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


Takwan as a means of preserving Wantoat beliefs



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1. Takwan as a means of preserving Wantoat beliefs

Amongst the Wantoat the concept of takwan denotes secrecy and sacred knowledge that is not to be shared by anybody publicly and without consent of those who possess the secret and sacred knowledge. There is a creation myth, which tells of a culture hero believed to have brought with him beliefs and values of the people. Schmitz1 recorded a version of it, while McElhanon2 records another version3 and both were copied and used for my thesis mentioned above.

The creation story discussed in brief below is the start of these secrets in society that must be transmitted through to the next generation via initiation rituals. In fact the creation story is in itself takwan and is not discussed in public. In making it a takwan it makes it impossible for young and those without prior initiation ceremonies be told the creation story.

It is from this creation story that people have developed their own belief systems and daily activities. Examples of supernatural events as told in the story reveal linkages and beliefs in Wantoat witchcraft and sorcery. Thus, because the myth is sacred it then justifies the existence of Wantoat sorcerer and witch who is believed to perform extraordinary duties as believed. Furthermore because the belief is witchcraft and sorcery is sacred the young are brought up believing in Wantoat witchcraft and sorcery with question. It in a way controls human behaviour as young children are told what to do at an early age a means to control human behaviour in society. Therefore, a Wantoat sorcerer is feared, hated and or trusted to do what the clan may want him to do. Deaths or sicknesses for example are seen as caused by sorcery and nothing else. Often it is believed that is was the case of the victim to be sick and eventual death.

Young generation had to be ‘schooled’, be taught how to perform their duties in society so that functions and duties of society are carried on from one generation to the next. Like the formal education system today young children of Wantoat had to go through a series of initiation ceremonies as they grow up. It is not complete until one is considered a ‘full grown man’ – in the case of Wantoat a house is built and young man moves in with his newly married bride – that signifying a full ceremony. The male person is then considered to have ‘graduated’ and can be regarded as a man and an expert in his field of expertise. He is usually groomed for one specific purpose in society. Such skilled and knowledgeable men are referred to as pandet – the trainer. The pandets are specialist trained for specific duties in society. They can be sorcerers, rainmakers, hunters and experts in their own expertise.

What is considered takwan or sacred is taught and or learnt through series of initiation rituals that young Wantoats go through during his/her life. Nearly everyday activity in life is considered sacred and young men must learn the skills as they grow up. Even the processes of making a garden for example needs prior consultation with the ancestors to ensure success. The process of consulting ancestors is sacred and requires training for this purpose. Associated with these are general taboos that are supposed to be observed by young children of Wantoat.

With the influx of modern mediums of communication Wantoat elders may have lost status and power in villages. The status of elders and knowledge village men are in turn reduced, as the roles they played are no longer significant. This change is largely attributed to the impact of modern education and modernity in general.

The traditional methods of managing and transferring information are now seriously under threat. As a Wantoat myself, I consider this to be most unfortunate. This is because any traditional community whose information storage and dissemination is based on oral traditions, it must ensure system of continuity survive.

In Wantoat, traditional religious rituals have been used as a means to transmit bodies of knowledge from one generation to the next. Oral traditions in here include bodies of knowledge about society brought by cultural heroes during primordial times mixed with my theology. Oral cultures include legends, myths, and chants. These oral traditions are important to the people. In the essence they is perpetuate the existence of society. They ensure that tribes, societies and clans continue into the future. A myth in an oral society for example is not a made up story, but carries with it a lot of significance for the society. As functionalist anthropologist Malinowski writes:

Myth fulfils in primitive culture an indispensable function; it expresses, enhances, and codifies belief, it safeguards and enforces morality; it vouches for the efficiency of ritual and contains practical rules for the guidance of man. Myth is thus a vital ingredient of human civilisation, it is not an idle tale, but a hard worked active force; it is not an intellectual explanation or an artistic imagery, but a pragmatic charter of primitive faith and moral wisdom.4

The example of Wantoat creation story in effect defines and accords belief systems and daily activities of the people accordingly and it is based on this creation myth that people value their beliefs and societal norms. For example, codification of belief and rituals of people is simply a re-enactment of a theme of the creation story. The belief in supernatural events as told in the story reflects the present Wantoat belief in witchcraft and sorcery.



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