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Traditional Dance of Enga People "Malee"

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

Enga's Malee a seasonal thing. --------------------------------- The Malee or Traditional Dance in Engan Cultural Society of PNG was a seasonal event and not a one day thing as seen to happen during political rally or Independence day celebrations. It was one of the vigorous components of the culture that consolidated the indigenous communities together and greatly helped to shape the lives of young men and women. Sadly, most essential features embedded in what used to be a vibrant culture have devaluated remarkably due to people's own negligence or mindsets changed as we propelled towards the crazy world. This fascinating write-up tries to inspire readers to appreciate the beauties enshrined in what supposedly be Enga's awesome cultural heritage.


Men Dancing Called Malee in Enga Province
A Traditional Dance Performed ByEngan People

PREPARATION

Malee in the recent past  required great deal of preparation by host villages.  It includes preserving sufficient food, building new houses,  stocking firewood, revamping  main arena and alike. Usually, it took lengthy weeks of 6 to host an event but more than that for preparation. Meeting was convened in the house-man where informal yet formidable resolutions were passed to hold successful events in a manner coherence with the existing code of traditions. One of the agendas was pig killing feast at the end to affirm a token of respect, hospitality and solidarity. The second could be to portray charitable behavior towards visitors all through the festive period. During those times, people were guided by the natural laws and moral principles so the safety and wellbeing of individuals and otherwise vulnerable women were 100% guaranteed. Though, most aspects of Malee were lost, Engan way of welcoming visitors still reins and that is the essence of Enga a unique region in PNG.  The common vernacular being spoken by all six districts is also icing on the cake.

NOCTURNAL DANCE

The first week kick started at night usually when there was onset of full moon. In Engan term its Kumbu Malee (beginner), and it happened at night so like everyone else, when no one is watching, you can do anything beyond common sense. They normally performed in number of circles and revolutions while singing and swinging onto the tone fitting for the occasion.  One attribute about this segment is that it prepared youngsters for upcoming main events and upon scrutinised under the lenses of foretellers,  debutants were motivated to wear huge hood (details on the last episode).

EXCHANGE OF ITEMS

The Malee was not restricted only to displaying fashion but it also provided platforms for barter system involving people with slightly different cultural backgrounds and beliefs. The kundu drums and stone axes were brought into Laiagam by people from Nere,Liaim and Lyalam which shared borders with Telifomin in the West Sepik Province. The Kandep people whose cultures were blended with Southern Highlands Province had to trade with paints and feathers.  The people of Laiagam exchanged them with pigs and or bought those with money. The parents of young boys were prepared to arrange with young woman for their sons to marry. At that time, communication was out of reach so meeting partners was exclusively at such gatherings and usually by chance. Today, technological devices and modern transport system is making the life much more easier but risky as well.

PRELIMINARY DANCE

After one week of preparatory dance, village leaders then intervened and gave nod to proceed to next phase being preliminary show in the daylight. There, you would see little alteration in overall arrangement but decoration remained partial. The tone of dance was substituted by Kundu drums and array be straight line instead of circle.  By then, the news of Malee has spread to even remote and secluded areas but its still beyond comprehension how feasible it was given by communication and transport stunts. Interestingly, one legend that I was best told, the message was conveyed by an indicant bird and guarded through continual cries (pyuwi) of the same bird (species) along the long hike taken by people who wanted to trade their costumes. When hikers lost their track, they paused for next bird to indicate direction until reaching destination. This segment had two objectives; to gather sufficient costumes and to pre-screen first timer participants so that they were qualified for the huge hood (head dress) in the main show.  Preliminary dance usually spanned for 2 weeks.


Men Dancing or Performing Traditional Dance In Enga
The Malee Dance Of Enga Province

MAIN SHOW

The first series of events were rendered to reach the pinnacle of somewhat a nerve touching affair. Parents made all-out efforts for their son or daughter to appear in the final exhibition. At this stage, debutants who had captivated the attention of old people were granted approval so could wear the hood accompanied by pig killing. The bladder was extracted then inflated and tagged at the back to show that a person has killed pig to mark a significant milestone in growth and development. However, adorning in the hood without killing pig was deemed aberrant and  uncultured except for recurrent performers. Incredibly, foreteller predicted the future life of every participant. If it was a girl, they precisely foretold where she would marry to. This magnifying lens is manifested in certain predictors regarded as Engan Scientists and the parochial concept is still in force today. For instance, where there is a political rally, they will tell precisely whether or not a candidate is going to win etc. All in all, the 3 weeks peak dance came to an end but joy and excitement were lasting repercussions. Some host villages killed pigs to farewell while others did it at the beginning as a welcome gesture. For young man, it presented him an opportunity to grab a girl if he had dated one over the six weeks festivity. The bride price obligations followed suit while rest villagers reverted to their accustomed lifestyles. Coincidentally, the parts and pillars that underpinned the splendorous culture have vanished and left with only a skeletal replica that is espoused  for short stint on ad hoc basis like 2018 Enga Cultural Show. One vivid example is that of the black hood which meant so much to our forefathers is now won by anybody during casual events, a reminder that the value of our culture has dropped radically..

REVERTING THE CULTURE BACK TO ITS GLORY DAYS

There is currently an action plan underway in the Lagaip district to retrieve most of the forgone cultural heritage such as Traditional Dance (Malee), Initiation Ceremony (Sangai), Bringing goodwill upon evoking natural spirit (incarnation),  Courtship (romantic night), Feeding and Talking to Natural Spirit (Deity), Fully fitted traditional house with specialized sections,  Repository Site (Sanctuary), Foster talents in crafts making (traditional items) and many, many more. Enga has diverse culture and its awkward  to lose one. The prime factor responsible for depleting culture is deviation of mindsets towards changing world but it will be redressed it in our endeavor to take back shrinking cultural values. There are still some old people versed with customary  beliefs and spells who will be involved in epics to instill the practical meaning of culture in generations today. We will do utmost efforts to fully replicate and revive with an intent to achieve Enga a tourists destination in PNG. This write-up and many similar will be upgraded with inserting of authentic pictures in each stage to add insights for stakeholders including students. If Enga Cultural Center is really considerate on the forgotten elements of the culture and any notion to retrieve and revitalize via local engagement, its about time collaborative efforts of all stakeholders is very timely.

Pictures: The author led the Enga students of the PNG University of Technology to stage a cultural dance during 2004 school show.


The author of the above article can be contacted on email: tonysulupin@gmail.com for more information.

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