Kilenge - History and Cultural Relations

The Kilenge themselves are not sure of their origins: different legends variously ascribe their ancestors as coming from the north coast of New Guinea, the Siassi Islands, or the south coast of New Britain. Evidence suggests that their immediate forbears lived on the lower slopes of Mount Talave and slowly migrated down to the coast, arriving there about 150 years ago. The Germans began recruiting the Kilenge for labor around the turn of this century, establishing a pattern of wage-labor migration that persists today. Some depopulation resulted from a smallpox epidemic in the second decade of this century. World War II caused dislocation but few casualties. It also opened up new cultural and social horizons. Today, the Kilenge are marginally incorporated into the world economy. The Kilenge cultural repertoire, while related to those of other New Britain and Siassi Island groups, is unique in its particular configuration. The Kilenge are Primarily endogamous, and they distinguish themselves from other people, particularly their bush-dwelling Lolo neighbors, in terms of their particular combination of locality, language, marriage, and culture. In the past, the Kilenge participated in the overseas trade network organized and maintained by the Siassi Islanders, exchanging their pigs, coconuts, taro, and Talasea obsidian for carved bowls and clay pots needed in their bride-price payments. They also mediated the exchange between the Lolo and the Siassi and maintained ties with the Bariai, Kaliai, and Kove to the east.

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