Walsa people connect with nature in West Sepik

BY ELIAS NANAU

It’s a deep connection between nature and the Walsa people of Imonda area in the West Sepik Province.

The Walsa people inhabit a fertile stretch of land on the southern part of the Bewani mountains, three hours drive south from Vanimo.

Their prosperity within their 13 ward communities stretching from Kilifas in the east to Kwek near Kerom district in (West ) Papua, Indonesia, are deeply attached to their environment.

The animals, trees, rivers, sago and rocks to name but a few are some of the things around them that they deeply connect with.

They bring fortunes or heal their sick.

Their totem is the cassowary or muruk in Tok Pisin.

Most of their environment is at the risk of being lost as huge logging operations have been given permits to extract logs for export.

Since 2019 these people have reignited their internationally recognised Singsing Muruk and beating if off at Imonda.

Many years ago these people with their unique cultural dance graced the Pacific.

It’s an event now duly recognised by the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority (PNGTPA).

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Singsing Muruk is about glamorous traditional dressing, body art, enchanting moves,women in bare breasts swaying their grass skirts and men with penis gourds swing up and down rattling against waist beads as they hop. But it’s not just a dance for gratification or or show. Each dance has deep meanings for them.

Singsing Muruk is about glamorous body art

Elijah Jack from Dauncindi village says their performance was a celebration after defeating a warring tribe.

His group were painted in black and at their back is a weapon carved from a cassowary bone.

Elijah Jack and his dance group from Dauncindi

 

After they shot an enemy with a bow and arrow they’d run after them and stab them on the neck with the weapon carved from a cassowary bone.

They also performed a dance for healing the sick when a young child was brought over and the magic man would place a lemon grass under the child’s armpit.

It’s a mammoth task hosting a dance and men and women share equal roles.

A woman leader, Pauline Wai though says women do a lot of work.

“When it comes to singsing muruk women prepare firewood, make sago and men would go hunting for pigs and cassowary,” Wai said.

“Women would make sago and wait for their husbands to bring the cassowary or protein.”

Women would make sago by heating a special rock on fire till its red hot and place the rock onto a basket made from a flower sheath of a palm tree called “limbum”.

Women making sago before the dance

When the water boils, it’s poured onto another “limbum” where sago starch is also prepared and stirred until sago jelly is formed and it is served.

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For woman who prepares the sago, the first one that’s made should not be given away as the acumen for hunting, gardening, fishing or being a great warrior would leave the person.

The Singsing Muruk has now been accepted as the hallmark using culture as a product to promote agriculture despite the threat of logging and mass migration to Indonesia.

With sponsorship support from TPA and DataCo these far flung communities were able to revive this unique culture and ultimately grow cocoa in agriculture.

They have the Walsa Cocoa Corporative Society and before Covid-19 they were able to export 36 tonnes of cocoa to Indonesia but they need a little backing to open bank accounts, find a truck and find a good buyer near in Vanimo.

With support from TPA and DataCo a few of the funds a going direct to their cooperative society who will then buy cocoa from villager famers and money trickles right down to villagers who will use the money to develop their villages.

The Singsing Muruk has been slated for December 4, every year and the people of Walsa looks forward to another exciting event this year.

Their theme for last year was “Enhance Agriculture Through Culture”.

West Sepik is slowly finding the footing in developing tourism and the ‘Singsing Muruk’ is already stepping up to ride on surfing in Vanimo.

A dance group hops and blows the beugel

With Digicel’s network now accessible in Imonda, local organising committee led by school teacher Andrew Dahai is hoping for better live publicity this year.

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They have acknowledged dearly the support from DataCo and Tourism Promotion Authority giving hope to the far flung neglected communities as far as service delivery is concerned.


women sway their grassskirt with their men

women sway their grassskirt with their men

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