Local traditions and culture in Papua New Guinea

  • Local Customs
    by hassan_abu
  • Local Customs
    by Ramonq
  • Local Customs
    by jadedmuse

Most Viewed Local Customs in Papua New Guinea

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    Extending a Warm Sepik Welcome

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    As I've stated before, it was with a kind of sad feeling that I traveled through this area, for reasons aforementioned.

    But I'll never forget how, when we arrived at one of the villages, they'd been awaiting us and had prepared a tribal "welcome" in the form of a very exuberant dance.

    I felt privileged to see them in action.

    So friendly and humble, the Sepik people.

    Village
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    When Children Misbehave....

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    This is an unusual item to include, but it was fascinating so I have to include it here:

    At one of the Sepik villages - the same one where we saw the kids making clay pellets - the kids had somehow shot these pellets into some flowerbeds.

    The consequences of such a transgression was to be (loosely) tied to a pole with an evil spirit mask looming over them, threateningly....

    Some of the kids were crying - frightened by the mask no doubt (and I suppose that was the idea) - but what I found interesting is that some of the other children (who were not being punished) kind of hung around, observing their friends huddled together around this pole.

    I'm not sure if the other children were being empathetic or, knowing human behavior, they were probably not unlike people who are horrified to see an accident by the side of the road, yet can't seem to turn away from it.

    People are people no matter where they are, I guess.

    Punishment Pole and Evil Mask
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    Juicy Grubs for Lunch!

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    Similar to the Karawari River area, the Sepik villagers depend on the sago palm as a regular staple in their diets.

    A special treat is to dig up fat, juicy grubs and eat them on the spot - or better yet, roll them in the sago pulp and cook them up.

    I recall entering one such village where the smell of grubs cooking in a mass of sago palm, had a kind of smell that reminded me of over-ripened camembert or something.

    Stinky stuff!

    I gave this one a pass, but most of the other people in our small group tried it.

    Er, please pass the ketchup - and lots of it!
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    Sepik Village Life as a Child

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    The children here in the Middle Sepik region (vs. the Karawari area) seemed to be better nourished. I think there was a fair amount of trade going on between the villages and so items could more easily be transported among themselves. Their economy was better, they had better tools, and they probably had more opportunities for hunting (and catching) fish.

    The children were friendly and curious and seemed pretty typical....here we see some kids making small clay balls which I later observed them pelting each other with.

    There weren't any schools of which to speak, but the children of a given village often gathered in a central area where an elder would impart "knowledge". Some villages even had a VCR....imagine my surprise to hear the movie "La Bamba" playing in one of the huts....we were shocked! I peeked inside and a lot of the kids were gathered around a television set, watching the film.

    One can only hope "Rambo" never made its way here....

    Children playing with clay balls
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    Children Playing Along the Karawari River Banks

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    The Sepik people hold the crocodile in high regard, and the croc is the prevailing symbol throughout the Sepik region (more on this in my Yentchan pages).

    The canoes are even carved to resemble this ferocious animal.

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    Crocodile Canoes in the Lower Sepik Region

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    The Sepik people hold the crocodile in high regard, and the croc is the prevailing symbol throughout the Sepik region (more on this in my Yentchan pages).

    The canoes are even carved to resemble this ferocious animal.

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    Cargo Flies Coach - and So Do You!

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    Don't be surprised to find a branch of bananas or a huge bag of sweet potatoes occupying the seat next to you in the plane - or maybe at your feet in the aisle.

    When you're taking small cargo planes to and from the different areas, it seems to be a free-for-all!

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    Turning the Sago Palm Into Food

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    The sago palm grows prolifically in the Sepik region, and the natives depend on it as a staple in their monotonous and somewhat nutritionally void diets.

    Sago is basically a starchy compound. The women distill the pulp by washing it over and over with water as it slides down a make-shift chute. As the water washes over the pulp of the plant, the women begin to pound it.

    Once the pulp reaches a mushy consistency, the water is squeezed out and the remaining pulp is kneaded into a doughy mass and rolled into balls of various sizes and shapes.

    The resulting mass of sago palm is then cooked by either heating it over hot stones, or boiling it in water together with taro leaves or some other type of vegetation. The leaves are usually stuffed inside the mass.

    Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4
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    Some Helpful Pidgin Words/Phrases

    by jadedmuse Updated Dec 19, 2005

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    ...
    Monin - Good morning
    Apinun - Good afternoon
    Gut nait - Good night
    Tenk yu- Thank you
    Em hamas? - How much is that?
    Mi laik baim - I would like to buy
    Toilet We? - Where is the toilet?
    Halpim mi plis - Help me please
    Nogat - No
    Mi no laikim - I do not like it
    Yumi go we? - Where are we going?
    Kai Kai - Food
    Ka - Car
    Mani - Money
    Man - Man or male
    Meri - Woman or female
    Pikinini - Baby or very young child
    Manki - Older children and teenagers
    Yangpela - Young man or woman
    Lapun - Old man or woman
    Balus - Aircraft
    Ples Balus - Airport
    Kago - Luggage
    Wantok - Countryman or friend
    Bilas - Decoration or uniform
    Wara - Water
    Yu stap gut? - How are you?
    Mi stap gut - I am fine
    Inap mi kisim poto? - May I take a photo?
    Soim mi - Show me
    Klostu - Near or close by
    Longwe tumas - A very long way or too far
    Wanem nem bilong yu? - What is your name?
    Ples bilong yu we? - Where are you from?
    Mi no klia gut - I do not understand
    Mi no save - I don't know
    Tok isi - Speak slowly
    Haus sik - Hospital
    ---------------------------
    ppppssst -- my personal fave is "pikinini", for "little one". Isn't it great?!!

    Sign reads
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    800 Dialects - Thank God for Pidgin English!

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    Since there are over 800 dialects spoken within Papua New Guinea, there is a tacit use of pidgin english amongst them, which makes it even a bit easier for foreigners to communicate.

    For example, the sign on the door begins with "TAMBU" which is one of the first words you'll learn when in PNG...it means something like "PROHIBITED" or "FORBIDDEN" ("achtung!)...

    Underneath it, it continues with "No kenkam insait"....."No can come inside".

    How easy is that?!?

    More on pidgin English in the next tip...

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    Reverence for the Departed

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    I love this picture because it captures the West meets the East....

    Here we see a Highlands (Huli) man who proudly displays his father's skull on a raised platform...the skull of his dead father is believed to contain a powerful spirit that will ward off evil and keep the remaining members of the family safe from harm.

    Meanwhile in front of this rather macabre display, a make-shift wooden cross.

    Gotta love those missionaries!

    Father...and son....and....
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    Tribal Sing-Sing Celebration

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    Since I was unable to witness a real Sing-Sing, I can only share a scanned postcard.

    Notice how the men are lined up, looking straight ahead. A typical Sing-Sing consists of two line-ups facing each other. Off to the side may be someone playing a percussion instrument, but largely the Sing-Sing is made up of swaying, circling and jumping maneuvers, always while maintaining these two lines across from each other.

    The attire is supposed to be spectacular and the men are known to prepare months in advance for such a special event...and Sing-Sings take place whenever there is an air of celebration or a special honor to be marked. Friendly tribes face off in these line-ups and dance their hearts out, and then everybody eats a celebration feast afterwards. It's the major event in the Highlands.

    Like I said - if you're lucky enough to catch a real live Sing-Sing, then you'll have seen a spectacular show!

    Sing-Sing face-off
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    Highlands Sing-Sing Decor

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    If you're lucky enough to catch a real live "Sing-Sing" then you'll have seen everything.

    I never did see a true Sing-Sing - one that was orchestrated by the locals in honor of some tribal festival or wedding or special celebration - but we did get to see someone decked out in what would be typical "Sing-Sing" decor.

    I'm attaching my photo which is a close up of the man's face, painted with great detail and eloquently decorative; below this tip is a scanned post card showing a group of Highlands tribemen at a Sing-Sing, and you can see their long skirts and line up.

    Ready for a Sing-Sing now...
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    Pass the Pipe

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    It is customary for the village men to sit around and pass the pipe...nothing narcotic about the tobacco, although the tobacco itself is raw and really harsh.

    I can't recall if I tried the pipe (for fun)...I'm sure I did.

    If you get the opportunity to try anything offered to you by a local, it's a good (and gracious) idea to always indulge.

    Firing up the Peace Pipe...
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    Never Leave Home Without Your Make-Up!

    by jadedmuse Written Dec 19, 2005

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    I was fascinated to learn that it is the men, not the women, who wear "make-up".

    In fact, we learned that the men spend most of their day in groups, chatting, gossiping, smoking their pipes, and putting make-up on. (This is when they are not engaged in a tribal fight or a sing-sing, a colorful group dance which the Highlands villagers do during special celebrations).

    It was kind of like a surreal role reversal of male/female, at least to my Western eyes.

    The men are very particular about the colors they put on their faces, and most of the colors are from nuts and berries and plants found in the natural surroundings. Nowadays, the villagers are applying shoe polish and other paints that are imported from Australia.

    Progress!?!

    A steady hand always helps... ...so does having a good mirror....
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