Social, symbolic, and ritual roles of the sweet potato in Enga, from its introduction until first contact
Since James Watson first pointed out the impact of the sweet potato on New Guinea highland societies, much research has been conducted on its introduction and its impact on agricultural systems, economy, and society. However, comparatively little is understood about how the new crop found a place in the ritual repertoire of highland New Guinea societies. Here I briefly summarise the oral evidence for the introduction of the sweet potato. Then I will look at the social, symbolic and ritual roles of the sweet potato during its two waves of influence in Enga history. The first was as a crop that provided a reliable staple for humans and thereby opened many new opportunities; the second was a fodder for pigs that were used to fuel growing networks of exchange. I will argue that symbolic meanings and non-nutritional goals pursued through a food such as the sweet potato were not static, but kept well abreast of the social and political dynamics of the time.