More Entertainment from the Goroka Festival in Papua New Guinea

Our last blog presented only a partial glimpse into the Goroka Festival in Papua New Guinea. With over 100 various tribes coming together for a transitional sing-sing…all in traditional costumes and body paint—we felt this deserved many more photos of the incredible two days we spent there. So to continue on our review of the various tribes and costumes…..

  • Kanai men wore white and pink-feathered, framed headdresses atop knitted caps and grass skirts. The adorable children of the clan were decked out in shell necklaces and boar tusks.

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  • Black Mama Wurwur women were attired almost all in green leaves, except for their huge shell necklaces.

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  • Tanget men and women wore animal skin skirts, were decked out in beads and had feathered caps;

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  • Digine women with their yellow-painted faces, large kina shell breast plates and red feathered hairdresses with long black plumes;

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  • Sinesine clan adults had some amazing costumes, with their red-painted faces with yellow bands, enormous kina shell breast plates, blue and white fabric skirts and the leaders, with enormous black plumed Bird of Paradise headdresses. The numerous children in the group, although not having particularly noteworthy costumes, were among the most adorable in the show, including a girl dressed more like an American cowgirl than a PNG tribe member. Part of the group, while plainly and minimally attired, captured the attention of the crowd with a kumbaya-like performance in which a father and children were surrounded by two rows of paired men and women who were singing and hugging each other.

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  • Saliten with their white-painted faces with yellow eyes and red and white highlights, red half-moon breastplates and Bird of Paradise-studded headdresses.

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  • Wara Kerepia, whose yellow and red-painted faces, red bodies and green-leafed skirts complemented their varied, and sometimes elaborate Bird of Paradise headdresses.

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  • Miguma women had red-painted faces with yellow stripes, wore grass shirts, large kina shell breast plates and elaborate red and blue-feathered headdresses with long black plumes

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  • Aratiufa clan members wore large, roughly 10-foot-tall, red and white back panels, multi-colored knit clothes and interesting headdresses. A man painted totally in black with white circles around his eyes, danced continually around the group.
  • Taik with their box-framed white feathered headdresses

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  • Polga men and boys who we saw dressing and applying makeup in the early morning, were all decked out, with red, white, yellow and green painted faces, blue and white striped skirts quarter moon chest plates and headgear topped with beautiful Bird of Paradise plumes.

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  • Hamamoninda women had yellow painted faces, headdresses studded with long black Bird of Paradise feathers and boar tusk breast plates.

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  • Bomai men had the their foreheads painted in yellow, wore red feathered headdresses topped with black flumes and wore large kina shell breast plates.

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  • Avaldi, dressed in black, who when lined up in parallel rows with their clubs between them, looked like a fierce bunch, except when they asked you to take their pictures

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  • Kuyarama, three-quarter of them were dressed all in green, looking like evergreen trees, and the other quarter all in black hair, as something of a cross between a gorilla and the abominable snowman

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  • Lumapak men had red and yellow painted faces and were decked out in leaves, colored fabric and headdresses.

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  • Wair Wann, who had the most spectacular headdresses of all the tribes

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  • Telefomin Kamban, a clan of men whose dress and dance was more than suggestively erotic. All but one wore a different, but always huge, always erotically penis sheaths which they waved and handled seductively during the dance. The odd man out, for some unexplained reason, wore what looked like a coconut shell, rather than a penis sheath.

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And prowling the entire premises, individual Asaro Mudmen, each smeared all over with mud and wearing their intimidating helmets, each designed and made by the wearer. Although we loved virtually all that we saw, we particularly enjoyed a particularly sarcastic mask with an “I” on one side of the mouth, a “U” on the other and the mouth, shaped and outlined like a heart, with teeth of big, intimidating boar tusks. Each was also carrying their trademark spears and bows and arrows, and simulated shooting them at anyone “daring” to take their pictures. Although we saw a number of mudmen our first day, and more on the second and in our hotel lobby, we had an opportunity to see many more on a side trip to their nearby village (see our upcoming Goroka Area Sites post.)

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We certainly appreciated the make-up and the costumes of the participants. Actually, we were more awed than appreciative. Although we did not really understand the dances, the songs and the chants, we could not help but to appreciate them. A few groups gyrated and moved in accordance to what appeared to be their own rhythms, with little apparent choreography. The Yongo Girls, meanwhile, didn’t so much dance, as they did march in formation, which was totally appropriate given their uniforms and their wooden guns.

Most routines, however, were clearly choreographed, some pretty strictly in terms of either a linear structure, where each moved in lines that typically curved around and repeated the process; most in some form of circle. But regardless of how well structured the overall formation, the vast majority of dancers had and exercised enough flexibility to both express their own creativity and to engage with the audience. As for the songs and the chants, we couldn’t understand a word. But since, most sing in one of their 850 native languages, it was a good bet that few Papuans from other tribes could understand them either.

We did, however, speak with our guides and with a number of performers about the meanings of not only the music, but of the colors and the dances. We learned that each had a meaning. Although many wore colors related to those of the nation’s flag, we were told that the colors and movements expressed emotions. The songs often describe and express reverence for the tribe’s culture, traditions, ancestors and the lands in which they live, be it the mountains, the rivers or the seacoast. The song of the Kopiamp tribe was a bit different: It was a welcome to the new Governor, a prayer that he would govern with wisdom and bestow benefits on the people.

We also learned the incredible expense that each performer bears to create and continually update their outfits, and especially their feathered headdresses. Some plumes are purchased and some come from the killing of birds, then the feathers are gutted, dried and then skewered with a stick to keep them in the prober shape before securing them to the headdress. Feathers are stored in bamboo tubes, then in boxes and  are often passed down among generations and reconfigured in headdresses in accordance with the tribe’s annual themes.

With our VIP passes, we and the other VIPs (meaning tourists who had the money) had the large field and the singing/dancing tribes to ourselves. About noon each day, the field was opened up to the General Admission audience and the field rapidly filled. At this point, our group went off to a private area for a buffet lunch. Not surprisingly, the food wasn’t memorable, but it did allow us to get out of the sun, under a shaded canopy and gave us a chance to sit and relax from the continual movement from one group to another. And it provided an opportunity to speak with members of other tourist groups from different countries from around the world. By the time we returned, the field had filled and the groups maintained their fevered sing sing pitch until they just had to take a break, sitting down, often, just enjoying a Coke (one of the event’s primary sponsors).

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Some groups, such as the Mudmen, with their heavy and uncomfortable masks, had to take frequent breaks. By mid-afternoon, more than a handful of children had had more than enough, just crashing in their mother’s or father’s arms. Many other adorable children, however, couldn’t get enough of the activity or the attention, craving to have their pictures taken. Even those who weren’t in the show, were anxious to take part by getting their faces painted.

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Periodically though the first afternoon, sky divers floated in from the sky, into a cleared circle in the middle of the field. Meanwhile, the World Cup, the finals of which are being held in Australia and New Guinea, was paraded through the field, with a chance for every team to have their pictures taken with the cup. And on Sunday afternoon, the next field over had a concert that was at least as packed as was the festival. Given the applause, the screams and the number of Frisbee-like disks that were being thrown, it looked like PNG youths express appreciation for music in much the same way as in the U.S.

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As the field filled, we took our leave to the marketplace that was just outside the gate. All the tchotchkes and souvenirs that we could hope for, with carved wooden and stone figures, paintings and drawings, string bilums and fiber trays from all across the country. We finally succumbed to temptation and brought four items (a carved mask, and deity figure, a tray and finally, the tee-shirt Tom had been looking for the entire trip). Our biggest regret is that we couldn’t (and wouldn’t if we could) purchase or bring some of the magical, endangered Birds of Paradise plumes out of the country.

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