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Bougainville’s many festivals present a delight for visitors

Mona - Bougainville men
Bougainville men display a model of the traditional mona vessel used for warfare, exploration and fishing

PETER S KINJAP

PORT MORESBY - Festivals and events are part of the indigenous lifestyle in Papua New Guinea. Everywhere you go there is always a celebration close by and many of them have turned into tourist attractions for the country.

The Mona canoe race event in Bougainville is one event that is hosted annually with other activities. In 2014 Bougainville set dates for Bougainville festivals including this one that started in August the same year.

The Mona Festival (sometimes referred to as the Canoe Festival) is held annually in Buka to celebrate the seafaring tradition of Bougainvilleans.

The ‘mona’ is a large sea going canoe which was used for trade or to conduct lightning raids on other communities and islands in the Solomon Sea.

Using stone tools it is crafted out of hewn planks of lightwood expertly bound together by vines.

The mona was made watertight using sap from the seeds of a special tree. The canoes held up to 10 rowers and could move swiftly over water.

It comes in three types – the warrior, the voyager and the fishing vessel.

Mona Festival committee chairman and tourism operator Lawrence Belleh says a good number of tourists visit the region during the festival period each year.

“The popular Kuri Resort is fully booked throughout the festival period,” he said. “We’ve had calls from as far as the USA for accommodation. Other guest house operators are also taking in bookings for that period,” he said.

Belleh explained that the festival aimed to unify all Bougainvilleans as part of the restoration exercise towards peace building and return of normalcy.

“It also aims to promote Bougainville as a preferred tourism destination,” he said.

Belleh acknowledged the Lae Biscuit Company for its K15,000 donation and Digicel, which has undertaken to be the major sponsor and acquired naming rights.

The festival starts from Malasang village with a welcome and tradition rituals performed by the village chiefs.

A voyage is then taken to Ieta village then to Sohano Island before heading to Buka township.

Mona - Bougainville women
Bougainville women in traditional dress pose in front of the spectacular Buka Passage

Buka’s biannual Reed Festival is another cultural event where the Bougainvillean people show their culture, beauty and diversity over several days in a carnival of cultural dancing, songs, plays and other creative traditional arts.

The Reed Festival is staged in Arawa and performers come from all over Bougainville.

The festival provides the opportunity for young Bougainvilleans to learn about and partake in their own culture from the older generation.

An important part of the Reed Festival is the ‘cool culture’ component that incorporates activities and displays by local children.

In addition to the Mona and Reed festivals there’s also the Hantoa cultural show, the Tinputz cocoa festival, the Siwai cultural show and many more.

Bougainville has a new website to promote tourism in the province at www.bougainvilletourism.org.pg.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government recognises the largely untapped potential of tourism and is aware Bougainville has the natural and cultural attractions to lure adventure and niche travellers to its shores.

But it is acknowledged that a lot needs to be done and that success does not come overnight.

The province’s limited financial resources and capacity has to be shared with many other areas needing urgent attention and funding festivals has not been easy.

This creates a lot of room for private enterprise to participate in festivals that can be both profitable and enjoyable.

Peter S Kinjap is a freelance writer and a blogger, email pekinjap@gmail.com

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