Tuesday, January 10, 2012


The entrance road to the hospital

One Saturday during my time in the village, my wasfemili (host family) and I made the several-hour trek down the mountain to celebrate the opening of a new maternity wing on the local hospital. Seven different singsing groups from the entire surrounding area had been practicing for weeks to perform their traditional songs and dances in joyous welcome. Even the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was coming!

The brand new maternity wing! (very exciting since death rates are still high here)

A singsing is a riot of color—pink, orange, red, yellow, black, white, green—dying grass skirts (purpur), slashed across foreheads and arms, woven into bilums (string bags). Feathers, shells, teeth of dogs and pigs, stones and seeds chatter and swing as the dancers stomp and bend to the beat of the kundu drums and garamuts.

Most of the dances happen in a circular pattern

Here they are playing a garamut (left) and a mambu drum

Hundreds of people flocked to see their lain (clan) perform, and several of the women had a brisk trade selling icies, peanuts, and water. Despite the cloudless sky and ferocious tropical sun, the dancers kept going and going and going….

No rain today--all the umbrellas were to provide shade for the eager onlookers

My sister-in-law and aunt, waiting to start the next dance

Even my area, Aronis, had sent a troupe of dancers, including various relatives such as my uncle, grandfather, brother, sister-in-law, and aunt. Earlier that week, we had visited one of their last practices: intense, sweat-gleaming dancers, in a rhythmic pounding circle around a Coleman lantern. The drums make your blood shiver, and I had soon found myself pulled into the circle of dancers, joining the women in their bending, swaying tempo beneath the Milky Way.

Eventually, they would break, gathering “backstage” (under the clumps of trees) where the cigarettes, water, sunglasses and cell phones appeared—quite a clash with the traditional grass skirts and pig-tusk necklaces!

At one point, I found a bit of shade and started working on my bilum; suddenly, hundreds of eyes riveted on the latest cultural attraction—a white woman blithely weaving a traditional handicraft! (Everyone was also thoroughly amused to dress me up for a few minutes in the traditional outfit before we left that morning. On the other hand, my 1-1/2 year-old niece, Respa,was less than thrilled with the attire.)

Yes, Papua New Guineans certainly know how to celebrate!