Simbai: A palate of wilderness

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Words by Pauline Mago-King |  Pictures by Steven Mago

Globalization has become synonymous with urbanization for most developing countries such as Papua New Guinea (PNG). While this trend comes with benefits such as enhanced lives, it also means that our rich, diverse cultures become even more vulnerable. The more our doors are opened to the world, cultures gradually transform from customary acts to ‘touristy attractions’. In a bid to remind us of the sundry reasons behind our diversity, let’s take a trip to one of PNG’s few unscathed areas, Simbai.

Looking at Simbai, many things come to mind. For my father, it gave the impression of anyplace in the Highlands; he said it reminded him of Karimui in Simbu Province, Kompian or Paiela in Enga Province or Maimafu outside kol ples Goroka.

Simbai is a remote forgotten backwater of PNG that is still quite uncharted yet it holds a special place in PNG’s history. After all, it was the source of the labour force that developed the cocoa and copra plantations on the coast and contributed to the economic growth of these regions.

Although Simbai is part of the highlands of Madang, it is culturally and linguistically connected to the Jimi Valley dwellers of Western Highlands Province. Simbai rests nearly 2000 meters above sea level with steep surrounding mountain sides and scattered valleys of grassland and secondary forest resulting from many years of forest products extractions for house and building materials and food gardens. This enthralling area has temperatures as high as 20 during the day and fall to 8 degrees in the evening.

Like any other place in PNG, Simbai is enchanting with its immaculate beauty; fresh environment and welcoming people. Simbais are an industrious and honorable people who share a cultural bond that is as rich and diverse as their fertile mountainsides.

It is home to the illustrious nose piercing initiation ceremony which is translated as sutim nus in Tok Pisin. This ceremony involves young boys between the ages of 8-17 years, going into a haus boi (men’s house) to learn initiation rites from village elders and to get their noses pierced.

Sutim nus is an occasion of bursting hues where men, women and some children wear huge, distinctive head dresses adorned with shiny green beetle-heads. The crowns of these head dresses are adorned with bird feathers comprising those of the cockatoo, parrots, lorikeets, and bird of paradise species including Stephanie’s Astrapia, Afark Astrapia, Blue Bird of Paradise, and their popular cousins, the Emperor, Lesser and Greater birds of paradise.

As for the actual piecing of the noses, small, round kina shells are hooked onto and hang suspended from the hole in the nose while others insert King of Saxony bird of paradise feathers.

Apart from Simbai’s sutim nus ceremony, it is also the dwelling to great treks like the one from Aiome to upper or lower Ramu through the Ramu River. One can also trek over the bordering Bismarck Range into Jimi Valley and onto Baiyer River or through Koinambe into Banz and onto Mt Hagen. If the trek is a tad too rough for you, then there is plenty to see ranging from caves to butterflies and insect observation.

So if you want to immerse yourself in wilderness, why not tick Simbai off your bucket list?

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