The Christmas spirit of Tsak Valley

Weekender

By MAEDA KENJI
TSAK valley is located in the western end of Wapenamanda, in Enga with a total population of over 30,000 people. The valley is fertile for growing sweet potato, vegetables, bananas and variety of sugar cane. Tsak valley shares the border between Kandep District and Tambul Nembilyer District.
I was invited by Dan Lyanda who works with the Department of National Planning and Monitoring last year (2016) for the Christmas break in his village.
His village of Tangaimanda is located in Tsak Central, a few meters walk from Pumakos Catholic Mission. I came to know him since 2014 during my business trip to PNG and we are now close friends.
I was excited to visit his village and my family were excited when I broke the news to them about and trip.
I left Tokyo, Japan on the eve of Christmas and arrived in Jackson’s International Airport in Port Moresby and walked straight to domestic terminal to board for Mt Hagen.
Lyanda was there to pick me up at Kagamuka Airport in Mt Hagen with his colleagues who were assigned by Lyanda as body guards, simply for our safety. We left Mt. Hagen to drive towards Enga.
Driving up the highlands highway and after 20 minutes we reached Togoba intersection where the road stretched to Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces on the left and Enga Province to the right.
The pure immensity and diversity of beautiful but intransigent savannah grassland and forest seemed quite overwhelming as you drive further up towards the border of Western Highlands and Enga. The temperature would drop to 10°C especially in the afternoon.
We reached the checkpoint located on the boarder of Western Highlands and Enga.
It was established and operated by the Enga Provincial Government purposely to monitor ammunitions, drugs and alcohol from entering the province.
We were told to come out of our vehicle to allow security officers, who were policemen, to check our vehicle. Fortunately, we were then cleared to enter the province.
We drove to Tsak Valley from Wapenamanda.
It was about 30 minutes. The road was newly upgraded with gravel and was quite dusty but I really enjoyed the ride as it gave me perfectly new taste of life, a moment that I will always remember.
I was curious to see my friend Dan’s village and meet his family members for the first time.
He told me to be prepared to adapt to the culture and tradition for a short while to be able to live like a villager. He also taught me some basic Engan language, like good morning ‘yogam’ and afternoon ‘alemandi’ in the local vernacular.
I also had to remember to shake hands when greeting people, not bowing heads in greeting like we Japanese people usually do. So, a bit of adjustment was made for me to fit in among the villagers over the duration of my stay.
I also taught some basic Japanese language to the villagers too but Dan is familiar with Japanese as he has been working with the language for the last six years with the Department.
We reached Tangaimanda Village, where Dan grew up.
His father was a village leader and has three wives.
Dan was from the first wife. His mother died when he was two years old. His father died in 2012.
As we arrived there was a big church gathering at his village hosted by his family.
More than six thousand people attended the gathering. Over 200 cows were killed to commemorate the event. Tsak Valley is known for all kinds of celebrations and activities from religion gatherings to bride price ceremonies and people from all over Enga and PNG come to celebrate.
His family gave us a warm welcome upon arrival and we were escorted to Dan’s house, made out of woven ‘pitpit’ as it was called and ‘kunai’ grass as roofing over the house. There were three bedrooms with a kitchen and living room.
Dan’s tribe is called Hulidan and he partly bears his tribe’s name. The villagers would greet me as I would take a walk around the village. Some would whisper to their friends using their vernacular languages but I could only hear them mention ‘Japan’.
As I was having a tour around the village, mothers would offer me cooked sweet potato which were nicely prepared. Some would give me sugar cane, and in fact, some of the juiciest sugar canes are grown there.
We went to visit a historical site where the tribe had a spirit god called ‘Cope’ and the site where that spirit lived was called ‘Cope yanda’.
The tribe would slaughter pigs and dogs on certain occasions and offer them to the spirit whom they believed would grant them good fortune and protect them from being conquered by their enemies.
There were unique stones like a shape of a kundu drum produced by a river that flows through where the spirit resides. The stone was called ‘cope kana’ means Cope’s stone.
We went upstream in search of the stone, but unfortunately could not locate it. Local people believe that the introduction of Christianity had forced the spirit to move elsewhere. A big fight in Tsak also resulted in the destruction of the spirit’s habitat.
We also had a chance to visit several caves located just next to Tangaimanda. There were historical myths that relate to each of the caves in that area and there were spirits that also lived in those caves during ancient days. Just next to the caves, is a stream that springs out of the ground and is so crystal clear, you could see through to the bottom of it. Locals believe that the stream contains natural minerals that can bring healing to the body.
It was time for dinner, and for a visitor like me from the furthest end of the earth, I could not leave the people without a pig killing. Dan slaughtered a nice juicy pig for me.
This was typically a traditional way of preparing food involving pig killing. You have to heat the stones until they are red hot, and then dig a hole depends on the size of the pig, then cover the hole with banana leaves and then place the pig with the heated stones and vegetables in the hole.
Cover it up with banana leaves and finally cover the surface with earth to prevent steam from escaping. A piece of meat was served first while waiting for the whole meat to cook. It was thrilling experience for me to see how a traditional ‘mumu’ was prepared. The mumu was allowed for two hours and that was it, the pork meat was ready to be served and I was given the backbone which was a best part of the pig.
After a week, it was time to say goodbye. There were a lot of places to visit but time was of essence. The villagers, especially Dan’s family members, were sad when it was time for me to leave. I could see in their teary eyes as they packed my bags that I was already part of the family.
I hope to return one day and spend more than a month in PNG. It would really give me that satisfaction of getting a balance from the pretty busy scheduled in an urban environment, to a more relaxed and laid back life full of freedom.
If you are thinking of spending this Christmas and you have no place to visit, I recommend that you choose Tsak Valley in Wapenamanda to spend your Christmas break.
Maeda-san Kenji lives in Tokyo, Japan.

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