“Jiwaka” is a portmanteau word combining the first two letters of Jimi, Waghi and Kambia. Given their common history, the two provinces similar culture and traditions, including the traditional attire.
Mt Hagen, the capital of the Western Highlands Province, and the Wahgi Valley area are home of the Melpa people often called “Hageners”. The area was discovered in 1934, when Australian gold prospectors, three Leahy brothers, arrived in the Wahgi Valley and made the first contact with the Melpa, which was recorded in the video.
The two provinces have strong and rich traditions and colourful ceremonies. The most well-known ceremony is a ceremonial exchange called “Moka” in which a man gives a gift to another man, who in his turn gives a gift plus something more to that man. By giving more than received, the men gain status and prestige in the eyes of their society. The goal is not to amass wealth for personal use but to share it with the community. Men who succeeded in this are viewed as “bigman” (chiefs). The major exchange items are pigs and kina shells, the latter now replaced with money, bush knives called “machetes”, and even the vehicles.
The boys’ initiation ceremonies, very common in the past, have been greatly reduced due to the outside influence. But the “bride price” is still practiced for the marriage where the groom’s family provide pigs, a sign of wealth, and kina shells to the bride’s father in compensation for the loss of his daughter. Today the bride price includes a significant amount of money. The negotiation of a bride price is the important part of the marriage, and the agreed price is meant to reflect the perceived value of the woman.
The people from Western Highlands and Jiwaka Provinces are renowned for their impressive headdresses decorated with huge feathers and shells, and unique, bright face and body painting made from local dyes mixed with oil from plants, pig’s fat, clay and mud. The men wear wide belts of beaten bark with a drape of strings in front and a bunch of leaves attached to a belt to cover the bottom (tanket). They wear brightly coloured string bags called bilums. Traditionally, the strings are made from tree bark, although today many women use bright synthetic yarn from the local stores.
The men love their beards, and paint them in the same colour as their faces. Women traditional dressing includes string skirts and scarfs around their necks made from cuscus fur. This traditional clothing and painting are reserved for tribe gatherings with dancing and singing known as sing sing. Some songs resemble war cries, and the painting originally intended to intimidate the enemies. The most famous sing sing is the annual Mt Hagen show attracting hundreds of different tribes.