Picture the scene, Port Moresby, February 29th 2012. A bunch of foreigners (“white friends”, as Reuben referred to us) tips up at the National Museum. What better opportunity to put on the glad rags and create a little local colour?
It looked like we arrived a little early, because the last minute titivations were taking place. A couple of the gentlemen were adding a last minute touch of colour, readjusting the arrangement of bones, beads, shells. I don’t think the id card is truly authentic but let’s overlook that small feature, shall we?
Their headresses and neckwear were pretty spectacular, and the brightly coloured facepaints were applied with vigour!
But for now, we left them to finish their preparations whilst we looked around the museum. They promised not to go anywhere.
When we came out, we found them waiting for us, ready for their portraits. Standing casually with umbrellas to hand, their smiles made it difficult to feign ferocity!
So these are the men of the Huli people, the “Wig men” for obvious reasons. Their elaborate headresses were beautifully shaped and, we’re told, are made from their own hair.
Faced with such a great opportunity, it’s hard to tear oneself away, but move on we must, so with one last photograph, we climbed back in the bus and were off. As we did, they did a little dance – maybe they were pleased to see us go? Or perhaps they were inviting us back? Who knows?
Now a little further along, we arrived at the Botanic Gardens, where once more, we heard the sound of drums. The slightly conical, double ended kundu drum is a traditional symbol of PNG and we’d spotted it there as part of the bank logo as well as hanging around those Huli men’s necks. Now hearing it coming from a clearing in the trees, we wanted to take a closer look to see who was playing it.
Hello…the ladies of a tribe from Mount Hagen were there to greet us. Wearing these lavishly painted faces, vast quantities of shells, elaborate headwear, a skirt fashioned from leaves and grass and not much else, they made for a stunning sight.
Singing and dancing, beating the drums, these women knew how to touch a foreigner’s heart.
We stood for a while, again finding it hard to tear ourselves away from such a colourful scene, but they were still there as we returned to our vehicle, singing and drumming with great enthusiasm.
We really appreciated the performance and felt that we’d been really lucky to have had such a colourful encounter.
Just one last photo…of course.
As is often the case, Port Moresby seems to have divided opinion amongst our friends. Those of us who were lucky to have encountered these colourful people, to have had a great guide such as Reuben, who shared his knowledge and love of his country, not to mention his hope for the future left PNG feeling overwhelmingly fortunate to have visited the country, however brief the stop. Others who were left to their own devices to find their way in a place not easily interpreted by outsiders, who felt alarmed by the dire warnings and put off by initial impressions around the dockyard felt altogether differently about it all. One thing is certain, after the highly developed tourism industry of Queensland, PNG came as quite a contrast and getting the most out of such a place certainly demands a little more effort. I believe PNG doesn’t feature in next year’s itinerary, which is a pity, because we’d have been very sorry to have missed a chance to learn a little more about this corner of the world first hand.
Today, we’re back to Australia, to Thursday Island which is the very top of the pointy bit of Queensland (sorry for the technical talk) The round island tour takes one hour – I guess it’s pretty small. It’s also an anchored port, which means we’re going to have the fun of the tender!