With its gold mines and coffee plantations, the Eastern Highlands Province has had more exposure to the Western influence than other provinces. It was the first Highlands’ province to be occupied by the colonial administration, and the first to be impacted by missionaries, mercenaries, patrol officers, plantation owners and gold prospectors.
The people in Eastern Highlands Province still live in traditional houses of a round or rectangular shape, with the walls weaved from pitpit (plants belonging to the same family as sugarcane) or bamboo, and the high, thatched roofs to keep the smoke away. The houses, built low to the ground to keep them warm from the cold climate, are one open-space area where the people sleep and cook. Today many houses have windows and room separates.
For ceremonies and tribal gatherings, the Eastern Highlanders use unique face and body painting design, with the paint made from natural dyes, oil from plants, mud and clay. As other Highlanders, they decorate themselves with bird feathers, shells, and bark cloths.
The people of Eastern Highlands are renowned for their colourful string bags, called bilums, used to carry everything, from babies to garden produce, firewood and household items. Traditionally, the bilums are made from bark’s fibres of pandanus trees. The barks are pounded until the fibres come loose, then dried in the sun, and the string are coloured with natural dyes. Although traditional bilums are still made, today many women use bright imported synthetic yarn from the local stores and also make contemporary design.
Each bilum has a unique design, and the imagination of the women has no limits. The bilums are the source of pride for both the makers and the owners. The Eastern Highlanders are so proud of their bilums that they organise the annual bilum festival showcasing the variety and the beauty of their art of bilum making. The bilum-based elements are also part of their traditional dressing.
As other Highlanders, the Eastern Highlanders practice a bride price for marriage, where the groom’s family give pigs, kina shells (now replaced with money), and other gifts to the bride’s family. Through this act of buying, the bride now has responsibility to look after her husband and his family. Today, the weddings are a combination of modern and traditional styles, with a church ceremony and a payment of bride price.