Independence Day 16th Sept

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Flag of Papua New Guinea  , National Capital District,
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I know, I know, old news!

Friday 16th Sept was a public holiday to celebrate the 36th anniversary of PNG Independence. The day before we became the proud owners of a car. The woman who was selling it was rushing around because Thursday was her last day at work and they were giving her a send off but with the holiday it was her last chance to do stuff. When we went to pick up the car she was in a tiz because she'd wanted to pick her son up from daycare before she surrendered the car. Fine, we'll go together to pick up the child, I would drop her back to work for her send off then drive the car home. I stayed in the locked car while she went to get her  son. We were parked behind some shipping containers and I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable so was keeping an eye out for I don't know what. Next thing I know there is a naked man bristling with a bow and arrows, feathers, paint and a woven belt looming up in my rear vision mirror!!!! I got the shock of my life but as he passed he gave me a great cheesey grin and a wave and wished me Happy Independence Day! It was so funny. 

 Originally we had planned to be at the 50th Goroka Show that weekend but had not been able to get any accommodation. We were assured we would not be disappointed by the happenings in Moresby as recompense. To this end James Enagi and his family took us in hand. We met at the Ela Beach Apartments for breakfast, always a good way to start the day, or atleast it always had been. We were a group of 4 adults and 4 children so elected to sit outside. It took an hour before we could get anyone to even take our order and another 3/4 of an hour for it to come!! I was getting pretty fed up as we were missing the waterfront festivities. I was decidedly peeved when the group (7 adults) at the next table sat down, ordered their food and got it all in about 20mins. By this stage we had already complained twice of the slow service but I was now ready to get angry when Mark took the wind out of my sails by telling me it was because we were with nationals!! Seemed particularly rich when they were supposed to be celebrating their independence! Not sure where the attitude comes from but it was very uncomfortable.

Having FINALLY eaten we headed across the road to Ela beach to walk through the stalls and watch the lakatoi boat races. These boats are made up of 3 dug out canoe hulls and are very stable for sea travel but if the sailors lose the wind out of the sails, the sail drops into the water and it is very difficult to get them moving again. It takes great skill to keep the boat in the wind but when you do the boats fairly fly through the water. There were many casualties limping back to the beach. James bought us a PNG flag and matching caps to get into the spirit! Bought some orchids on the way back to the car then headed out to the University.

The UPNG students put on a big cultural display of dancing and singing accompanied by traditional music played on traditional instruments. The aim is to highlight the great cultural diversity that makes up this land, and on a more intimate level, the student body. It was great. Because of the breakfast debacle we missed the dancers from the southern and eastern provinces but what we saw was pretty awesome. 


In part and whole! The feathers have to be seen to be believed. I'm sure they looked better on the birds but they look pretty spectacular here as well. The headdresses of the Simbu and Western Provinces groups reputedly cost approx K5,000 ($A1,250) not cheap in anyone's language.

The day was hot and the kids survived incredibly well. It was the 1st time Sylvia had been to the display so she got something out of it and James was in his element and determined that we should have a good time. We take great delight in cultural differences, communication and assumptions that crop up. James offered to get us some cold, bottled water. Now did you want it in a coca cola bottle or a sprite bottle?! There were fellows selling water in any bottle filled from who knows where and others collecting said bottles to refill and resell! They did pass through an esky so were pretty cold, atleast at the beginning of the day. The water quality in Port Moresby is really good but maybe not the level of hygiene in washing the bottles.

We were a little disappointed that the MC didn't give out much information to the spectators on what they were seeing so I'm not much the wiser for the most part on the background of the headdresses, songs, dances of the different groups. There are 3 groups that are very distinctive that I've managed to do some research on since. The 1st is the Asaro Mudmen and the 2nd, the Duk Duks of East New Britain and 3rd, the Huli Wigmen of the Southern Highlands. They share their beliefs about women with another tribe, the Enga.

The story of the Asaro Mudmen goes something like this (I hasten to add that there are many variations of this story so I have gone with the one as told by "the last living original Asaro Mudman") The people of Komunive Village in the eastern highlands were being badly defeated in a fight with their enemy. They retreated and hid down near the Asaro River but when it looked as though even that wasn't enough protection they slid into the muddy river. There they waited for dusk to fall thinking they could slink away under cover of darkness. As they left the sanctuary of the river they found themselves covered from head to foot in smelly, pale grey river mud and by the light of the moon they looked very eerie. Even so they had no idea the effect their appearance was going to have on their enemy. They crept through the bush not knowing where their enemy was. Finally they were spotted and their enemy mistook them for spirits come to wreak revenge for the fallen. Needless to say the visitors hot footed it out of there. On reentering their village the mudmen found more of their enemy making themselves at home. Once again the appearance of the men covered in mud was dramatic and immediate with the village emptying of the rest of the would be conquerers From that time, the men of Komunive Village have made helmets out of the river clay making them as frightening as possible and whenever they felt threatened they would go to the river to clothe themselves in the river mud, don their helmets and frighten their enemies. Mark's mother tells of their appearance at the Goroka Show in the early '60s and the incredible effect they had on the crowd even in that setting. Certainly they were very different to anything else we saw, the slow creeping way they moved and the total silence was so different to the colour, noise and flamboyance of the other groups. Reading about this I was interested that this event is supposed to have happened in living memory.

The other group, the Duk Duks of New Britain, is just as controversial. Unfortunately we missed them but the story's a goody! Once again there are differing stories all of which may be true but the one I'll tell here comes from a Mr H Romilly who wrote in 1886 of one ritual that was part of a very long initiation. For the most part, the power and authority of the Duk Duks has wained over the passed 50+ years and is now almost exclusively a dance danced to entertain. The Tolai Duk Duks were a Melanesian secret society. It was made up of the elderly men of the village and about 6 times a year it would be announced that the Duk Duks would be visiting the village in a months time, on the new moon. The night before this, the women would withdraw into their houses not daring to come out as for a hapless women to see a Duk Duk, even inadvertently, meant death and disappearance. This was also true if any of the uninitiated men so much as touched one. At dawn on the new moon, all the men would go down to the beach and await the Duk Duks' arrival. Two of them would appear from the sea on a platform made by lashing 5-6 canoes together. They would be dressed in a large, conical headdress that covered them from head to knees. As they reached the beach they would leap off the platform yelping like dogs, dance frenetically around the villagers on the beach then head into the bush. A hut would be built for them and it was to here the gifts of food were brought. If the Duk Duks were happy with the offerings all would be well but if not they made their displeasure known. They were frightening because they seemed to know everything about the young men and could hand down punishments as they saw fit and were able to kill anyone they wanted, no questions asked, just dance up to the poor victim and bring him down with a tomahawk to the head. Every night for 2 weeks the young men had to line up on the beach to be caned by the Duk Duks. One would carry a bundle of thick canes with which he'd hit the men hard enough that the skin would break and they'd bleed. The other Duk Duk carried a club but our friend Mr Romilly doesn't say what he did with it. This performance would continue 1/2 the night until each man had been caned 20 times at which time he'd drag himself off to bed only to go through the torture again the following evening. All on the promise of mysteries to be revealed at sometime in the future. As the Duk Duks would come to the village about 6 times a year and these poor men would be caned 20 times every night for 2 weeks over a period of anything up to 20 years, that's one hell of a lot of beating and the longest initiation ceremony in the history of mankind! Romilly suggests that one of the main reasons for the ritual is ( surprise, surprise) food. It is a way for  the less productive elderly men of the village to ensure they get adequate food. I figure, if you can mange all this physical activity for a month you could probably still garden but who am I to dispute their reasons! It was of paramount importance that the identity of the Duk Duks remains a mystery so even the men in the Duk Duk suits would come out from under their costume, when no one was around, to appear in the village making their food contribution. The yelping was to disguise the voices and the unwieldy costume to hide their bodies. The women had their own version of this costume used in other ceremonies

The Huli Wigmen are reputedly the fiercest warriors in PNG. most of the following beliefs and customs are also practised by the men of Enga.

  The men and the women live separately. The men can be polygamous but the women are only allowed 1 husband at a time, why would she want more? When a man marries he receives pigs as dowry from the bride's family and in return he must give his wife an arable plot for a garden and build her a house. Here she works and raises their children. Divorce is reasonably common and is usually due to no children being produced and in such cases the ex-husband will try to recover the pigs from his father-in-law but this isn't always successful. The girls stay with their mothers until they marry but the boys are sent to live with their fathers from about 9 yrs old. Soon after the boys are put up in a bachelor house (apparently these are going out of favour now so they live with their fathers in his hut). Here they start to grow their hair. Once away from their mothers the boys are not to have anything to do with any female. They can't eat her food or even look upon her in case she is menstruating. The legend goes that a Huli man killed an ancestral woman, Pepeko Wane Padume. Out of the menstrual blood soaked ground grew the bog iris, padume and bamboo tubes were filled with her blood. After a boy has been with the men for 4 months he is given a padume plant to nurture and is told the significance of the bamboo tubes. Having a healthy plant enables the boys/men to be sensitive to the presence of spirits (all the malevolent ones are female), poisons and female blood thus ensuring their own health and vitality and that of the group. If a boy breaks any of the taboo inadvertently or knowingly, he risks his padume withering and dying and his hair breaking (even worse) and his health deteriorating, or that of another member of the group, as a result. Taboo include looking at or touching a menstruating woman, helping a woman in her garden, talking about female genitalia, to mention but a few. Having strong, healthy hair is of paramount importance as you need it to make your wig. I didn't find any information as to how long it takes, on average, to grow and harvest enough hair to make a good wig but you only see adults wearing them. They come in many different forms and are decorated with feathers and flowers. When the men are ready to marry they leave the bachelor house with their wig and find themselves a wife and build a couple of huts! The wigs are worn for sing sings when the men paint their faces yellow, red and blue, very striking. These days they use very bright commercial paint but traditionally they used locally available clays and ochres, though I've never come across a natural blue clay/ochre but the literature insist that it exists. In the photos you will see there is a girl dancing with the men, how can this be?? Apparently, traditionally, this role was played by a young man dressed as a woman. The suggestion is that the band she wears around her breasts is a hang over from this, rather than missionary imposed prudishness, as the boy covered himself to better disguise his maleness and lack of breasts.
The day ended with a proposal to go to the Pacific Adventist University (PAU) Markets on Sunday. These markets are great food markets. The students at the university run them and grow some of the produce and cook/bake much of the take away food on offer. Some of the food is imported, mainly from NZ, which I think is cheating but it is all as fresh as a plane delivered vegetable can be and they are mainly things like onions. They also allow local people to sell their wares for a small fee.  Basically everything is sold by 10am. The local restauranteurs tend to make the biggest inroads into what is available so you have to get there early. James was on our doorstop at 6.30am with more than a car load ready to make the 1/2 hour trip out of town. 

The PAU grounds are extensive and beautifully looked after with large dams/ponds covered with water lilies and full of the biggest gold fish you have ever seen, well I've ever seen. The kids had been bribed with the promise of feeding the fish after we'd done our shopping. The big thing on the menu was sweet corn. People were frantically dehusking it as they went and the floor was ankle deep in the resulting debris. There appears to be no concept of composting here so no one wants any extra vegetation. All they do when they get home is burn the refuse in very smokey fires in the gutter. We can't find a compost bin anywhere. We need one that is enclosed because fruit fly, rats and cane toads are a problem, give me choughs, possums and wombats any day! So we are working on a design we can build and put in the wedge next door. We will also have to educate the garden staff as my early attempts at composting resulted in Asiko digging it all up and taking it away to burn!

On the highway near PAU is a double act business run by a fellow who goes by the moniker, PNG Gardener. I have mentioned him in an earlier blog as having worked in the Botanic Gardens and from whom we bought our first orchids. He and the Orchid Society of PNG have created a very impressive orchid garden and aviary. He is trying to establish a Bird of Paradise breeding program for the  Raggiana Bird-of-paradise, (Paradisaea raggiana) the National Emblem of PNG. The head gardener there is a fellow called Bata who followed us around and chatted to us for ages. He was great, he even offered to come to our place, as long as we picked him up and returned him, to help us with our orchids. We haven't taken him up on it yet as he has given us a few things to do first, like find a source of fern diwai. In the gardens they have used, extensively, the old trunks of tree ferns to attach their epiphytic orchids. We've been told to just "go bus" (bush). I have to say that feels like vandalism even if they are dead! We haven't done it yet.

The hunt for a toilet for the ol pikinini brought our visit to an end with the promise we'd take Mark's mother, Mardi, and his brother, Philip, out when they are in town. We headed next door to the PNG Adventure Park. Outside is the most incongruous collection of African animal sculptures and inside is a large acreage with a cafe, picnic areas, barbecues, fish stocked dam for fishing and a couple of water slides. The kids were in heaven! An area has been set aside for a tree kangaroo breeding program which has already started in the grounds of the PAU. Early days but given it is so hard to find places that are safe for kids to be kids this is pretty exciting. By lunchtime we'd all had enough and decided to head home. On the way back we stopped at 9 Mile where there are a number of roadside nurseries and bought some plants for the garden; some hibiscus and a couple of taro plants, one with painted leaves and the other with exaggerated serrated edged leaves.

Monday came around rather too soon but we'd had a great weekend.

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fiona on

An amazing lot of photos......did you see anything other than through the camera lens????? Thank you, love Fiona

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