Tradition revived



THE second Lagaip Sangai Festival is set for July 28 and 29 at Wanepap Primary School in Laiagam and is expected to feature more than 50 young men coming out of the Sangai initiation to display at the festival ground.
Sangai is a ritual performed in most parts of Enga to initiate and signify the maturity of young boys phasing into adulthood in the society. The young men at adolescence are subject to a purification process against any imperfections attained from maternal contamination at birth or whilst growing up.
Hence, the Sangai initiation became the cultural and traditional ritual to sanctify and prepare the young males into adulthood in the community.
This vibrant Engan culture has become inactive in the late 1990s due to factors such as tribal fighting, rural to urban drifting and others that has resulted in sabotaging of costumes together with the sacred sites where Sangai initiation is conducted. Within the context, man’s house seems to have been none existent to uphold some cultural and traditional values related to Sangai.
Western culture and Christianity have also contributed to the radical impacts on the way of life resulting in fading away of indigenous cultures and traditions in our societies and Enga has no exception with Sangai ritual losing its significance.
People who keep the Sangai initiation rituals (teachers) are becoming rare today or have lost values due to influences of western cultures. Many Sangai teachers might have forgotten those sacred Sangai chants and magical songs that attune with the local languages to instill affluence during the initiation which is affirms the ritual.
The effects of climate change and population increase have also contributed to destruction of the sacred Sangai sites in the forests. The obstruction of the cultural or traditional norms in respect to the sacred Sangai sites are also contributing factors which led to degradation of the value and losing its significances that the sites hold.
In Engan societies, Sangai is the art of teaching morals and cultural values to men. It guards young people to be responsible members of the community in accordance with norms and customs.
Through the Sangai initiation, young people have to undergo a weeklong ritual purification in the bush (sacred Sangai site) under the supervision of Sangai ritual teacher. Some aspects of the Sangai initiation are similar to religious practices whereby past sins have to be confessed and cleansed through an eye-washing ritual.
The secrecy of Sangai is enshrined in mythical plant called lepe which must not be contaminated or disturbed anyhow and guarded by culturally strict rules.

Young initiates showcasing in the main arena. – Pictures by TONY SULUPIN, chairman of Lagaip Sangai Festival
The owner of the lepe plant is the Sangai ritual teacher and he has the stringent cultural and traditional adherence protocols to keep it alive and growing or else he loses the values of the lepe and finally dies away.
The Lagaip Sangai Festival was launched in August 2019 by the Executive Director for the National Cultural Commission, Steven Kilenda and the inaugural festival was held in September 2020. More than 50 young men were featured to set a record in Enga after decades of Sangai initiation being absent in Enga.
The aim of the festival was to revive the Sangai culture by involving older people to pass on traditional skills and knowledge to the younger generations through practicing. The Sangai Festival was identified as an illustrative platform to sustain and restore the culture that teaches the moral values to the young men to be responsible citizens of the Engan societies and maintain the principals of men’s house (Haus Man).
Lately, the Sangai culture has been silenced by various factors in Enga and was at the edge of dying away slowly or was dying away silently. The absence of Sangai culture and ritual initiation in Enga has directly or indirectly affected Enga. The recent chaos in the province with tribal fights can be blamed on many factors but the primary one is the loss of moral values in instilled through the Sangai ceremony. Young men were living on their own and making their own decisions unlike before when young men lived in men’s houses and followed the Sangai cultural norms and practices with the guidance of the elders and teachers of Sangai.
This year’s festival is sponsored by Enga Provincial Government, Lagaip-Porgera DDA and PNG Tourism Promotion Authority. Nevertheless, the Lagaip Sangai Festival Committee is calling on the Laipian and Kaimul people in Enga and PNG to support the festival to impact the youths in a positive way.

  • Nathan Lati is a product development officer at PNG Tourism Promotion Authority