KOKOP VILLAGE
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Overview: This document is aimed at better informing potential international guests (specifically those interested in eco-tourism) planning on visiting Papua New Guinea and may choose to spend a night or more at Kokop Village. Over the last 29 years, this typical rural Papua New Guinea village has been my motherland. I wish to share some important facts of my village with those that are interested in learning and possible arrange for a visit there. This document informs you about the location, history, people, climate, food, nature, culture, and many other aspects of Kokop Village. Should you need any further information, send e-mail to me at skyuimb@hotmail.com or skyfdn@hotmail.com.

Geographical Location: Kokop Village is home of the 2, 200 strong Kentiga Tribe. It is located 20 minutes drive west of Mt. Hagen City in the province of Western Highlands, Papua New Guinea. The village is situated on a ridge and at the height of over 5, 000 feet above sea level. With two big rivers (Turulg & Glaulg) running parallel on its eastern and western borders, Kokop sits on a water table where countless fountains, springs, creeks, and tributaries are found. Bordering five different native tribes on all sides, Kokop is the principal village of the Kentiga Tribe. Blessed with fertile black topsoil, lush undergrowth, and diverse vegetation, Kokop is home to a complex web of plant and animal life. The physical landscape varies from picturesque rolling hills to greenish flat lands. About 80 percent of the land is covered with trees of all kinds while the rest is occuppied by stretches of food gardens, hut houses, pig yards, and unharvested lands.

History: It is believed that Kokop Village was first founded between the late 1500s and mid-1600s. Traditional stories, passed on from generation to generation mention that a young man, named Kent, first settled in what is now called "Kokop Village." It is strongly believed that he came with other people and together they settled at Kokop. It is of course certain that he brought with him a wife. Nobody knows how many children they had. It is also not known whether or not Kent was a polygamist. The name "Kokop" originated during Kent's era. Between now and Kent's era, there are over 10 generations of people. The land of Papua New Guinea was first spotted by Portugese explorers in the early 1500s. It is during this time that Kent begun his journey for a new place and ended up settling at Kokop. According to traditional legends or stories, most of the tribes that live in Western Highlands believed to have come from the western part of the province; that is, towards what is now Southern Highlands and Enga Provinces. Before Kent settled at Kokop, the place was a no-man's land.

Population: Because of constant tribal fights, men did not settle to have many kids. Tribal fighting has ceased gradually (between 1930s and 2000) and stability has arrived, thus lending to better conditions for a population boom. Also polygamy was and still is a major force in the expansion of population figures among the Kentiga. Today, there are a total of 2, 200 Kentiga people. The rate of nationwide population growth is above 2 percent, one of the highest in the world. 

People: Kokop is a communal village where everyone cares and shares with each other. It is a village where everyone is concerned about the general wellbeing of each other. Anyone's business is everyones' business. Everyone likes chatting, talking, gossiping, and verbally expressing any feelings openly among and between each other daily. Life is not so sophisticated as in the Western nations. Everyone lives off the land as subsistence farmers. Houses or huts are built from bush materials. Kokop is a remote village filled with a generous people that live a simple life, and pleased with it. Polygamy is still practiced at Kokop but by a rarely few population. Peace and harmony is literally present despite few cases of negative attitudes by youngsters. The people are some of the friendliest you'd find on earth. They enjoy the company of international guests. In fact, international guests at Kokop are always susceptible to curious looks and smiling faces day in and day out.

Economics: There are two economic systems operating in Papua New Guinea: 1. traditional (non-taxable) system, and 2. modern economic (taxable) system. The subsistance farmers at Kokop bring their surplus produce to agricultural market in Mt. Hagen City, sell them (in the traditional economic system) and then buy manufactured items such as soap, cooking oil, soap, etc. (in the modern economic system) to sustain their living. The Kina is the modern currency of exchange. Barter system exists today but in a very refined and limited way. The traditional money; "kina shell," is not used anymore as legal tender, rather it serves as a relic which international guests find it 'touristy' and worth purchasing. The Gross Domestic Per Capita for Papua New Guinea is US$1,260. According to my estimation, the average person at Kokop earns a total of K700 per year. There are only few persons in the tribe that engage in private businesses and work for the government. The rest of the 2, 200 people are villagers or subsistance farmers.

Religion: After the arrival of the first missionaries and gold miners to the Western Highlands in the 1930s, peace and harmony between tribes begun. It did not happen overnight. There were some fierce fighting between many tribes. Between 1930 and 1985, many tribal wars broke out and lasted for years among many tribes in Western Highlands. My tribe fought the nearby Kungnuka tribe over a land dispute that last two years in the early 1980s (1980-982). The introduction of Christianity by Catholic and Lutheran missionaries to the province helped alot in solving these tribal enmity and brought peace to the multitude of natives.The natives had their own spiritual gods both before and after the arrival of the missionaries; however, to this date, there is never a group that believes in gods other than the Christian's God. Religion was single-handedly the powerful force that changed the face of Kokop and the Kentiga tribe as well as other tribes and their ways of life and thiking. Today, 99 percent of the Kentiga people are Lutheran Church members and are active participants.

Language: The people at Kokop speak Melpa and Miam native languages. Majority of the people can speak Pidgin while a little percentage demonstrate competence in the use of English language. Nearly every person from the tribe that has gone to school and completed sixth grade is able to speak, read, and write basic English. The medium of education throughout Papua New Guinea is English, thus many young persons nationwide are able to speak, read, and write communicable English. There are a total 860 native languages and dialects spoken throughout Papua New Guinea out of the 3, 400 native languages spoken worldwide.

Climate: It is warm during the day and gets cooler in the night. Thick blankets become useful during some of the nights at Kokop, although used unfrequently. During the rainy seasons, it can be very cold, windy, and chilly. During sunny seasons, it can be warm in the nights and a presence of moist air can be felt. Mud is synonymous with rainy season, and dust is synonymous with sunny seasons.

Gardens, Food, and Feasting: Food gardens in Kokop are located predominately away from the families’ hut houses, though not always. All kinds of vegetables are grown. Sweet potato or “kaukau” is the staple among the Kentiga. Bananas and taros of different kinds are supplemental to the main staple. Pig and chicken meat are eaten occasionally. The Kokop people are somewhat vegetarian because they do not have meat of all kinds in their daily diet unless available. Sharing of food is a powerful way of making friends in this culture as always been through endless ages. Food sharing unites enemies or can divide friends into lifelong enemies.  Food poisoning was one way to cause deliberate death to an enemy apart from tribal fights. Feasts occur only during set dates and involves the participation of nearly everyone or majority of the people from the tribe. Feasts can become too ellaborate and a source of extravaganza. 

Polygamy: The practice or lifestyle of polgygamy, once common, is now are less common practice. Often businessmen of today resort to such a practice, although not many in numbers. My great-grandfather was a polygamist, so was my grandfather. My father practised polygamy but later dismissed all his wivies to get married only to my mother. The lifestyle of children and wivies in a polygamous relationships are often difficult, painful, and leave scars for ages. Modern religions such as Christianity practiced nationwide discourage polygamy. There are speculations growing out of grave concerns to outlaw this practice. Whether it will be outlawed or not is something that is yet to be seen in time, but there is one thing certain: polygamy is a "Big-Man" thing and it is here to stay in Western Highlands Province and Papua New Guinea.

Education: Nearly all the children at Kokop go to primary schools in the nearby villages. About 90 percent of the teenagers and young adults at Kokop have been to some level of education. Many parents place education as a foremost priority for their kids. My dad enforced his will on me in an excruciatingly disciplinarian during my school days, thus making me reach the heights of educational successes I enjoy today. There is no education facility of any kind in Kokop. I am hoping that one day, there will be a primary school or some educational institution for the Kentiga people.

Health: There is no health facility in the village, however there is one clinic that was newly built at another village where some of the Kentiga people live. It is not far from Kokop. The head of Western Highlands Province's health department is a gentleman from Kentiga Tribe. He made sure that a health clinic was established in his homeland. The Kentiga people finally enjoy the benefits of health services provided by this clinic near Kokop. Most of the sicknesses present at Kokop were never heard of before. In fact, the older generation wonder as to where these set of cruel diseases came from. All they guess is that the "white men" brought it all on them. Few older people think that it is God's curse on society for disobedience. Traditional herbal medicines are still used today despite the fact that younger generations are losing touch with such practices due to convinience and trust brought about by modern medicines. The biggest killer disease at Kokop, according to my knowledge would be respiratory related diseases. AIDS is a growing concern nationwide. Many people at Kokop are paranoid as of late by the spread of HIV virus.

Cannibalism: Ever heard of Papua New Guinea as a land where cannibals exist? Well, not over here! When I grew up, it was the people from the other tribes that did it, not us. When I went to visit friends from those tribes, they pointed their fingers at us or other tribes. It is thus a blaming game ("pass on the buck") here in Kokop. My father told me that when the first white men arrived in 1930s at Mt. Hagen, his father was one of the first native to witness their arrivals. The natives then thought these white men were cannibals. The white men upon seeing the raw state of the natives thought these people were cannibals. This fallacy of judgement from shallow evidence consisted a spread of "news" from either sides that cannibalism exists. However, the "fact" is that certain tribes on the coastal areas and parts of the highlands region practised cannibalism. Whether that "fact" is substantiated or not remains a mystery, even to this day. "Joke: When you are invited for a meal at a Papua New Guinean's house, first ask them what would be served for the meal. You never know, you might be the meal instead!"

Landscape and Nature: The natural landscape is phenominally picturesque. One has got to bring a camera to appreciate the memories of traveling to Kokop. There are over 2, 000 different species of orchids found in Papua New Guinea. Some of these orchids are naturally home to the jungles and sides of river systems at Kokop. There are over 38 species of the colorful Birds of Paradise. Some of these birds are home to Kokop. Diversity of plant, insect, and animal life is found everywhere at Kokop.

Security and Safety Issues: Kokop is the last place on earth for any international guest to start worrying about security or safety issues. Here is why: the people of Papua New Guinea come from over a thousand tribes. These tribes have rules and regulations that are written within the conscious of every person. One of the rule is that any visitor coming into the tribe's territory should be shown respect. In essence, if a visitor comes to stay in my home at Kokop, nobody will do any harm to this visitor. That is because it is the law. Secondly, if anyone from the village does any harm (which is very rare an instance), that person will account to me and my family as well as to the entire tribe regarding the reasons of such harm inflicted on a visitor. Normally, such persons are punished through shame and compensation payments, the later as a sign of saying "sorry" to the victims. Over all, the chances of getting into some unknown safety issues at Kokop is nearly impossible. You can count on my words.

Laws & Legal Issues: Prior to the arrival of white men, the natives had their own legal system. Certain persons within the tribe, normally tribal leaders would congregate at one place at a set time to find ways to solve a social problem or crime. Common traditional problems that would enter such court system would be raping of women, disputes over ownership of land, murder, food poisoning, and stealing, among others. The modern legal system's arrival has played a major influence in the change of role and perspective of traditional leaders and their legal role in society. Compensation payments for any crime commited has been and still is a norm. The influence of modern money has changed the initial purpose of compensation, which is expressing apology, to the present day perception of compensation as a means of getting free monies. Compensation payment in the latter aspect has brought uncalculated results. In any event, the tribal leaders and their traditional legal system is still alive, not to strongly as used to be, but present inspite of the fact that decisions are blurred due to the confusion of western law's interpretation in a traditional society. 

Today: Kokop Village never used to have roads before the 1970s. Between then and now (2001), there is an accessible road system which is under the provincial government's plans to be sealed in 2002. If it is sealed, the equation will change; life, people, culture, and thought patterns will change as they have been over the past three decades. Since the arrival of the first white men n 1930s and today (2001), the changes have been extremely fast, even faster than the mind could absorb. There are few permanent houses, modern generators, and use of electronic equipments are being used at Kokop. The growing trend of favoring pop culture and being drawn towards it among the young population is evident. The changes within the psychological and physical mindset are so drastic, sometimes there are indications of culture shock. The modern culture and traditional culture are always conflicting somewhere within the process of change in various aspects of life at Kokop. Only a foreign eye could witness the clarity of such cultural shift and the tensions that compose it all. The Kentiga people and Kokop Village are subject to constant change due to modern forces sweeping through the mediums of mass education and socialization activities.

Contact: If you have any questions, send them via e-mail at skyfdn@hotmail.com, post them online at PNG Tourism Forum, and or Sign Guestbook here. All questions will be immediately answered. Thank you for visiting!

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