Enga is unique among other provinces in Papua New Guinea. Unlike other provinces of the country that speaks more than 800 languages, Enga has only one major ethnic group, known as the Enga, who speak only one language in all of its five districts.
In Engan culture, young boys used to undergo initiation called “sangai”. During this initiation ceremony, young boys stay in seclusion to get purified – their eyes are ritually washed with water to remove any trace from contact with women.
The Engans practice a Tee ceremony, a ceremonial exchange of gifts. “Tee” means “to ask for” in Enga language. Despite strong inter-clan ties, the Engans have a long history of tribal fighting. In 1850s, Engan leaders established a system to reduce violence – Tee ceremony. During Tee ceremonies, men offer pigs, a major exchange currency, money and other gifts to their enemies as compensation for deaths, and the clan of the deceased performs a mock attack to receive compensation. Tee ceremonies are important for bigman (chiefs) to demonstrate their influence and wealth, as well as the wealth of their clan. Tee ceremonies also create extensive exchange networks between clans and tribes.
Another exchange ceremony, but on larger and more complex scale, is a Mamaku Tee ceremony. It’s a Tee ceremony between the Engans and other Highlanders, who exchange pigs, bilums (string bags), and kina shells, which gave name to this ceremony (“Mamaku” means kina shell). Coming from the coastal regions of Papua New Guinea, kina shells are highly praised in the Highlands. The Mamaku Tee was important to the trade and created strong ties between all the Highlanders. Mamaku Tee ceremony involves many small Tees happening at various times along the trading route. Similar to other traditions in Papua New Guinea, the Tee exchanges are slowly disappearing.
The Engans have unique body painting. For special occasions, they paint their faces in black, cover their bodies with clay, mud, oil from plants and pig’ fat. While dancing, they sing “suli muli”, which has become also the name of the Enga tribe. Suli Muli women wear giant hats made of moss and plant fibres. The men wear the same kind of hats, but made of their own hair and grass, similar to the Huli wigmen. Their distinctive round headdresses, a symbol of Engan culture, are topped with feathers of bird of paradise, eagles, and parrots. In addition, women practice facial tattoos, sometimes with a complicated design covering the entire face.
Leadership is not inherited in Enga but attained on merit. Men become leaders by demonstrating their skills at fights, knowledge of rituals, strong oratory skills, and charisma. Leadership is traditionally a male domain, but the history of Enga has had a number of female leaders.