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Chimbu Tribe, Papua New Guinea:- An Indigenous Culture To Explore

An indigenous tribe named “Chimbu” lives in the mountainous region of Papua New Guinea, especially in Koro, Chimbu, and Wahgi regions. They are a linguistic and ethnic group and they are Kuman speakers. In Chimbu's homeland, the people must identify themselves as “Chimbus” while meeting with non-Chimbus.  An Australian explorer in 1934 heard the word Simbu and gave the term Chimbu to the people. Chimbu is spelled as Simbu so both are the same word. In the Kuman language, “Simbu” means an expression of pleased surprise.


The population of Chimbu is approximately 180,000 people and the area of Simbu Province is 6,500 square kilometers. In the northern area of Chimbu province, the population densities surpass 150 persons per square kilometer, and the population density surpasses 300 persons per square kilometer in some census divisions.


History and Cultural Relations


There are few archaeological pieces of evidence regarding the existence of the Chimbu tribe. According to encyclopedia.com from other highland areas, they occupied the area 30,000 years ago but encyclopedia.com also shows that the tribe existed here with the development of agriculture, approximately 8,000 years before the present. Most people believed that, when the sweet potato was introduced about 300 years ago, people started cultivation of staple food at higher altitudes and the population has increased in that particular area.


In 1934, an Expedition, under the command of Australian patrol officer James Taylor and gold miner Michael Leahy passed through this area and familiarized this area with the rest of the world. After that, Roman Catholic and Lutheran missions as well as an Australian government patrol post were established here.


The Chimbu Province was colonized and they established administrative control in this area. The administration dealt to restrict tribal fighting and enhance their influence in this area. Due to the limited governmental staff, resources, and the beginning of World War II, it became difficult to administer this region.


During the war, some efforts were taken by the Australian government to harden administrative control by recruiting local men as laborers for the plantation of coastal areas, and coffee was introduced as a cash crop. An elected local government Council was established after 1959 and by the creation of a provincial legislature, the area had been given representation in the territorial legislative body. Local tribal politics greatly influence participation in these new political bodies.


The Culture of The Chimbu Tribe


 


General Outlook


The Chimbu tribe has an indigenous culture, different from other parts of the world. They usually paint their body with colors and adopt skeleton-style painting. They paint their skins like a skeleton to threaten their enemy and make them believe they are not human and have some supernatural power. This helps them for defensive as well as offensive purposes. They also dance to intimidate enemies.


 Living Patterns


Traditionally, the Chimbus dispersed settlement patterns. Usually, men lived in large houses established on the edges of the village for defensive purposes but excludes young boys, girls, and women. Every married woman and her young sons, unmarried daughters, and the family's domestic animals lived in a house that was positioned some distance from the men's house or nearer to the garden of the family.  


By positioning their houses nearer to the gardens, the women were easily doing their work and managing their domestic animals, which are the greatest economic asset of Chimbu’s family. Most houses of the Chimbu tribe are rectangular or oval, with mud floors, low roofs covered with grass, and walls woven from trampled stems.


Institutions Of Chimbu Tribe


Family


In the family, we will discuss marriage, domestic unit, inheritance, and socialization


Marriage


In the Chimbu tribe, like in other parts of the world, marriage represents an economic and social association between the bride’s and groom’s kin group. So, in this ceremony, to reflect the association, they present a large number of valuables, primarily money and pigs, arranged and negotiated by elder members of clan segments, and these valuables are given as bride price.


Men got married in their early twenties and women got married between the ages of 15 to 18. After the marriage, the residence is usually Patri virilocal (A system of residing of married couples near or with the parents of the husband). In the Chimbu tribe, polygyny exists but its occurrence has been reduced by the influence of Christian missions. For men, it is economically advantageous to have more than one wife because it eases the laborer's work and commonly women work in gardens. Most marriages are unstable before the birth of the children. Sometimes after children are born, divorce occurs


Domestic Unit


In the initial era, the men of the Chimbu tribe lived disjointedly from their wives. Usually, men settled in the communal men’s houses and they joined their children and wives in the late afternoon at mealtime. In their recent culture, both husband and wife live in a single house, and it is becoming common. The primary productive unit of the family is the men and their wives. Other men which have close relations also cooperate in the tilting and fencing of garden plots.


Inheritance


In Chimbu’s tribe, the inheritance is transferred from the father to all sons. The brothers jointly use the land for agricultural purposes. When the father becomes less active and gets older, the land is distributed among sons after marriage. When a man dies, his valuables are distributed to his family or to close relatives. If a man has no children, then the senior men of the clan segment redistributed the land.


Socialization


The mothers and sisters primarily cared for the children and infants of both sexes. Boys aged between 6 to 7 go outside with their fathers if they live in a separate men’s house. Half of the children of the Chimbu tribe begin to attend school at the age of 7. Girls of the Chimbu tribe spend most of their time with their mothers and assist in daily work till adolescence. Boys make groups with other boys of similar age and area and this relationship lasts through adulthood.


In the Chimbu tribe, there is an initiation ritual that is celebrated during the pig Ceremony (A ritual in which a number of pigs are slaughtered, cooked, and distributed among affine and friends). This ritual involves instruction and seclusion of young men and boys at the ceremonial ground. The ritual includes koa flutes and other ritual questions. The festival was celebrated at intervals of seven to ten years and new males especially youths participate in this ceremony. This ritual is especially associated with men.


The initiates also included painful ordeals and bloodletting, but these have stopped except for the use of flutes at the time of the feast. Girls were secluded at the first menstruation for some days and given instructions regarding their behavior, then the family arranged a feast including the kinsmen and local subclan. Some girls are still isolated, and celebrations occurred under the formality of their families.


Religion And Expressive Culture


Religious Beliefs


No organized worship or priesthood existed in Chimbu’s religion. In their tribe, the sun is considered a spirit of fertility. There existed some ceremonies and supernatural beliefs of pleasing ancestral spirits by sacrificing pigs. They also believed that sacrificing pigs is done to protect group members and society's general welfare. Many of these supernatural traditional beliefs still exist and are practiced.


Ceremonies


Some traditional ceremonies like the initiation of boys into the men’s cult are no longer practiced, and ceremonies like pig-killing to please ancestral spirits have been reduced largely.


 Arts


In the Chimbu tribe, the people decorate their bodies with feathers, shells, wigs, and face paint during important ceremonies. Stories, poetry, songs, and dramas are significant forms of education and entertainment. The people play two types of bamboo flutes i.e., 1) bamboo Jew’s harps, 2) wooden and skin-covered drums.


Medicine


Sudden death and illness are attributed to sorcery, witchcraft, and the transgression of supernatural sanctions. In the Chimbu tribe, the traditional herbal medical technology was limited due to which magic was considered more important, but now people approach hospitals and medical aid posts.


Death And Afterlife


In the Chimbu tribe, they believed that, after the death of any person, the spirit stays closer to the place of burial. If the death is caused by war or sorcery and revenge hasn’t been taken, then it is believed that the spirit is unhappy, which results in dangerous consequences for the living people. The stories of Chimbus are full of deceiving ghosts.


Economy


Subsistence And Commercial Activities


In the Chimbu tribe, sweet potato is considered a primary subsistence crop. It is grown in tilled and fenced gardens. It is sometimes grown on 45° steep slopes. Sweet potatoes make food affordable for both pigs and people. 75% of Chimbu’s meals comprise sweet potatoes. 130 varieties of sweet potatoes are grown in different environments with different outcomes. Gardens of sweet potatoes are made in grass or forest fallow areas. Gardens are used throughout the year for plantation purposes and to get more productive outcomes.


Some other crops are grown by Chimbu people like greens, bananas, sugarcane, beans, nut, taro, and fruit varieties of pandanus. Pigs are considered an important domestic animal for Chimbu and highly valuable, which they used to sacrifice for their ancestors in pre-Christian times and are considered blessed today. In many ceremonial exchanges, the pigs are used to create social relationships between individuals.


In ceremonial exchanges, people give money, vegetables, pork, and purchase commodities like beer to create a debt that the receivers must repay in the future to avoid losing their respected status. The ceremonial exchanges occur at various rituals like to celebrate marriage, to thank a wife's natural kin group for the children born into the husband's clan, and to compensate for death or injury. One of the biggest exchange ceremonies is the pig ceremony in which a higher number of pigs are slaughtered, cooked, and distributed to relatives and friends.


In ceremonial exchanges, money is considered an important item. People earned money by growing coffee in their small gardens. Like coffee, money is also earned by selling vegetables in local markets.


Industrial Arts and Trade


The Chimbu tribe, before contact with another world, depended on the skillful use of fibers, stone, canes, local woods, bone material, and some other items of trade. Men made weapons, wooden tools, and construction of houses and fences. They also made artifacts of bark, bamboo, and cane.


Division Of Labor


In the Chimbu tribe, the division of labor is based on gender. Usually, men dig ditches till the soil, fell trees, and build houses and fences. Women do the plantation of gardening, harvesting, and weeding while cooking and caring for children and pigs. In the time of tribal warfare, men were usually responsible for the defense of the territory. Men have also been given the responsibility of the production of coffee. Women sell vegetables and other items in the local markets.


 


Politics


Social Organization


In the Chimbu tribe, the people are organized with the membership in agnatic kin groups in which at the lower level there are small groups that combined with other groups to form larger wide-ranging memberships. Individual associations and loyalties are generally strongest at the smallest level having a common residence and shared resources. The clans have a common territory and commonly act as a unit. A tribe is the largest sociopolitical and indigenous organization which comprises 5,000 people and these people defend the territory during tribal fighting. The Chimbu tribe establishes economic and political relationships by arranging marriages between clans and tribes.


Political Organization


During the traditional era, the Chimbu tribe was considered the largest political unit. In the 1950s and 1960s, parliamentary democracy was created which was much larger than their traditional political unit still, the small local groups have influences in politics namely the “big men”. These influential groups have great importance in organizing ceremonial exchanges of money and food. In addition, they also support the people who stand for election.


One man stands in the election from each tribal group and people support them. But sometimes when support is fractured among local candidates, then they allow the successful candidate to win with less than 10% of the total votes. In the modern parliamentary system, the influence of traditional groups has decreased.


Social Control And Conflict


When a dispute occurs between family members or between larger tribal groups then mediation is conducted by a third party, particularly men having political importance in the tribe. Witchcraft accusations are charged against those who are considered a threat to the strength of the agnatic group, usually against women who have divided loyalties after the marriage. Warfare usually occurs due to disputes over scarce resources and also due to pigs, women, and unpaid debts.


Conclusion


The Chimbu is a unique and indigenous tribe in this world, which practices a culture different from other parts of the world. Their skeletal pattern like skin and their way of dancing makes them unique. They have their cultural institutions such as sweet potatoes increasing their economic well-being, women increasing their economic production, and men defending the territory from outsiders. They established their hierarchy and dispute-settling mechanism, in which a politically aware person manages and organizes election and ceremonial exchanges. In this era of globalization, this tribe still maintains most of the indigenous features.


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