IN JUNE, I had the opportunity to witness a contemporary Goroka engagement ceremony, hosted by the family of a young man from Okiufa.
His fiancée was of mixed parentage - Simbu and Daulo, Eastern Highlands.
The clan leader informed me that, in Tok Pisin, this ceremony is referred to as 'sindaunim meri' [seated with the woman].
The 'sindaunim meri' ceremony saw the family of the woman arrive with strength in numbers and fanfare to issue their bride price demand upon the man's family.
They brought with them food from gardens and stores which they proceeded to divide into three piles for presentation to the clan leader and family of the fiancé.
The fiancé’s family and clan, on the other hand, prepared a traditional Goroka wet mumu for the visitors.
Before the bride price demand, the father of the fiancée introduced himself and his family. He went on to elaborate on the importance of relationship and family bonding.
After everything was said, he consulted his family from both sides, Simbu and Daulo, and put forward the bride price demand. The demand consisted of money, pigs and a cow.
The clan leader of the fiancé’s family spoke next, accepting the demand on behalf of the young man. He also spoke on the importance of family and relationships between young people and said these should be open and customarily censored to avoid any relationship problems between the couple.
The ceremony ended with the mumu being shared by the two parties.
In observing this process, I made a connection to my own Mountain Arapesh society of East Sepik.
An engagement ceremony in my society is called 'lusim han' [let go of] in Tok Pisin and the practice and stages bare a resemblance to that of 'sindaunim meri'.
In my society, the man and his family go to the woman’s family and present a token of money and other items to the parents and brothers of the woman.
The families get to know each other and this gesture seals the engagement. While there, the man’s family awaits the bride price obligations that will come from the woman’s parents.
‘Sindaunim meri’ and ‘lusim han’ are practices that strengthen and cement the relationship bond between the couple and both families. They also allow family members to get to know each other better.
Sadly, these important cultural traditions are slowly fading into history and losing their cultural significance.
As the gap widens between us and past generations, people like me and those to come seem likely to slowly lose our identity.