Takwan: Secret knowledge, storage and transmission in Wantoat, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea Sam T. Kaima* Abstract

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Information is empowerment. The ability to create it, and use it effectively no doubt contributes to knowledge itself. Traditional Wantoat experts have used takwan to control human behaviour and restore pride in society. Takwan can also be viewed as a means of empowerment status and prestige. Therefore Takwan is also a hierarchical system of initiation. To be admitted into Takwan, young people have to go through initiation rituals in order for information to be transmitted from the older generation to the younger generation. The issue of ownership of that knowledge, access conditions, and the rights to transmit the knowledge, are the main issues addressed in this article.

The adoption of introduced information systems in this country have been to date, slowly adopted and used by mostly educated people of this country. Because of problems associated with finance, infrastructure, geography and remoteness, many people in the country are not able to have access to these new information systems.

Modern libraries and archives are accessed and used by those of us who are able to read and write. While the world advances into information and communication technology, many preliterate cultures and societies are still in the process of adjusting to the fast changing electronic information superhighway. Many Papua New Guinean societies therefore do not have access to information and are consequently denied access.

We know of ancient Egyptians who have been writing their information on papyrus or animal skins to store and transmit information. Closer home, there are Australian Aborigines who have been using their artistic talents to draw on stones and cave walls to express their knowledge and perhaps store for the next generation. The societies use these mediums or methods to ensure that their traditional songs, chants and meaning they represent are transmitted from the present to the next generation. In modern societies, the publication of books and the development of libraries and archives addresses this concern: the preservation and transmission of information, and knowledge and for easy retrieval. The organization of library materials is itself a system that is being uses to store and disseminate information to those who may want it. Similarly in Wantoat the transmission of information is centered on the concept of takwan. Where belief in sorcery, witchcraft, garden making, hunting, etc requires specialized secret ceremonies before these activities are embarked upon. Takwan itself is therefore the medium of transmission but it relies solely on oral system of information storage and transmission.

Takwan is in effect, a system of traditional ‘archive’ or a body of knowledge based on oral cultures and stored in human memory and transmitted through the word of mouth from one generation to the next. Similarly, many traditional PNG societies have oral records preserved and transmitted in this manner. Systems like this were necessary to ensure that society continued to function as a unit, without which societies may not have survived difficult times.

The Wantoat traditional information system presented here discusses the sacred and secret knowledge that had to be passed. Some bodies of knowledge had to be transmitted in order for young to learn as they grow up. The skills and knowledge had to be passed on in order for the next generation to acquire and then to be able to perform duties effectively in society. This article is divided into the following parts: part one looks at oral traditions in Wantoat with reference to takwan. The second part looks at colonial contact, arrival and settlement of Europeans in Wantoat. The third part looks at current Wantoat information storage systems which have been developed as a response to introduced information systems. The final part discusses the issues involved in researching for information in present PNG context with reference to Wantoat society.

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