By Road: The Highland Highway is the major road network for Enga. It begins in the coastal towns of Lae and Madang and snakes up into the Highlands Region. The part of the highway that come through Enga passes through Wapenamanda, Wabag, Laiagam and goes as far as Porgera, the site of the giant Porgera Gold Mine. You can either travel by private car or catch a PMV Bus or Truck from anywhere along the highway to come to Enga. The road is sealed though in places it in is a bad state.
Getting Around Enga
PMV: There are no shortage of PMV buses and trucks that are travelling up and down the Highlands Highway in Enga Province. Travel to different places ranges from K1 to K20 per person depending on where you want to go. The main bus stop is in town.
Hire Cars: There are hire cars in Enga. You would have to enquire with where you are staying for assistance in finding a good hire car. All of them are four wheel drive vehicles and prices range from K600 upwards.
Banks & Money Services
The BSP Bank is the only bank in the province. Their ATMs accept ATM cards from Westpac, ANZ and Visa Cards as well. The major issue with this bank is that sometimes they dont have any money left when you go to make a withdrawal and this situation can last for days. You would have to travel 2hrs down the Highland Highway to Mt Hagen town and make your withdrawals there.
The PNG Post services offers the Salim Mony Kwik and now Western Union money services at its office in premises in Wabag so you can have money sent to you that way (you can send money as well). Only a few of the stores in Wabag have card machines.
This province is generally a healthy place to live but there are still some concerns.
The contagious disease to look out for in Enga is typhoid, especially in areas where there is a large population concentration and poor sanitation, especially in Wabag town and Porgera Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV are also growing concerns in the province.
As previously mentioned, Enga is a cold place and hypothermia can be deadly especially if you are journeying through some of the harsher landscapes of the province and are caught exposed to the elements.
Always make sure you are properly dressed for the cold and you take precautions.
Shopping in Enga
Most of the main stores are located in the provincial capital of Wabag.
You can find most of the groceries you need here as well hardware, stationary and other supplies. However variety is limited so if you are looking for more specific items, then you would have travel down the highway to Mt Hagen or onwards to Lae to shop there.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are sold at roadside markets. Once the Wabag Market is reopened after current upgrading to facilities is completed, you can do most of your vegetable shopping here as well.
All other major centers of Enga also have stores but many of these are small with limited choice as they are mainly to serve the rural communities that live in these places. There are also many roadside informal markets that sell store goods from mats placed on bare earth. Many of these items are cheap and not very durable.