PETER S KINJAP
PORT MORESBY - The focus of the O’Neill-Abel government to divert most tourism development funds to the West and East New Britain is not to derail or downplay other aspiring provinces but to enable visitor numbers in the New Guinea Islands to gradually catch up.
Rabaul’s Frangipani Festival is becoming a global event, so over the next few years a huge climb in tourism numbers can be expected that will benefit province, region and country.
On the morning of 19 September 1994 when the colcanoes Vulcan and Tavurvur erupted forming an ash cloud reaching more than 18kms above Rabaul and causing 30,000 people to be evacuated from the town. The resultant damage to buildings and other structures was massive.
That eruption caused a lot of hardship for Rabaul, but over the last 25 years the once beautiful town has been able to revive itself and regain its reputation as a tropical paradise.
The Frangipani Festival commemorates the anniversary of destruction and rebirth and, being in September, it also celebrates Papua New Guinea’s independence.
The streets of Rabaul come alive with noise and colour for an annual float parade. There are canoe races in the spectacular harbour. Schools come together to celebrate. The famous Baining fire dance mesmerises crowds.
The first float parade was held in 1995, on the first anniversary of the eruption, just as the town was getting back on its feet.
“I think we had only 25 floats and we thought that was a lot,” said an organiser, Susie McGrade. “It was only supported by the people who actually lived in Rabaul at the time.” But it grew.
“Around 2000 we were shocked when there were 65 floats and Rabaul Market was packed.”
In succeeding year, the support escalated and in 2016 the parade hit an all-time high with 165 floats and 7,000 people lining the streets.
The canoe race, tagged the Two Stone Kanu, has also been steadily growing in popularity and now 75 men and 55 women take part in the race around the Beehives, the dramatic volcanic structures projecting from the placed waters of the harbour.
“And of course the Kinavai and the Baining fire dances are always well supported, said McGrade. “These are the highlights of the cultural side of the festival and the Historical Society also keeps our culture and history alive.”
The festival generates great support from the Tolai people. At peak festival times, it takes travellers two hours to get into Rabaul because all roads are so congested for the float parade.
There has been growing interest from overseas and local visitors. Tourists looking for memorable experiences certainly get them in Rabaul at this time. And shops, hotels, resorts and guesthouses in Rabaul are booked to capacity.
The staging of the Frangipani Festival is done through the support of the Rabaul business community and there is no government support. It is the only PNG festival which is free to the public and this is because Rabaul business houses get behind the festival with all the support they can.
Funds raised from the festival go to keeping the Rabaul Museum open to the public.
The festival committee consists of a team of dedicated volunteers including McGrade as chairwoman, chairman Dennison Kyvung, town manager Victor Vitliu, cultural coordinator Dickson Kondaul, David Pua, Alice Guere and a district education representative and school heads.
“This year we have a number of sponsorship packages available and would love to hear from businesses or organisations interested in partnering,” McGrade said. “We are always grateful for any donations, no matter how small they may seem.”
Registration for participation is open for the float parade and prizes are awarded for the most creative, the most entertaining, the best corporate and the best community group and private float.
The festival is named after the glorious trees that perfume the streets of Rabaul. Once you have arrived in Rabaul, most likely through Port Moresby, you are met at Kokopo airport and, if you are staying in a hotel, you will most probably be taken there by a pickup bus.
As well as the festival there is lot more to see around Rabaul including the Lark Force and 2/22 Memorial, the Montevideo Maru Memorial, Rabaul Museum, Yamamoto's Bunker, the Peace Memorial and the Submarine Base.
Towards Kokopo there are the World War II barge tunnels and Japanese underground hospital and the Kokopo War Museum. The Bita Paka War Cemetery is also not to be missed.
Every new day is a good day in Rabaul, starting with a hearty breakfast of fresh coconut water, tropical fruits and of course aromatic PNG coffee and tea
Then you might head out to the still smoking Tavurvur volcano and its hot springs. Locals from Matupit village at the foot of the volcano will tell you the story of Rabaul’s volcanoes. You can then visit the renowned vulcanological observatory on top of Tunnel Hill.
At the Rabaul Bung Market you may like to try the Tolai’s favoured buai (betelnut) or the local karamap - banana, fish and greens wrapped in banana leaves.
Although the town has been knocked about badly in the past by Mother Nature, the people of Rabaul persisted and stand proud of what's been accomplished, and they love welcoming visitors to this special place.
Peter S Kinjap is a freelance writer and a blogger, email email@example.com