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Starting in the 1960s, the Eastern and Western Highlands Provinces alternately held a Show on the third weekend of August in either Mt. Hagen or Goroka, where the local tribes competed against each other in traditional cultural events. The original purpose of the Show was to serve as an aggression outlet in the place of on-going warfare between the various tribes. However, it did not work very well because the losers of the competitions simply attacked the winners! As a result, a decision was made to award prizes to all participants!
Depending on where a contestant is from, they are outfitted with an assortment of plumage from Birds of Paradise and Cassowaries, sea shells traded in from the coast, and animal furs, bones and teeth (typically from Tree Kangaroos, the lemur-like Cuscus and Boars). The effect is further enhanced by facial piercing and painting with a wide variety of colours and pigments derived from ochres, clay and lime. A white head feather is the symbol that the wearer is a full warrior.
This typical stocky Highland warrior is adorned with the usual multi-layered skirt in front with a sheaf of grass covering his backside. Bows and arrows are commonly carried around even during normal activities, as I saw on many of my trips to the Highlands. The other photos show typical adornments on the bare-breasted female participants, including Tree Kangaroo tail or Cuscus fur adornments. It really was quite something to be able to see these festivities taking place, especially considering that it was only just over 40-years since Westerners in significant numbers penetrated these remote mountainous areas of PNG!
Updated Dec 14, 2006
This photo shows a typical scene on the Highlands Highway near Goroka, with driving being on the left side of the road, British-style (my 6 years of driving standard transmission/left-side vehicles in Zambia and PNG have made me AC/DC when it comes to switching between North American and English rental car driving!). As you can see, the road was in quite good condition back in those days, with only the odd mudslide or two causing hold-ups during the rainy season. I drove this highway from Mt. Hagen to Lae several times and also a roundtrip on the spur highway to Madang on the north coast. However, I never did get beyond Mt. Hagen into the furthest western reaches, where things were really getting rugged - it just seemed that there were more pressing power problems somewhere else in the many small power stations scattered around this large country! The latest reports say that roadblocks and highway robberies are very common now in this part of PNG - I never even had a hint of that in all my times driving here and there.
Updated Dec 13, 2006
During my first walk around Mt. Hagen, I was surprised to come across this Tree Kangaroo in a cage not far from my hotel. I had always assumed that all kangaroos hopped around the Australian outback! According to Wikipedia:
"Tree kangaroos are found in the rainforests of New Guinea, far north-eastern Queensland, and nearby islands, usually in mountainous areas. It is understood that they evolved from creatures similar to modern kangaroos and wallabies, as they retain many standard macropod adaptations to life in the plains—notably the massive hind legs and long, narrow feet which allow their cousins to travel fast and economically on the ground. Tree kangaroos have developed exceptionally long tails for balance, and stronger forelimbs for climbing. The feet are shorter and wider, they have longer claws on all feet, and rubbery soles for better grip. Unlike 'typical' kangaroos, who can only move by moving both feet at the same time, tree kangaroos can move their legs independently.
Tree kangaroos are slow and clumsy on the ground: they move at about walking pace and hop awkwardly, leaning their body far forward to balance the heavy tail. But in trees they are bold and agile. They climb by wrapping the forelimbs around the trunk of a tree and hopping with the powerful hind legs, allowing the forelimbs to slide. They are expert leapers: 9-metre downward jumps from one tree to another have been recorded, and they have an extraordinary ability to jump to the ground from 18 metres or more without being hurt."
The people of PNG particularly like to use their long furry tails as head ornaments.
Updated Dec 13, 2006
Favorite thing: Mount Hagen is the capital of Western Highlands province, the most populated in Papua New Guinea (440,000 people as of 2000). The early western explorers of PNG were totally surprised after either flying in or slogging their way up off the hot and humid coastal areas when they found far more inhabitants hidden away in the fertile, open and cool valleys of this mountainous area! Mount Hagen is located on the southern side of the central spine of mountains running along the middle of the island of New Guinea and the nearby snow-capped peak of Mount Wilhelm is the highest in the country at 4509-metres (14,800-ft). After climbing around the spectacular 10,000-ft high peaks of Glacier National Park in Montana during the summer of 2006, it really makes me appreciate the oddity of many peaks near Wilhelm's height on this tropical rainforest island!
Mount Hagen itself is situated in the large Wahgi Valley along with coffee plantations and groves of beautiful casuarina trees.
Fondest memory: What I liked about Mount Hagen was that its relative remoteness from the coastal areas enabled it to still retain the frontier atmosphere that is not long disappearing in most places discovered by the western world. My main problem was that (combined with early darkness near the equator) I usually did not have much leisure time to check out the many cultural and geographical things that the town offered. Most trips were in and out affairs to deal with maintaining as reliable a power system in all of the Highlands areas as could reasonably be expected under the circumstances.
Updated Mar 16, 2008