Memories of last year’s weddings came flooding back when I heard that one of the happy young couples have just had their first child, a daughter Elodie, on New Year’s Eve.
Hannah and Mauro are the new mum and dad. We’ve known Hannah since she was five. She was a neighbour all those years ago, and Hannah and our Libby have been close friends since the 1980s. In fact, Libby was Hannah’s maid of honour.
Their wedding was in Canberra’s Weston Park—a place where our families spent many memorable times.
Over the years, Hannah has spent lots of time at our house. That said, I won’t embarrass her by posting a pic of her with our girls in our pink bathtub so many years ago (maybe another time).
Hannah is a clever girl and a not-too-picky eater.
I remember inviting her to dinner on many occasions. What are you having, she’d ask. Lasagne, I’d say. I’ll just check what mum’s making, she’d say. And within a few minutes she’d be back to say she was eating with us because her mum was serving spinach. Little did Hannah know that my lasagne had more than a half a pound of fresh baby spinach in it. I think that’s how she learned to like spinach.
But I digress. Back to our year of weddings and, no, neither of my kids got married this year.
Last month I was in the USA for a family wedding—my nephew, Charlie, married another Hannah. Charlie and Hannah attend university in Oklahoma, but they got married in St Louis Missouri, which is near Hannah’s hometown.
The wedding night was great. Charlie was so enthusiastic that he said I do about two sentences after the celebrant (his brother-in-law) started to speak. Got a great laugh from the crowd.
I didn’t take as many pictures as I’d have liked but here are a few.
In the middle of the year, we were spectators at a couple of weddings in Central Asia. The ones that stand out were in Khiva and Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Can’t find the pics from the those weddings, so will have to add those someday in future.
But the knockout, mind-boggling wedding of our year was in September in Papua New Guinea. I’ve already introduced our time in the Asaro village in PNG’s highlands but I haven’t told you about the mock wedding they held on our behalf.
It gave such wonderful insight to the customs and culture of just one of PNG’s many tribes. And it gave us plenty of great photo opportunities and lots of amazing food.
The young couple, both teenagers, were no doubt strong-armed by their families into playing their parts for the nice foreign guests.
They did a fine job.
We were part of the groom’s entourage. And step one was to go along and offer a bride price. It’s not really so much to ‘purchase’ a bride, but for the bride’s family to recoup some of the money they lay out to prepare her for betrothal.
The village headman told me that when his daughter reaches a marrying age (gets her period, I suppose), he will seclude her for two weeks, and slaughter a pig every day to feed her and others.
Good grief, I love pork but I don’t think I could eat it for 14 days in a row.
Anyway, our mock bride didn’t have to do that, but the bride’s and groom’s families came together in the centre of the village to negotiate the ‘marriage price’. One negotiation was the night before and another followed the next day.
The bride’s family drove a hard bargain and our groom ‘paid’ six pigs and a whack of PNG money. In return, the bride’s family prepared a mumu (a feast of roast pig). The groom’s family prepared chickens (chooks) and veggies.
The pig was led up the hill to be slaughtered and the process wasn’t that bad. The pig slayer came along and bonked the pig on the head. Truly knocked it out with one blow. And then slit its throat.
The pig was then cooked in a pit lined with hot stones. It took hours and hours. So did the cooking of the groom’s contributions.
I felt bad that a pig was slaughtered on our behalf, but it really was part of helping us to understand the local culture and customs.
Interestingly, the best bits of the pork (especially the crackling) were given to the groom’s family by the bride’s family.
One of the most interesting aspects was seeing the groom being decorated for the occasion. The bride got the same treatment, but we weren’t party to that. That’s because our group was divided in two and half spent the preparations with the groom and the other half with the bride.
Whatever your religion or non-religion, it’s Christmas or Christmas Eve the world over and I want to wish everyone the happiest of holiday seasons.
Christmas is an important holiday in Australia, along with many other holidays that represent diverse religions or no religion at all.
Unlike most of the heavily populated parts of the world, Christmas hits Australia during summer. The weather is warm and kids are out of school for six or seven weeks. We’re more likely to be wearing shorts or bathers (swimsuits), and equally likely to be munching on prawns (shrimp) rather than turkey or ham and traditional sides.
This year I spent the first three weeks of December in the USA. Poor John was thrilled to be able to stay home. Airfares cost a bomb, so he was able to read a bazillion books, watch his beloved cricket matches and walk the not-quite-so-beloved-by-him dog. I, of course, adore the dog.
Meanwhile, I worked my way (by road) north from Dallas, with stops in Tulsa, Kansas City, Omaha, central Nebraska, Branson Missouri and St Louis.
I saw Christmas decorations everywhere and thought I’d share a few of the best. Although the photos never quite capture the full impact of the displays.
First off was Canberra (the night before I flew to the USA) with the largest LED light display ever shown in the world. Poor John insisted that I go and I was glad he did.
The Richards family has organised this light show for many years, and this year it morphed into an even larger event—garnering a new Guinness world record and lots of international attention. Almost everyone I met in the USA had seen it reported on television. The display, which supports SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), closes on New Year’s Eve.
My next Christmas light overload occurred in Tulsa Oklahoma. My sister, Susan, is a long-time resident in Tulsa and she was keen to show me the display on the grounds of the Rhema Bible Church.
This show started in 1982 and since then the number of lights has grown from 60,000 to more than two million. Admission is free. We went early and got a decent parking place. And we couldn’t leave until Susan ordered a swag of funnel cakes.
This doughy and sugary sweet wasn’t around when I left the USA, and I failed to get a pic. No worries. If you are interested, google it.
A couple of days later, my last light show was at Silver Dollar City near Branson. To be fair, I should give that venue its own post, so stay tuned for more photos. Decorations festooned trees and buildings, and a range of performances and a parade captivated young and old.
For now I’ll wish everyone very happy holidays and go help make our seafood dinner.
Maybe you thought nothing could top the boobs of Papua New Guinea’s Goroka Show, but then you didn’t know about the penis gourds.
Called by a variety of names including kotekas, penis gourds are traditional items of ‘clothing’ worn by males from some highland tribes.
It’s rather disarming to encounter a group of penis gourd performers. They are clearly proud of both their physique and their gourds.
I’ve read that tribes can often be identified by the way they wear their gourds—pointed straight out, straight up, at an angle, or in other directions. Gourd size is also an indication of tribal allegiance. Apparently, here is little or no correlation between the size or length of the gourd and the social status of the wearer.
Gourds of different sizes serve different purposes: very short one are worn when working—yes, gourd-wearing is not confined to special occasions only, when longer and more elaborate ones appear. In fact, Tim Flannery, in his book Throwim way leg, paints a delightful picture of a queue in a supermarket with impeccably dressed Indonesian soldiers, administrative types and nuns mixing with tribesmen who have to push their gourds to one side so they can read the checkout cash register.
Penis gourds are made from specially grown gourds. Stone weights are tied to the bottom of the gourd to stretch it out as it grows. Curves are made by using string to restrain growth in whatever direction the grower wishes. When harvested, the gourd is emptied and dried.
As the photos show, these gourds get all sorts of decorative treatments.
Penis gourds are a popular tourist souvenir, but Poor John had no interest in buying one.
Once our hosts made it completely clear that we were most welcome in their Asaro tourist village, they brought out their mudmen to scare the begeezus out of us.
Of course, having seen the mudmen at Papua New Guinea’s Goroka Show and knowing a bit about their background, we all felt reasonably unthreatened.
Most of the history of mudmen is based on legend. The story goes that Asaro villagers were defeated by an enemy tribe and forced to flee and hide in the Asaro River until nightfall when they could attempt an escape.
By chance, when the villagers rose from the riverbanks in the evening mist, their bodies were so covered in mud that the enemy mistook them for spirits. Most tribes in Papua New Guinea are terrified of spirits, so the enemies ran off, and the Asaro escaped to their own village.
Some of the enemy tribesmen were still lurking in the Asaro village, and when the ‘spirits’ returned ‘home’ the invaders assumed they were being counter-invaded, so fled back to their own village.
Ever since the Asaro have continued to use this dusky illusion to ward off their enemies (or entertain visitors).
The big difference is the addition of masks. Legend says the mud of the Asaro River is poisonous, so instead of covering their faces with the mud, the Asaro make fearsome masks using homemade clay.
So all this background leads us to the mudmen ‘dance’ put on for our group.
Because our mudman performance took place in the middle of the day, our hosts decided to light a fire to create a bit of mystery and artificial mist.
The actual fire-making process was rather embarrassing for our hosts and totally hilarious for us. They tried and tried and tried to get the dry grass going using traditional fire-making techniques, but nothing worked. In the end, everyone was laughing and the fire builders accepted the offer of a cigarette lighter to do the job.
Then enter the mudmen. They weren’t hugely scary, but when they lunge at you with a spear, you do jump a bit. Ask Poor John who was one of their first ‘targets’.
I was lucky enough to see them getting ready down near Poor John’s and my hut, so noticed the good humour and enthusiasm they showed before employing their ‘scare’ tactics.
After the performance the main, and supposedly scariest, mudman removed his mask so we could see his soot-striped face, and feel and hold his homemade mask. Those darn things weigh almost 10 kilos (22 pounds). Can you imagine jumping around in one of those?
Poor John and I have travelled all over the world and weathered all sorts of conditions. Temperatures have ranged from -3° to 53°C (27° to 127°F), and our tents and other accommodation have ranged from the non-existent to the rustic to the exquisite.
Exquisite doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes it comes in unexpected forms.
Papua New Guinea was an amazing destination and certainly delivered on weather. Every day was glorious (or on the hot side) and we didn’t get any rain. And the provided accommodation was an interesting mix of styles.
One amazing stop was in an Asaro village on a hilltop not far from Goroka, in the PNG highlands. I’ve already introduced the highlands, but I haven’t yet shown you where we stayed and what we ate.
Our Asaro hosts—they knocked themselves out to entertain and amuse us over several days—have created a special tourist village with more than 10 reed huts to accommodate visitors. Our group of almost 20 people is the largest crowd they’ve ever had.
The hand-built structures are exquisite in their simplicity, and furnished with basic bedding. The communal toilet and shower are located at opposite ends of the two rows of huts.
Poor John and I bunked down in a round hut. They are a bit smaller than the rectangular ones with a pointy end, but who cares. It’s not like you go to an Asaro village to spend all your time in your hut.
We were too busy enjoying the activities organised for us. We were also really impressed by the quality of the food and the variety of produce that could be grown in the highlands.
In fact, we learned that anyone in-the-know who travels to the PNG highlands will come home with a bag of fruit and veggies. In fact, highland airports offer a wrap-your-bag-of-produce service, so cherished purchases don’t roll around in the hold.
But back to our village.Our hosts have their homes at the base of the hill, but many spent all their time with us. In addition to the huts and amenities, there’s a dining hall, a kitchen, a place to boil water, storage buildings, a generator (for a bit of light at night), a range of agricultural plots and a huge open area for dances, performances and the like.
So I’ll be back soon to show you more about all the things we did.
After a couple of whirlwind days at the colourful and frenetic Goroka Show in Papau New Guinea, we were off to stay a couple days in an Asaro village not far away.
Asaro villages are known for their mudmen. Historically the Asaro tribesmen covered their bodies with the local clay to create the impression that they were spirits to fear. Now they do it to entertain. But before I introduce the mudmen and the magnificent performance they gave us, I want to share the welcome we got from the villagers themselves.
A huge group turned out to greet us. Men, women and children—in various states of cultural dress or undress—rushed forward to make us feel welcome. It was a warm and impressive gesture, matched by an impressive and ice-breaking gesture from Milly, one of our fellow travellers.
Milly had the foresight to bring a nifty quick-developing Polaroid camera that she used to capture candid shots our welcomers. She took plenty of pics that were printed in an instant and shared with our hosts, and it was apparent that many were ‘seeing’ themselves for the first time.
She said the camera was pricey, and so was the film, but believes they are well worth it for the goodwill the pics foster and the smiles and thanks she gets every time she hands over a pic. She wasn’t alone. I think all of us enjoyed seeing the pics being shared around.
After the hellos it was time to climb the hill to the village. We’re talking vertical here, and it took the decrepit among us about 40 minutes to get to the top. Our hosts, who are used to the hike, carried all our suitcases and backpacks. One fellow traveller got very special treatment. Fred is retired and his legs are giving out. We walked together for a while, but he stopped for a long rest about a third of the way up. He shooed me on and said he might wait until we all came down again later in the afternoon to for a side trip.
The villagers coming up behind us weren’t going to have any of that. You can imagine our surprise when Fred arrived at the top about 30 minutes later—covered in smiles. He’d been carried up the worst of it. And he didn’t go down again until the end of our stay.
And what a stay we had. Every minute was busy with a nature walk, mudmen performance, mock wedding, battle dance, cannibal pantomime, agricultural and craft demonstrations, and lots of food including a special feast. I promise to write about all of them.
We visited last year and I posted an item about my favourite exhibit of that year. I liked a lot of this year’s exhibits, but nothing quite measured up to my favourite of last year.
This year’s display ends tomorrow (9 November) and I’m always surprised that Sculpture by the Sea lasts for such a short time.
Hope you like the sunset photos of this year’s event. Poor John especially likes the non-sunset view of the timber whale.