Monday, June 1, 2015

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Guest Post by Ann Stalcup

Papua New Guinea
My friend and fellow children’s book writer Ann Stalcup and her husband Ed love to travel. Several years ago they went on a trip to Papua New Guinea. Here are a few photos and a report from their trip.
Until we went to Papua New Guinea, I thought that nothing could surpass either the impact of the Omo Valley of southern Ethiopia or Timbuktu. The trip was divided into three main sections: four days at an incredible mountain lodge where the scenery and architecture made us feel that we were in Africa, four days on the Sepik river, and several days at a beautiful lodge overlooking the Karawari River.
Ann and Ed with Papua New Guinea villager in elaborate feather headdress
From our first day in the Tari area, it was obvious that we would experience a culture totally unlike any other. Villages were simple but immaculate, and tribal warfare (Highland Football) is common. Wars often start if one of the precious pigs (or a person) is killed or stolen by another tribal group. Fighting with bows and arrows, they battle for a while and then everyone goes home for tea. Wars are very civilized! It may be a few days before the other tribe reciprocates. Feuds continue for weeks and schools in the area are closed for the duration. The dead pig is eventually replaced by the opposing tribe and peace reigns - for the time being. Pigs are the basis of the economy, and whenever we asked a local guide how much each of his wives cost (some had as many as eight) the answer is always given in pigs, not money!
Wearing human hair Huli wigs
Every day we were taken from our lodge to two or three nearby villages. There, the Huli people dressed in incredible costumes and make up entertained us or taught us about their culture. Everywhere we went we were treated with warmth and courtesy. Without exception, people wanted us to enjoy their country and culture and to persuade others that visiting New Guinea was worthwhile. One unbelievable visit was to a wig school. The “schooling” involved a variety of rituals guaranteed to assist a group of young men in growing an immense head of wire-like hair. The hair is “harvested” to create the huge wigs worn daily by the Huli tribesmen.

Cowrie shell necklaces
Our next few nights were spent on a small but luxurious boat on the Sepik River. We set off every morning in a flat-bottomed launch, returning “home” for lunch before setting off again. The stilted, riverside villages were charming and the people welcoming and fascinated with us. Even the tiniest village had its wares spread out along the dirt river-front or down the center of the village. There were some incredible figures, masks, bowls, and woven pieces. We were intrigued by the costume pieces–for the men, feather headdresses and tiny aprons, a combination of cowrie shells and string. Often there were dance performances.

Our next “home”was a lovely lodge overlooking the dense rainforest along the Kawahari River, and our most memorable afternoon was spent visiting the remote Amboin village school. Only two of the nine classrooms had students. It seems that after the summer break, seven teachers failed to return, The students and their teacher were dressed in grass skirts and floral headdresses. There were headdresses for us, too. The sound of the children’s unaccompanied voices as they sang with passion about the beauties of their country is something I’ll never forget. The classrooms had nothing - no tables or chairs, just a blackboard and one teacher table.
Applying face paint
The “grand finale”or “icing” on the trip was the “Sing Sing” at Mt. Hagen. What a spectacle! The original “Sing Sing” was introduced by an Australian women as a way for tribes to compete peacefully. As they waited to enter a huge grassy area, one tribal group after another warmed up at the gate, chanting and singing in preparation for appearing before the judges. Around the perimeter of the fairground, other dancers applied elaborate make-up, assembled enormous multi-colored feather headdresses, or adorned themselves with massive shell necklaces. Tribe after tribe entered the sports field, each costume, chant, and dance step seeming more fantastic than the last. Before long we were completely engulfed in the mass of dancers. For two days we were totally enthralled and left New Guinea saturated by the color and pageantry of all that we had seen.
Dressed up for the "Sing Sing"
New Guinea is the second largest island in the world. It is also a commonwealth country. The island is covered in dense, lush jungle; very little land is inhabited. There are few roads and for the most part, villages and towns are connected only by air. And since few can afford air travel, the average New Guinean’s experience of his own country is very limited. In the Karawari and Sepik River areas, travel is by dugout canoe, so even though the Sepik is immensely long, travel covers only short distances.
The people have two official languages: English and pidgin. Pidgin seems more prevalent of the two. Only the most educated, such as the tour guides, seem fluent in English, and even they had curious expressions at times.

1 comment:

Caroline Hatton said...

Great post! Fascinating, hilarious, and colorful, including in the amazing photos. Thanks!