PETER S KINJAP
PORT MORESBY - 2019 has brought changes to the Mount Hagen Cultural Show committee in setting priorities designed to regain corporate sector confidence leading to the staging of another colourful cultural extravaganza in August.
A successful team lead by John Bonny has brought forward K30,000 from last year to enhance preparations for this year’s annual cultural festival.
Members representing various organisations have come together to form a strong team including Phil Kelly from Tinining Limited, Pim Mamandi from Paiya Tours, Pauline Grove from Trans Niugini Tours and James Wakapu from Western Highlands Provincial Tourism, Arts and Culture.
John Bonny said the K30,000.00 forms the basis for raising funds this year and he stressed the importance of business community involvement along with key government departments and schools to ensure that one of the world’s great shows will be maintained.
With a history that dates back almost 60 years, the Mount Hagen Cultural Show is one of Papua New Guinea’s finest and most popular cultural events.
The annual show draws tribes from all over the Western Highlands as well as neighbouring provinces for cultural performances, singing and ancient rituals.
It’s a vibrant display of colour, culture and craft. The first event was hosted in 1961 long before Papua New Guinea’s independence in a bid to peacefully share and preserve the region’s traditions.
The rhythmic thumping of kundu drums is the first hint of the festival you will hear if you are around Mount Hagen’s vicinity.
With the last of the early morning fog yet to lift, the field behind Kagamuga showground is already a sea of towering headdresses, colourful flowers and plants, and paint-encrusted faces emitting venue with pulsating chants.
Preparation and dress rehearsals by each tribe take at least two hours. Across the field, hundreds of people are seen in various stages of readiness – tucking leaves, arranging feathers, painting bodies, examining mirrors.
For visitors, it's an opportunity to experience first-hand the customs of some of PNG’s 1,000 tribes in one of the most culturally intact places in the world. This is nothing but a showcase of ‘pride of a tribe.’
At Kagamuga showground on that day in August, you watch the sun's rays catch the morning dew as all the men honour their ancestors by dressing as old men with beards, black, red and yellow painted faces and legs mudded with white clay.
When they dance – holding hands and jogging on the spot in several lines – the rattling of shells, bones and seed necklaces form a mesmerizing percussion to their low chant.
War-like cries and whooping draws the attention of the crowd as the men march round the field forming a circle with spears and traditional axes.
Tourists duck and weave between performers, jostling for the best camera angle - snapping selfies and snapping at other tourists to get out of the way. Curious onlookers are chased and mock-threatened with spears and axes.
Performers are proud to be celebrities for a weekend, and admire and pose with endless patience.
In every corner of the field, performers continue to stamp their feet and shake their as gras (the leaves tucked into the back of their belts).
The closing dance for the day, known as waipa in the Mepla language of Western Highlands, is and usually performed by youngsters in courtship mood, giggling as they hold hands tightly and joggling in a clockwise direction chanting descants of love.
Boys start the circle and jump around with regular chants. Girls look to spot their boyfriends or someone whom they know who they can tap on their back to join them in the waipa ring. When they find their best man, they go round and round joggling through the afternoon until dark.
This year the Mount Hagen Cultural Show is scheduled for the weekend of 17-18 August.
Peter S. Kinjap is a freelance writer and a blogger, email email@example.com