This paper explores sociophonetic variation in Ende, a Pahoturi River (Papuan) language spoken by the Ende tän, and adds to a growing body of variationist work taking place in southern New Guinea. We examine variable affrication of Ende retroflex obstruents through conducting an auditory analysis of spontaneous speech produced by 16 speakers of Ende, and we consider what linguistic and social factors are linked with this variation. Specifically, we highlight the locally relevant social factor of participation in community oration, a prestigious practice in Ende society. The research thus provides a much-needed contrast and comparison with dominant sociolinguistic theories. The results provide evidence that retroflex obstruents in Ende are more likely to be realized as stops when produced by those who perform orations. Among the orators, the frequency of stop realizations is linked with age and gender, such that older, women orators produce more stops. In contrast, no age- or gender-based differences are observed among the non-orators. We argue that women orators are using the stop variant to assert symbolic power in a community where oration is one of the few avenues of power available to women.