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

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In oral preliterate societies written records were only exposed to the people with arrival of Europeans. Much of the information before that had always been transmitted through word of mouth from generation to generation. Most of rural PNG communities today remain illiterate and information is often communicated through the word of mouth.

In collecting data to write a history of preliterate societies one must take into account inevitable use of oral sources in order to construct a story of an event that took place in the past. Thus, oral and written sources must be used and be seen to complement each other in order to write an accurate account of an event that took place in the past.

The justification of the concept of takwan in Wantoat reflects the role of Wantoat mythology and belief systems. The daily activities and beliefs of the people had been developed as a result of ‘my themes’ as told for example in the creation story. The creation story is sacred, and therefore one has to sanctify beliefs and values of the society, thus, while fearing takwan the information is preserved and transferred to select few: Those properly initiated and therefore have the right of access to it, like the Wantoat specialists: those trained to be sorcerers, witchdoctors, successful hunters, and gardeners. They also have responsibility in ensuring the society functioned according to norms, beliefs and values of the people.

The concept of takwan in Wantoat, thus, has two main functions or roles to play in society. Firstly, secrecy and sacredness of the information contained in society was meant for the people to abide by rules and mediums of transmitting sacred knowledge of Wantoat from one generation to the next.

Secondly, the preservation of information in Wantoat society has been transacted from generation to generation through initiation rituals. In fact the rituals followed in these ceremonies resemble the themes in myths and legends as passed on from generation to generation.

Finally the advances of modern information flow and use of modern mediums of spreading information had downgraded role and functions of traditional elders who had the required knowledge in society. The consequences of schooling and subsequent migration of young Wantoat population has now resulted in rapid decline in the value of traditional society and the means of storing and retrieving information. Traditional knowledge and information systems must be recorded and preserved as part of overall information systems in the country. The Wantoat concept of takwan which was used to create, store and disseminate information to next generation is one of the many information systems that have to be discussed and its value captured and preserved for next generation.

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