FRANCIS NII | Supported by the South Pacific Strategic Solutions Writing Fellowship
SIMBU’S MOST CELEBRATED, friendship fostering, peacemaking, wealth and leadership mentoring tradition, the bolga ingu [pig kill], has sadly waned into the history lane through the callous forces of modernisation.
And I’m glad that I had the privilege of dancing in what I have now realised is a now extinct historical ceremony.
It was 1974, the year I did my second grade at the village community school and before PNG gained independence in 1975, that I danced in the bolga ingu conducted by my Yobai people of the Karimui Nomane district in the Simbu Province.
My father, Tultul (the title given to him by the colonial administration as deputy headman) Nii Duma, dressed me in the finest Simbu regalia and, along with other youths, we danced to the beat of the kundu and songs of the forefathers in the week-long singsing.
Leading to the day of the pig slaughtering, we sang the traditional songs, beat the kundu and danced; not realising that this would be the last time this exuberant, colourful, fascinating and merry tradition was conducted in that part of Simbu.
Just as Papua New Guinea is so rich in economic resources, it is also rich in culture and tradition. Some are unfathomable, esoteric and perplexing. For example, the shark calling of the Kontu people of New Ireland Province, the fire dance of the Bainings of East New Britain and the haus tambaran of the Sepiks.
Others are simply fascinating, friendly and economically beneficial. For example, the moka of the Western Highlands, the yam feasts of Milne Bay Province and the bolga ingu of the Simbu people.
Bolga ingu was a pig slaughtering ceremony and the phrase literally means ‘the year of pig killing’ in the Kuman dialect of the Simbu Province in the central highlands of PNG.
Once every ten or so years, a certain rest house ( a phrase used by the PNG Electoral Commission to define a cluster of clans that share common boundaries, social and economic interests, culture and traditions) would slaughter thousands of pigs and distribute them to old and new friends from other rest houses.
Before the pig killing, men, women and children would attire themselves in the famous Simbu traditional bilas (regalia) of birds of paradise feathers, malo and purpur made out of grass and cuscus furs, and colourful face painting.
For several months they would dance from one village to another within the pig killing rest house. Clans of other rest houses that would benefit from the pork were invited to take part in the singsing.
They would go from village to village singing and dancing. It was a period of resting, feasting and merriment from the years of hard work of raising the pigs.
That was the time nubile girls and young boys from inter-marriage clans eloped and married.
The pig slaughtering took at least some days because every family killed several pigs. The chiefs and clan leaders killed more pigs than the rest to maintain their status. This was the main reason for the chiefs marrying more than one wife in those days; to raise more pigs for killing.
Other people, particularly the widowers and the unmarried young men, helped out in the preparation and slaughtering of the chiefs’ pigs.
The pinnacle of the pig slaughtering ceremony was the pork distribution which was the end of the ceremony. It was really the epitome of festivity, dancing and pork feasting.
The singsing groups would take turns to perform in their finest regalia for the last time from one pig killing village to the other, on the same day receiving pork from their friends.
If daylight ran out, the singsing would continue into the night lit by bonfires and lamps until all the singsing groups completed the journey.
The chiefs would ensure that every member of the singsing groups had something to take home. No one would depart empty handed.
Apart from the obvious display of wealth and fame, the untold underlying benefit of this tradition was establishing and fostering friendship, respect, peace and harmony.
Since the introduction of western culture and Christianity, many of the customs, traditions, rituals, magic, and taboos have died out.
Some have died out because of intentional shift to Christian principles and values.
Others have died out by default dictated by the callous forces of modernisation.
They were no longer as relevant and valuable as they used to be.
Sadly, the famous bolga ingu of the Simbu Province has fallen victim to modernisation in the same way.
I don’t know whether it would be viable to revive it but I am glad I had the privilege of taking part in what happened to be a great tradition.