Sing-Sings and Cultural Shows in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea has half a dozen cultural festivals duirng the year, the biggest and cheapest being the 60-year-old event at Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, the most well-known is at Mt Hagen in the Western Highlands, the National Mask Festival in Kokopo is also relatively modestly priced, and the Ambunti Crocodile Festival in the Sepik is the the most remote.
Goroka: 14 - 17 September, 2017
Over the three-day weekend closest to the September 16th Independence Day, over 100 tribes gather at Goroka in the Eastern Highlands for a celebration of their cultural diversity. Only a couple of hundred foreigners attended this spectacular and unique event. In 2010, I was one of them for the first time. Amidst a riot of colour, singing, dancing, and feathers I wandered through the field of performers, taking pictures and trying to chat with the different tribes. See a video here, or scroll to the bottom of the page.
In 2015 400 VIP passes were sold (to foreign visitors and PNG dignatories), 150 tribes were present, and attendance over the three days was between 70,000 and 90,000 (the organisers only printed 60,000 one-day tickets and sold out first thing on the Sunday). In 2017the main festival or Sing-Sing will take place on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th September.
Although the dancers are keen to pose for the camera and readily struck a pose, it is far from a show designed for tourists. Quite the opposite in fact. The first “Goroka Show” was held in 1957, the brain-child of administrators and missionaries trying stop virulent inter-tribal conflicts and implemented by Australian Patrol Officers (PNG was under Australian administration until peaceful independence was arranged in 1975). Instead of fighting over ancient feds and cultural differences, the idea was to get together and celebrate diversity, take part in competitions, and intermix peacefully.
As unlikely as it sounds, the idea worked, and fifty three years on is still going strong. There are no longer any competitions (I can imagine the archery and spear throwing competitions were hotly contested and probably not the best way to promote peace), not even for dancing or singing. Quite rightly, the organisers feel that one cannot say that one cultural dance is better than another without giving the feeling that the culture itself is being judged. Nowadays each group has a section of the showgrounds and dances and sings there from 9 am to 4 pm each day.
There are a considerable number of women’s groups, wearing more birds in their headdresses than you’d find in a Philipino smuggler’s suitcase, their glimmering breasts sporting as many kina shells as they possess in order to display their wealth. Fierce-looking Silimbuli warriors with blackened faces in huge hair-woven berets jump up and down in unison to the rhythm of their kundu drums, dissuading any challenge. Brightly-coloured Mount Hagen warriors form a formidable spear line, but chant and whistle cheerily whilst grass-skirted Engan ladies dance and sing as their men beat out a tune on bamboo (and hardware store PVC) pipes with flip-flops. One tribe has giant bird and butterfly frameworks on their backs in a sort of Rio Carnival style, others act out stories about spirits and ancestors in song, shaven headed children with their hair made into beards playing the roles of pygmy ghosts. Hornbill beaks and wild pig tusks are proudly worn, and feathers, grasses and leaves used as dress and decoration in a myriad of ways. Every tribe is stunning, headresses are often an ornithologist's nightmare of feathers and often whole stuiffed birds. You can open a full screen gallery here (2013) or watch a collection of video clips here
I now go on a yearly basis, and for 2017 have put together a 11-night Coastal and Highlands tribes trip with three nights down in East New Britain at Kokopo to visit an island, hot springs, the Mt Tarvurvur volcano, and the Word War Two histiocal sites (submarine base, Yamamoto's bunker, underground hospital and stoage tunnels, two nights in the Western Highlands for Birds of Paradise and Melpa culture, three nights in a locally-run lodge in an Asaro Mudman village, and three nights at accommodation at Goroka. Contact us for details.
Shorter stays for three and four nights are also possible. See here.
You can stay in the quite expensive Bird of Paradise hotel in town, or use the basic but clean and safe accommodation right next to the showgrounds. Four-night packages with flights range from $990 to $1850 USD depending on accommodation chosen, all including an Asaro Mudmen village visit and Sing-Sing with mumu lunch or hiking.
After the successes of 2014, 2015, and 2016, for 2017, we will be runing another Coastal and Highlands Tribes tour over 11 nights, starting in Port Moresby on the 7th, returning on the 18th.
You can find the full details of the options here.
Other Goroka activities:
Goroka has coffee plantations, Asaro villages, half-day and full day walks and tours, as well as multi-day tours and treks.
We also work with an Asaro village that has a basic lodge for visitors and organise multi-day stays, Contact us to discuss your requirements. You can see more on the lodge at www.asaromudmen.com
KOKOPO NATIONAL MASK FESTIVAL from $580 11-15 July 2017
Four nights’ half-board accommodation at the Rapopo Plantation Resort, Kinavai Ceremony, full day Rabaul and Kokopo land tour or Duke of York Island visit. Double occupancy rates: Garden Bayside room $580 per person. Premier Poolside room $635pp, Premier Suite $710 pp. Festival passes to be bought on site as the rate is set just prior to the event. 2016 rates were 50 Kina ($18). Extensions for the end of the Warwagira music festival (14th and 15th). Extensions for island visits and island stays possible.
The National Mask Festival takes place every year in Rabaul and is run by the PNG National Cultural Commission. Highlighting Papua New Guinea’s mask culture, it attracts artists and performers nationwide. Many types of ancestor, spirit and tumbuan masks are visible, both old and recent.
Ancestor masks represent humans, often with holes in the eyes being a key feature. Smaller masks are used as headgear during dances and ceremonies or to depict ancestors in people's homes. Spirit masks are also mounted on walls or gables to provide protection through the representation of non-human forms. The Tumbuan is also the representation of a spirit, but larger so that they can be worn over the head and shoulders, or even the entire body during dances that tell stories about the afterlife.
This is without a doubt the largest and most wide-ranging collection of masks at a Sing-Sing, and overlaps with the Warwagira music festival. It's a great occasion to see and purchase local crafts and artefacts, and witness the Kinavai opening ceremony and visit the Baining's village for a captivating fire dance.
Ambunti Crocodile Festival 3-9 August 2017
The Ambunti Crocodile Festival takes place on the banks of the Sepik River in the Middle Sepik area and is a grear opportunity to experience this remote and fascinating region. Basic but air-conditioned accommodation is available at Ambunti Lodge with full-inclusive four and six night packages. Click here for more information. It can be combined with a village homestay on Yuo Island, near Wewak or a Sepik River expedition.
Mount Hagen: 19-20 August 2017
Mount Hagen also hosts a Sing-Sing over a weekend in August. It has slightly more tourist vistors and less tribes than Goroka, bit still pulls together and impressive 70 to 90 tribes. It can be combined with bird watching, visiting a Melpa village, going to other birding or cultural activities in Tari, home of the Huli wigmen, or a visit to any of the dive resorts. The best short option is a four-night stay arriving om hte Thursday and going to a private mini Sing-Sing ont he Friday in Paiya. We include it in our four-night packages.
You can find our 2017 Hagen Show packages here.
The Hiri Moale festival used to take place in Port Moresby at the same time as the Goroka show and celebrated the sea and man's life on it. This colourful festival was originally designed to preserve the Hiri Trade expeditions between the Motu-Koitabu people and the Erema (Kerema) people on PNG's south-west coast. The Motu-Koitabu would undertake a three-month journey by Lagatoi (traditional canoe) to trade clay pots for sago and canoe logs from the Erema. Today, the festival features traditional dances, the Hiri Queen contest (a beauty pageant), the arrival of the Lagatoi (traditional canoes), canoe racing, musical presentations and an arts and crafts exhibition. The two main venues are at Sir Hubert Murray Stadium and Ela Beach.
The Malagan show and the Yamut Festival used to take place in Kavieng, New Ireland at the end of July and celbrates the New Ireland mask and craft making culture. However, the Malagan Show and teh Yamut Festival have not taken place for a number of years due to a lack of funding and coherent organisation despite being talked about every year. In fact, there has been no decent Malagan Show since 1987.
In the Trobriand Islands in the south, July is also the preferred month for a Yam Festival. However, it is really an event for locals and little advance notice is given of the actual date as the festival only occurs when the harvest is deemed successful. When the July harvest is considered too small, the festival has taken place in October or November. It’s best to consider being on the islands when the festival occurs as a lucky bonus rather than a key point of a trip.
Alotau has a Kundo Canoe festival in late October or early November. Canoes and the Kundu drums are a significant aspect of the lives of the people of Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Both the Canoe and the Kundu were widely used in olden times in ceremonies and rituals and were meticulously crafted from special woods under strict customs, to derive the best results and to appease the gods. The National Canoe and Kundu Festival were first held in Milne Bay in 2003. The canoes that are used in the festival are crafted in the same way that the canoes were crafted many years ago by the people’s ancestors. The colours and patterns reflect upon the tribe and the area the canoe comes from. The canoes and traditional dancing groups come from all over the Milne Bay province, including some parts of the Papuan Region.