Introducing the Wola People

The Wola live in the south central highlands of the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. The highlands comprise a series of mountain ranges running spine-like along the island. They are physically isolated from the coastal region and outsiders thought the region uninhabited until the 1930s. The Wola speakers occupy five river valleys in the Southern Highlands Province north east of Lake Kutubu: the Ak, the Was, the Nemb, the Lai and the Mend river valleys.
The majority of the population lives between 1600 and 2000 metres a.s.l. The topography is rugged and precipitous, with turbulent rivers flowing along the valleys. The people live along the valley sides, where large areas of cane grassland occur, leaving the intervening watersheds largely unpopulated, where tropical montane rainforest predominates.

The Wola lead a life similar to others elsewhere in the New Guinea Highlands region. They are subsistence cultivators whose staple is sweet potato, supplemented with a variety of other crops (such as taro, bananas, sugar cane and greens). They also herd considerable numbers of pigs. Men do the initial heavy work of clearing and fencing garden areas, and women the later routine work of breaking up the soil and planting crops. Families live within short walking distance of many gardens. Settlement is scattered, men traditionally occupying separate houses from women, young children and pigs. Several related families living in the same area comprise loose communities of kin conceived as permanent named groups identified with particular territories. The exchange of wealth on prescribed occasions today pigs and cash, previously pearl and cowrie shells, crude salt, bird-of-paradise plumes and a cosmetic tree-sap oil - is an important aspect of the stateless socio-political order. Today people profess to be Christians, previously their beliefs centred on ancestor spirits.