Making the vote count in Mt Hagen
Two friends were visiting me from the UK and I decided to take them to Lake Kutubu, well up into the Highlands of PNG. Our first transit stop was Mt Hagen airport into which we flew on a small MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) single engine plane (picture 2). I personally didn’t like flying on single engine planes and would only do it where there was no other options.
As was common in PNG, given that airstrips were not fenced in, the pilot would 'come in' first time with no intention of landing but rather on a reconnoitre, intending to frighten pigs, chickens and anything else that might be on the runway of it. On the second approach he would land.
Things differed a bit today – on our reconnoitre there didn’t appear to be any cows, pigs or chickens on the runway both rather there were fifty or more tribal members, many dressed in traditional costume and bearing spears, clubs or bows and arrows. They seemed to be dancing and we assumed singing though of course we couldn’t hear the latter from the plane. What was going on? Was it safe to land?
We circled the strip a couple of times while our pilot radioed down to see what was going on. By this time the people had moved down towards one end of the strip, by the terminal, and the pilot decided to land – my friends, second or third day in PNG, were getting afraid. Being a small plane we landed and came to a stop about half way down the runway and on doing so the pilot pointed to a shed along side and suggested we wait there until we could make our way down to the terminal building where the assembled crowd currently were, for our next flight. Our pilot tried to assure us that it was a minor skirmish and all would be well in a few minutes. My friend’s partner (who had not been enamoured about visiting PNG in the first place given its rather bad press even then) wasn’t convinced and on disembarking the plane ran straight for the shed and demanded her husband and I do likewise. While I was more interested in making my way down the runway to get some good photographs I thought it better to comply!
About 20 minutes later we were given the all clear as the crowd had left accompanying the contents of a helicopter, incidentally called a bigpela mixmasta bilong Jisas Krais in tok pisin, which had landed in the interim.
We might not have worried (not that I really had). This had been a friendly example of PNG election activity.
As we were circling the airstrip the crowd had indeed been singing and dancing in anticipation of the arrival of a helicopter carrying the ballot boxes from a few outlying stations which were pro the group's candidate. The tribal group was here to ensure the safe passage of the ballot boxes to the counting room in Mt Hagen, the provincial capital. Thankfully this was a friendly mob but it was not unknown for opposition groups to intercept ballot boxes from areas known to be anti their candidates and ensure their disappearance before the votes therein could be counted.
I am not suggesting you go out of your way to encounter an incident like this but should you do so, don’t panic. We were never under any danger and typically tribal fights and the like did not (do not) involve visitors. While I never tested the theory, it was always said that if a visitor needed to pass though a tribal fight, both sides would stop fighting, stand aside and allow the visitor safe passage and then resume their hostility.Related to:
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Believe the Ambassador
Do bear with me for what might appear to be a digression before I tell you about elections in Papua New Guinea. I call it context.
Many years after I left PNG, where I lived from 1989 to 1991, I was at an regional aid donors meeting which was attended by representatives from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Papua New Guinea was represented by its Ambassador to the country hosting the meeting.
The gentleman from the World Bank got up and (in the most diplomatic of terms) indicated that PNG was the most corrupt country he has ever had to deal with. The gentleman from the IMF went a step further indicating that it was, without doubt, the most corrupt country in the world and that aid donors should seriously consider withdrawing support. Before he completed his rather blistering rebuke of PNG the PNG Ambassador, in a most undiplomatic manner, banged his fist on the table and poured forth a string of expletives leaving in no doubt what he though of both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He then assured those assembled that PNG was one of, if not the, least corrupt countries in the world.
A few months prior to the meeting and just before Christmas I had asked the Ambassador, whom I knew fairly well, if he would be returning to PNG for Christmas that year. “Good God no, I hate the place, so bloody corrupt and backward’ or words to that effect was his reply. The Ambassador represented his country well on the world stage a few months later.
PNG is, without doubt, one of the most corrupt countries in the world and that corruption starts right at the top – with the politicians - and filters down. Those who can’t benefit from corruption resort to crime which makes it also one of the most unsafe countries in the world.
It has always sickened and disturbed me that one of the most beautiful and resource rich countries in the world is one of the most corrupt and unsafe where to rich get richer and the poorer remain poor. Thankfully, for reasons outside control of the politicians, very few people starve in PNG. I have always said that if PNG could rid itself of corruption and crime, tourism in the remainder of the South Pacific would die as everyone made a beeline for PNG, which has everything the other island countries has plus a whole lot more.
So not what you have some context, back to elections in PNG (and I am talking about elections for the National Parliament in Port Moresby though it is equally applicable to provincial elections as well - just a matter of scale). Bearing the above in mind, elections are serious business and becoming a politician is a ticket to immense wealth and a status unimaginable to the average Papua New Guinean. Certainly when I lived there, becoming a Member of Parliament entitled you to a vehicle (a top of the range Toyota Landcruiser was the (only) one of choice) and a very large allowance of non acquittable funds 'for constituency use'. The property market in Cairns and further down the east coast of Australia benefited more from these constituency allowances than the Members’ constituents in PNG.
Given these, and many more, benefits the buying of votes was normal practice as was intimidation of other candidates and their supporters Electioneering was big business – I doubt if this has changed.
It was not uncommon for tribal mobs to march (often rampage) through highland towns, in particular, supporting one candidate or another - the one that had paid them most or made the biggest promises in terms of their later personal gains. While these mobs sometimes wore traditional dress and frequently carried spears and bows and arrows they generally did not cause that much trouble (though there were exceptions).
My attached pictures depict some electioneering activity I encountered in Goroka. Visitors encountering this sort of activity should remain bemused bystanders. Even if trouble arises neither side has any interest in involving tourists. Tourists remain the domain of pickpockets and rapists.
About a year after I arrived in PNG I, with a couple of friends visiting from the UK, encountered some election activity in Mt Hagen which certainly had my friends worried at the time – See my separate review on this - Making the vote count.Related to:
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The Goroka Show
Goroka is famous for its “Eastern Highlands Cultural Show”, better known as the “Goroka Show”. It is held every year on the weekend closest to Papua New Guinea Independence Day (16th September).
In 1884 the northern part of what is now Papua New Guinea was colonised by Germany (German New Guinea) while Britain ruled the southern part, British New Guinea. Britain transferred its holding to Australia in 1904. During World War I German New Guinea was captured, and subsequently retained, by Australia though, like most things in PNG, it wasn’t as simple as that but these complexities need not concern us here. While under Australian Administration, which continued until the country’s independence in 1975, it was split into Provinces (it still is) which where themselves split into districts. For Australian administrative purposes, these districts – which contained numerous tribes and cultures - were administered by patrol officers or kiaps (a PNG Tok Pisin language derivation of the German kapitan (captain)).
The Goroka Show started in 1957 when local kiaps brought together different tribes and clans from throughout the Province. Prior to this tribes, typically separated by no more than a valley or mountain ridge, rarely got together except to kill and maim or rape and pillage each other.
Kiaps from each district showed off their district’s cultures at the show and brought in their sing sing (singing and dancing) groups. So, in these early days the show was essentially a competition between the kiaps to see who had the best administered and organised district.
With the departure of the kiaps the show continued and grew and while it was starting to become a partly tourist event in 1989 - 91 when I lived in PNG (and has become more so today – 2015) it remains essentially a Highland's tribal gathering of great local significance attracting around 100 tribal groups from the Papua New Guinea Highlands.
While everything always seemed to be totally disorganised here, like everything else in PNG - the land of the unexpected, you just needed to turn up, relax and go with the flow and the show always delivered (and by all accounts still does) a fantastic mix of music, dancing, exotic costumes and tribal rituals. It truly was a great display of cultural diversity within a country that is probably the most culturally diverse on earth. It has got to be one of the most colourful shows in the world and can these people sing and dance? Yep, what you see here is Melanesian song and dance at its best.
While there are a couple of more accessible shows, including the Port Morseby Show, the Goroka Show continues to be PNG's most popular cultural and tribal gathering or a top notch two-day frenzy of face painting and feathers, depending on your perspective. It is absolutely not to be missed if you are in Goroka at the time – though, if you are in Goroka at the time you will almost certainly have come for the show.
Make sure you take you camera, lots of memory and well charged batteries – the show is a photographers delight. Saying this, the reader will wonder at my selection of photos so I had better explain. By the time I actually made it to the Goroka Show I had visited countless shows around the country where I took many more photos (as other reviews on this page will attest to) so I took a mere handful of photos here - and those I took before the show started! Also, as I mentioned earlier, I resided in PNG from 1989 to 1991 – the pre digital camera age when it cost dearly to have photographs developed and printed.
I recently read an article on the 2014 show and sadly crime and rowdiness, prevalent throughout the country, is nowadays not absent even from the Goroka Show. Alas, in 2014 police needed to revert to tear gas to disperse a rowdy crowd. The writer of the article, from ABC Australia, cautioned that the Goroka Show is “not a night out at the ballet and travellers do have to take care with security”. Sound advice.
If you are intent on finding accommodation in Goroka at showtime, book well ( 6mths) in advance end expect to pay top dollar.
In the late 80s/early 90s the show used to be held in Independence Park, opposite the Goroka Market. I suspect it is still held here - if not it wont be far away as Goroka is a small place.Related to:
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Goroka Market, with ready access to produce from the fertile Highlands and Markham Valley is one of, if not the best market in PNG for fresh fruit and vegetables. It is certainly one of its most colourful markets.
Given the dearth of fresh produce in Port Moreseby and my relatively frequent visits to Goroka for both work and pleasure I would often stock up on fruit and vegetables while here. I was not the only visitor from Port Moresby to do this and it was a common sight to see people checking in at the adjacent airport with boxes and bags for fruit and veggies.
The market was also a great place to pick up artifacts - bilums (woven string bags used to carry anything from potatoes to babies), colourful highland chats, baskets, masks and all sorts of carvings.
As I recall the market was open every day (excluding Sundays) but it was always at its best on a Saturday.
The other great thing about this market was that villagers from quite far afield would come in in colourful traditional dress – always a pleasant sight for the visitor.
That said, the Highlands have always been (and still is, I might add) a fairly volatile region.
While most trouble, protesting and rioting was done further up towards, and beyond, Mt Hagen, Goroka was not immune to the occasional fracas. The market, adjacent park or airfield would typical be the scene of any such fracas.
Such disturbances, as there were, were of a tribal nature and didn’t involve or seek to involve expatriates or tourists. I especially recall one particular incident, not in Goroka, which I and a couple of visiting friends from the UK literally flew into. My friends, not knowing how things operated in PNG, didn’t realise that they were not the intended target for the spears and bows and arrows we encountered and were convinced they would die, but that’s a story for another review.
My attached market photos, pre digital age, do not adequately depict the colour or the range of produce available at this wonderful market. My final picture, fortuitously depicts a woven basket, bilum and highland hat all in one shot!Related to:
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Get a phone connected
During my time in Port Moresby I moved apartments, from a downtown apartment to a new one in the suburb of Boroko.
This move necessitated getting the telephone connected.
As an expatriate there was (in 1990) a tried and tested process for getting your phone connected.
Step 1 – Go into the Telikom PNG office in the main shopping area of Boroko and complete the requisite form and pay the nominal fee for a telephone line and one phone. You will then be advised that they will contact you sometime in the next six months to organise the connection.
Step 2 – You thank the nice officer who has served you and leave.
Step 3 – (To be completed within the next 72 hours. No immediate hurry as you need to allow time for your application to be processed – i.e entered into the Telikom PNG computer system). Go to a liquor outlet and acquire a slab of beer. I choose a slab of SP Export beer as opposed to the base level (and if I might add, the rather disgusting) SP Lager.
Step 4 – Having acquired the beer, drive around until you find a Telikom PNG van.
Step 5 – Tell the technicians that you need your phone connected. They will check that your application is in the system – amazingly they could do this on the road - the wonders of Telikon PNG! Having confirmed this they will most likely accompany you to you house straight away. If not straightaway they will be there shortly.
Step 6 – In your apartment/house/etc, position the slab of beer where the technicians can see it.
Step 7 - Tell the technicians where you would like you phone placed.
Step 8 – This is where the quality of your beer offering comes into play. At this point the technicians will tell you how many phones you need. They ascertained that three was appropriate number for me. Given the very modest size of my apartment I insisted that two would be sufficient. They acquiesced and installed and connected two phones.
Step 9 – Beer exchanges hands and the technicians leave. Job complete.
This customisable process could be used, with appropriate customization, for getting almost anything done in PNG!
Please be assured, dear reader, that I do not condone corruption or practice bribery in any form.
Coffin bilong dai man
In a separate review on the Aseki smoked bodies I related the rather gruesome ‘burial’ rituals of the Anga tribe in Aseki, Morobe Province. Another earlier approach, within PNG, to ‘honouring the dead’ was endocannibalism, or eating them!
Endocannibalism is differentiated from the plain old cannibalism, which was also popular in PNG and most probably still occurs. Cannibalism is the eating of someone who is specifically killed for the purpose of being eaten while endocannibalism is the ritual eating, by his or her relatives/community, of a person who has died.
Since the arrival of Christian missionaries in 1870 these and other rituals surrounding death have declined to the extent that they would now be extremely rare, if practiced at all.
In Papua New Guinea, death and mourning are not the taboo subjects they are in many western societies. Mourning periods can be long and ritualistic – to the extent of self-mutilation, though this is illegal - not that that stops anything in PNG. You will, particularly outside the main cities, see female mourners, easily recognisable via their ashen or white clay smeared bodies. Goroka Market in the Eastern Highlands Province was always a good place to spot mourners. Out of respect I did not take photographs.
Deceased persons are now generally buried and coffins can be readily obtained in all sorts of places including general stores. Attached are a couple of pictures from Goroka. Cremations, at least in the Western sense, are not popular in PNG.
The sign in my second picture, partially in English and partially in Tok Pisin, the lingua franca in a country with over 700 languages, got me wondering as ‘coffin bilong dai man’ could be translated to mean that the coffin belonged to a (previously) dead man or it was for a man yet to die!Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Tok Tok Pisin (Speak Tok Pisin)
Papua New Guinea has a population of less than eight million (2015), double what it was in 1989 when I lived there, yet there are over 700 different languages in use. Given this, it is not surprising that a lingua franca has developed. Called Tok Pisin, it is a creole like language based on simplified English with a bit of German thrown in. The New Guinea part of Papua New Guinea was a German protectorate from 1884 until 1914 when Australia took it over in the early days of World War I.
Should you visit PNG, you will find that English is widely spoken but it is fun to try your hand at Tok Pisin.
Tok Pisin has a charm of its own which you will hopefully pick up from the following examples. Can you work them out before reading the correct translations to the right? Translate literally, think laterally though simply and read them out loud.
Bigman ------------------------------------------------------Important man or leader
Haus monie -------------------------------------------------Bank
Pikinini -------------------------------------------------------Child, baby
Numba wan pikinini bilong missas Kwin -----------------Prince Charles
Bigpela mixmasta bilong Jisas Krais ---------------------Helicopter
Lukim yu bihain --------------------------------------------See you later
Kar bilong mi e bugarup -----------------------------------My car is not working
Meri bilong mi e bugarup ----------------------------------My wife has been raped
Haus bilong wasim klos------------------------------------Laundry
Body bilong mi no smel gud mi mas was was -----------I smell and need a shower
Man i save katim gras bilong het --------------------------Barber
Gumi bilong kok --------------------------------------------Condom
Soken bilong han -------------------------------------------Glove
Glas bilong lukluk -------------------------------------------Mirror
Em tasol!Related to:
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Aseki Smoked Bodies
In my separate review of the JK McCarthy Museum in Goroka I introduced the reader to the Anga (also called Kuka Kuka) tribe and its rather peculiar and macabre custom of wearing human finger necklaces. Dear reader, that’s tame when you consider the tribe’s burial rituals for its warriors.
The Anga tribe, while comprising some of the smallest people in the country (final picture attached), was one of the most ferocious and feared of Papua New Guinea tribes and one of the last known to give up cannibalism. As late as 1974 the organisers of the Goroka Show (which showcases tribal cultures, costumes, dances and other rituals) flew in around 130 Anga tribe members for the show. They had to walk home! So fearful were the organisers and other show participants of the Anga, that tribe members were locked into their compound at night for the safety of others. Incidentally, tribe members won an archery competition at the show, the prize for which was a live cow intended for breeding purposes. The tribe butchered the cow and ate it in camp on the night they won it. I imagine not many people would have knowingly ventured into their camp area. Some fifteen years later I visited their village, not without some trepidation.
Aseki village, home to the Anga people, is in one of the most remote parts of PNG, in the Morebe Province highlands, close to Gulf Province. While it does have an airstrip, one of over 500 in PNG, I, an Australian and two PNG friends (one of whom had important contacts within the village) drove in from Lae, over-nighting in the former gold mining town of Bulolo en route. So bad were the roads (we had a large 4wd – impossible in anything less) that the return trip, less than 200kms, from Bulolo took a full day.
There is only one reason for a tourist to visit Aseki and that is to see the smoked red corpses of former Aseki warriors.
My regular reader will be aware that I am a big fan of visiting old graveyards but this one is something else.
The Anga is the only tribe within PNG to perform 'mummification' which here involves smoking their dead (an honour reserved for warriors). Unlike most other forms of mummification around the world, the smoked bodies are not interred in a coffin or other form of sealed tomb but are rather mounted in wooden frames and placed on the cliff as depicted in my attached picture*. From this vantage position the former warriors watch over, guard and protect the present day villagers, some 300 metres below. Being mobile, the bodies are sometimes brought down to the village for important ceremonies and returned to their guard positions at the conclusion of the ceremony.
(*in my research for this review I read that some smoked bodies, of lesser warriors, are placed in caves - I hadn't heard this before).
The mummification process is long and complicated, as such processes are everywhere.
Those of a squeamish disposition may wish to omit reading the next four paragraphs, which briefly describe the mummification process, and move on to the ‘practicalities section’ below.
Embalmers start the mummification by slicing open knees, elbows, ankles and other joints and inserting bamboo poles into these and into the stomach. These hollow poles drain the body fat from the deceased. Living warriors (sons of former warriors) smear the fat, and the guts (also removed), of the deceased over their faces thus drawing the strength of the deceased into themselves.
After this the embalmer sews up every orifice of the body effectively sealing it to prevent the flesh rotting prior to further processing. Parts of the body, such as the tongue and palms, are often removed from the body at this stage and presented to the spouse of the deceased as a keepsake. Rather charming, don't you think?
Once prepared, the corpse is smoked in a fire pit and after this coated in red clay to protect it from scavengers and to preserve the body.
While not as sophisticated a process, and certainly more grisly, than that used by the Egyptians for example, the Anga process does work and some of the mummies ‘on display’ are over 200 years old though they certainly show signs of decay from being exposed to the elements.
Aseki, when I visited in 1989, was not the sort of place you just rocked up to. My visit was facilitated by a PNG friend who knew the village elders. While I left a small donation (clearly expected) for the village there was no official entrance fee in 1989.
Today (2015) I understand visits are arranged by inquiring at the Provincial Office in Menyamya (the main village in the area). I should warn you that there is now a hefty entrance fee, equivalent to around US$25 plus an additional and exorbitant $US150 fee should you wish to take photographs. Such is the current state of corruption throughout PNG, I further suspect that this fee could, at the whim of the elders, be significantly increased or entry refused when you arrive. You are at their mercy and disappointing a tourist would not phase them in the slightest. Perhaps the est advise I can give is to make inquiries before you go or go on a tour.
On trips like this you should travel fully self sufficient with food and water. I understand that to hire a car and driver for the day currently costs around $US1,100!
The bodies I saw (there are other groups) are on the face of a cliff 300m above the village and a reasonably strenuous walk up was required (no rock climbing) so you need to be able to cope with this.
Visiting the Aseki smoked bodies is an experience you will never forget, expensive though that experience now seems to be.
Lest the reader think that more modern burial arrangements are absent from PNG, do have a look at my lighter tip on acquiring a regular coffin in Goroka!Related to:
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- Arts and Culture
JK McCarthy Museum - Goroka
I have to admit that, at twenty something years of age, I visited this museum purely because of the macabre nature of some of its exhibits.
The museum was established by JK McCarthy an Australian patrol officer, or kiap, in the 1960s. McCarthy in addition to being a trustee of the museum wrote one of the best books (Patrol into Yesterday) on patrolling in New Guinea, as this northern part of what is now PNG, was called at the time. Papua New Guinea was an Australian colony, in fact its only colony, until it gained independence in 1975 and patrol officers were Australia's police force or keepers of the peace.
In addition to the mourning necklaces to which I have already alluded and which are more commonly referred to as human finger necklaces, the museum actually has a great collection of PNG Highland musical instruments, clothes, weapons and pottery with perhaps pride of place going to a wonderful collection of photos from the 1930s, many taken by local identity and explorer Mick Leahy. What makes these photographs particularly important and interesting is that they portray the first and early contact between Europeans and Highlanders. Leahy and other early explorers were first assumed to be returning ancestors by the Highland peoples because of their white skin.
Back to the reason I visited the museum – the Anga (a ferocious tribe from the extremely remote mountainous area back from the Gulf of Papua) mourning necklaces of human fingers. One of many rituals among native tribes was a rather macabre one of the Anga people. When relatives died, fingers (varying numbers it appears) were dissected after the bodies had been smoked and worn around the necks of relatives as a sign of mourning. A number of these necklaces can be seen in the museum. Perhaps less macabre than a necklace of ones relatives’ fingers, though equally off putting to me, and I suspect my readers, was the ritual of people amputating their own finger (or fingers) and wearing them on a necklace, again signifying mourning the death of a close relative – perhaps a child.
Today (and probably since the mid 1970s) the Anga people seem to make do with the yellow and whitish clays commonly used to cover exposed skin throughout the country to signify that the adorned is mourning the death of a close relative.
In addition to a small selection of WWII relics within the museum, outside the museum, mounted on a post is a US Airforce P-39 Aircobra, lost in battle and abandoned at Tadji on 21 May 1945. The plane (nicknamed Jackie & Norma and San Antonio Rose) had been flown by Lt Charles Borders on 56 missions out of Dobodura, Finschafen, Saidor, Owi and Biak airfields before been transferred to the 110th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and operated from Tadji Airfield, to the the east of Aitape on the north coast of New Guinea. Tadji airfield, built and used by the Japanese was captured by the US and Australia in April 1944
In 1967 the plane was salvaged by the Goroka Branch of Air Force Association and put on display at the show grounds in Goroka where it was vandalised. It was ‘salvaged’ again and put into storage until put on display outside this museum in the 1980s.
Well worth a visit for the finger necklaces and much more.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
The Asaro Mudmen
While I lived in Papua New Guinea (1989-91) I attended many shows or sing sings, as the locals called them, and in this way became acquainted with numerous tribes wearing traditional dress, performing traditional dances and performing other rituals. The annual Port Moresby and the Goroka shows were especially good for ‘tribe collectors’.
There was one very famous tribe, the ghost-like Asaro Mudmen, which never turned up at any of the shows I attended. If they wouldn’t come to me I would have to go to them. This is exactly what I did but to do so I had to book onto a tour (one of the few commercial tours I took in PNG) and in those days this could only be done via the Bird of Paradise Hotel in Goroka. I can’t recall how much the tour cost but it wasn’t cheap.
Our tour commenced with a drive, from Goroka, up to the top of the Daulo Pass to view the beautiful Asaro Valley (final picture) prior to going down to the village of Komunive, home to the Mudmen, in the valley below – all up around 20 kilometres from Goroka.
As I recall, there were only 3-4 other people on the tour. Today, I read that the number of Mudmen seen is often in direct proportion to the number of kina-paying tourists - one to one. As such, it looks like we got a good deal with a two to one ratio, back in the early 1990s!
Legend has is that once, when the local tribe had been attacked, those not killed or captured fled into the Asaro River to hide from their attackers. Here they became covered in the white river mud. When dusk fell they decided to return to their village, still caked in mud - though not deliberately so. When the enemy tribe, still in village, saw the now mud caked men they fled, believing them to be spirits or the avenging ghosts of the villagers they had earlier killed.
In the longer term, believing the river mud to be poisonous, the Asaro people stopped covering their faces with it and instead made masks from various material – clay from the 1970s. Yes, at around 2cms thick they are heavy.
Some records have it that the Asaro tribemen used their ‘new weapon’ not only to ward of other attacking tribes but also to embark on a reign of terror over their neighbours, killing thousands of people. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but it was not something the Mudmen referred to during my visit.
During our short village tour we were treated to war dances and a fire lighting display as depicted in my photos attached. Even tough I had earlier seen pictures of the Asaro Mudmen it was still something of a shock when they appeared out of the jungle brandishing bows and arrows and spears and made straight for us. Their dance, if I might call it that, was far from elaborate. The movements were slow and haunting, because the legs of a Mudman are said to be broken, having the brittleness of postmortem bones. The leaves they carried were used to make swatting movements to scare off imaginary flies attracted by their rotting flesh.
I can imagine how an enemy, which had never seen or heard of the Asaro Mudmen, would have felt on encountering these ghostlike creatures, especially in the fading light at dusk.
The legendary Asaro Mudmen’s first encounter with the Western world wasn’t until the 1950’s. They soon became a symbol of PNG, seen in newspapers, in brochures and on television, not only in PNG but around the world. They have taken to advertising all sorts of things so you should be surprised that the Asaro Mudmen drive Toyota Landcruisers and enjoy Pepsi! In 1972 Pink Floyd recorded a track called Mudmen.
I should point out that some, though not all, anthropologists have questioned the authenticity of the Mudmen, deriding them as manifestations of colonial administration and the tourist dollar.
Regardless of their origins, the Asaro Mudmen have brought fame and fortune to Ruipo Okoroko and his Asaro clan and my brief encounter with the Mudmen, in their village, in the Asaro Valley was one of the highlights of my three years in Papua New Guinea.Related to:
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- Historical Travel
Leave your suit and tie at home.
While I was in PNG to work I don’t intend making much reference to work on this page though there are a few anecdotes worth sharing.
The attached photo is of me (a somewhat younger model) geared up for work on the beautiful island of Rabaul in West New Britain. What a contrast from the formal dark suits and ties I had left behind in Belfast.
I can’t recall wearing a tie once in my three years in Papua New Guinea and I certainly never wore a suit, as I didn’t have one there.
In contrast to Europe and more akin to Australia, work was much informal here in PNG. That’s not to say one didn’t work hard… one did, but one played hard too.
I recall my first encounter with the senior partner of the accounting firm I was working with – some three weeks after arrival (why it took so long is another story). Being polite, or rather having had it indoctrinated into me in Belfas, I said ‘Good morning, Mr Txxxxx’ (name removed). His response was' ‘What the bloody hell are you talking about? The name's Doug. If you call me Mr Txxxx again you’re fired’. Had I adopted such informally at the time in Belfast I would have been sacked on the spot.
The second utterance of this dinky di Aussie from Perth related his intent to give me a pay rise – I had only been in the country three weeks and hadn’t even had a telephone conversation with him by that point. Naturally I didn’t argue. Doug, as I came to know him, was a bit of a rough diamond but well suited to the rough and tumble of PNG.
The attire I was wearing was typical Australian public service (civil service) tropical wear though, as I was to find out in my post PNG days, in Darwin, there was a tendency towards brown rather than blue in Australia. As brown is not my colour and the rig was going out of fashion, outside the trades, by that stage I didn’t partake Darwin. In Port Moresby, where most businesses had air conditioning that at least sort of worked, I generally wore long pants.Related to:
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- Arts and Culture
The Sepik River
The Sepik River and the tribes, is easy to get in. You can take boats along the Sepik River which is a wonderful and most exotic experience in Papua.
You do not need to navigate very far. I did not. Just by going from Angoram to Kambaramba and Swagup will be enough.
If you are breve enough, it is the moment to show it by navigating further, to the unknown. But I did it. I felt satisfaed with Kambaramba.Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Adventure Travel
Get a job in Papua New Guinea – Instructions!
Perhaps not 'a thing to do' for the average visitor but it fits in this section as much as any other.
Herein is the process (pretty unbelievable but true) I followed to secure a job in Papua New Guinea (you will need one to pay for any extended travel here!) – a step by step guide which may or may not work for you.
Why Papua New Guinea?
As I indicated in my introductory page I lived in Papua New Guinea (PNG) from 1989 to 1991. So why did someone, at the time, living in Belfast, Northern Ireland decide to go to the other end of the world to live (and work)? Well it’s a bit of a story so grab yourself a drink, relax and let me tell you.
In September 1988, after three years apprenticeship and lots of exams I and about 12 others (the full 1985 intake) qualified as Chartered Accountants with a leading firm of accountants in Belfast. Within months all but one or two of us decided that we wanted to go overseas – put it down to the wanderlust of the Irish as opposed to a particular desire to get out of Belfast, unpleasant though living there was at times in the late 1980s.
My colleagues determined to go to New York, Hong Kong, Sydney, Paris and the like. Never being one to follow the crowd, I opened an atlas and searched for the most obscure and out of the way place I could find. If I was going to go somewhere I wanted something different, something very different. I came across Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. I knew absolutely nothing of the place but decided there and then it was the place for me. After fairly extensive research at the local library and the Papua New Guinea High Commission in London which confirmed the accuracy of my earlier decision – the internet didn’t exist in those days – I summoned up the courage to ring the London based international recruitment/transfer partner of the firm I worked for and asked for a transfer to Port Moresby (where I knew the firm had an office).
I assumed he had never heard of Port Moresby when he offered to consider me for Nairobi, Johannesburg and various other parts of Africa which were then fashionable for those not interested in the mainstream places chosen by my colleagues. Fearing that the gentleman hadn’t heard me correctly, I repeated my desire to go to Port Moresby. He now responded by asking me for a second preference lest Port Moresby not be available. I responded that my second choice was to remain in Belfast.
I imagine he assumed I was totally mad but rather than hanging up the phone he said that he was coming over to Dublin the following week and that he needed to see me. I agreed that this was indeed appropriate and a meeting was arranged in the Shelburne Hotel in Dublin for the following week.
The meeting in Dublin
We meet at the appointed mid afternoon hour and having secured suitable alcoholic beverages settled in for a chat. We chatted, drank, chatted, drank and so it went on. Our chat rarely touched on Papua New Guinea, much less my suitability for a role there. After what was probably a couple of hours, by which stage we were both reasonably well lubricated, the partner whipped out a camera and inquired if he could take a photo of me.
I raised no objection to this odd request but did inquire at to whether or not there were any vacant positions in Port Moresby and if there were could I be considered/interviewed for the same.
It was at this stage he informed me that about a month earlier he had, in fact, been in Port Moresby (so he did know where it was!) and that there was a vacant position. In regards to the second part of my inquiry he indicated that I had been considered and that the prior two hours could be construed as an interview if I wished to call it such.
Pulling myself together and sitting up from the rather informal slouched state I had assumed by this stage, I ventured to ask when would I hear the outcome. He promptly told me I had the job and must start as soon as a plane ticket could be acquired – the work permit could wait until I got to Port Moresby.
I asked him if it would not be a good idea if he were to send my curriculum vitae, etc to Port Moresby and discuss my suitability with the partner in charge of that office.
He indicated that this would not be necessary, his exact words which I remember to this day being – “don’t worry they will take anybody in Port Moresby”.
By the way I have no idea what he did with the photo he took of me. I do know, from subsequent inquiries, that it never made its way to Port Moresby which I understand was its intended destination. Clearly more important that they knew what I looked like than whether or not I had any accounting ability.
It was early December at this stage and as he had been so decisive so I thought I would be too. I let him know that I would not be starting immediately (I was inwardly soiling my pants at this stage but didn’t tell him so) but would do so by the end of January – I needed time. He didn’t have to think long about this and immediately indicated that that would be fine. Clearly not only would they take anyone in Port Moresby but they would take them on any conditions. Obviously they were desperate!
So it was that I secured employment in Port Moresby.
By way of tip for readers with aspirations of securing employment in Port Moresby I suspect things have changed little since 1988, so all you need to do is ask and “don’t worry they will take anybody in Port Moresby”.
Getting ready to go
En route back to Belfast that night (I took the train) I panicked – what had I let myself in for?
There was actually very little communication with London or Port Moresby over the next seven weeks during which time I accepted that I couldn’t get out of going, final employment details were settled, an air ticket was acquired and my permitted one cubic metre of earthly goods were packed and delivered for airfreighting to Port Moresby.
One final formality was required and that was the work ‘going away’ party. The attached photo is of the cake – very fitting and proof that someone in Belfast knew something about Papua New Guinea, though not everyone did. One member of staff wishing to exhibit her superior knowledge of geography inquired of me thus – ‘Isn’t Papua New Guinea just south of the Canaries’?
I smiled and said, “Yes darling*, I do believe it is”.
*This was not a politically incorrect term in 1988 and was a term of endearment commonly used in Belfast at the time.Related to:
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Dive the Reefs and Walls
Walindi Plantation provided the dive boats, dive tanks, and the most experienced (and personable) dive masters. We were never pandered to or patronized, and the dive masters always consulted us on our likes/dislikes - so as to get a good feel for where we'd like to spend our time diving.
We all had dive computers but the dive masters still accompanied us on our dives - we were basically let "loose" to do our own thing out on the reefs and walls...if that is how we wanted it.
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The kokoda trail..
The Kokoda Trail is a 96 kilometre hike through the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea. It stands as a legacy to the Australian diggers who surpassed the Japanese forces here during World War II and prevented an invasion into Australia.
In 2005 i was lucky enough to have the opportunity to hike the kokoda trail in papa new guinea...and it was one of the most profoundly challenging yet rewarding experiences in my so far short life. The hike is approximately 96 kilometers (thats 59.65 miles) through some of the most brutal, isolated terrain youll come across. Mountains so high they reach deep into the clouds and mud so thick youll loose your shoes...yet there is something so seemly rewarding about walking in the footsteps of such heros.
The 12day hike usually starts in kokoda, ending in Owers Corner, however the track can be walked from either direction. Weather usually consists of extreamly hot days, cold nights and the occasional downpoor of rain. April to September is considered the 'dry' season, therefore it is best to travel between this period to avoid excess unessesary pain :)
If you take the trail late August you might be lucky enought to witness the Kokoda Challenge Race...an endurance running race that requires individuals to run the entire 96km trail. The current record is held by Brendan Buka with a time of 16hrs 34mins and 5secs.
I travelled with the Adventure Kokoda team and found them to be extreamly professional and reliable. They have porters who carry food and tents, whereas you are only required to carry your own belonging...clothes, sleeping bag, cutlery ect.. (my pac still weighted 17kg mind you). The porters are extreamly fun and happy people who provide an excellent insight into the PNG culture.Related to:
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Papua New Guinea Hotels
4 star: swimming pool and restaurant with great view over airport and surrounding hills. Lively bar...more
Coastwatchers Avenue, Madang, 511, Papua New Guinea
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
PO Box 32, Kimbe, 621, Papua New Guinea
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