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.
You might remember that the Goroka Show finished with a bang—literally. The cops fired off tear gas canisters to calm down the crowd outside the showground, then a stiff wind carried the gas back across the show-goers.
But burning eyes and news of an unruly crowd weren’t enough to keep us from venturing into town again.
As capital of Papua New Guinea’s eastern highlands, Goroka has about 19,000 residents. Numbers swell dramatically during the show weekend. Unfortunately so do tempers, rambunctiousness, drunkenness and other behaviours that can bring out the worst in people.
The community tries hard to limit problems. All the bottle shops (liquor stores) closed at noon on the day before the main show started. And there was a large police presence around town.
The National Sports Institute, which is where we stayed and which is next to the showground, provides an on-demand van service to take visitors to town for shopping, sightseeing or meals.
While we often took the van, a group of us did walk to the town centre in daylight hours and no one hassled us. Instead there were hellos, smiles and chats with a few locals. It was different at night and we always took the van then.
The focus on security is quite disarming. One night we decided to go to the Mandarin Chinese Restaurant. The van dropped us across the street, at the entrance to the Bird of Paradise Hotel. We started to cross, but the hotel’s security guard insisted on escorting us across the street.
When the van returned to pick us up, the restaurant’s security guard insisted on doing the same in reverse.
Likewise, the guards at the National Sports Institute would escort you to the museum down the road, or flatly refuse to let you (especially women) out the gate.
I read that an Australian news reporter was pick-pocketed, but am not aware of any other offences in Goroka.
The pictures here give you an idea of how the town looks on an event-filled and busy weekend, although some pics are from the Monday.
I’ve already mentioned that more than 130 tribes turned up for the Goroka Show in Papua New Guinea, but that number doesn’t even begin to convey the sheer hugeness of the event.
So let’s have a stab at the maths—actually arithmetic! But keep in mind that some of the numbers are estimates.
I know there were at least 130 tribes there with, say, on average, 20 people in each group. Tribes come from all around and bring family and friends with them. so I reckon there were at least another 20 hangers-on per group. If I’m right, that takes us up to at least 5200 people.
Then there were the VIP guests (about 400 of us who paid extra to get in earlier on both mornings) and then large numbers of visitors from Goroka and surrounds who were admitted after 12 noon both days.
Goroka has almost 20,000 residents and the district has more than 70,000, so there was no shortage of people clamouring to get in.
I’m guessing there were easily 10,000 people in the showgrounds both afternoons (after the entrance was opened to the public). Luckily the showgrounds can hold such a crowd. I reckon the area is larger than five or six football fields. I guess I’ll have to go back next year and pace it out.
I love sharing some crowd shots and should mention a bit about the grand finale. Non-VIP visitors can get in for free after about 4pm on the last/second day of the show. From what we were told, the crowd outside on that last day got a bit too restless a little to early than the time for free entry. They even started charging the gate. Fast forward to when the tear gas was discharged just outside the showgrounds. It settled the crowd right down.
Unfortunately, that was about the same time Poor John and I were heading straight for the entrance/exit gate, and the gas was blowing at us. I never knew how bad tear gas would affect my eyes. Yoew!
Thinking back, I have to say that in spite of having lived through university in the 1960s and been an active protester in my own right, I’d never been tear-gassed until this year’s Goroka Show. We later encountered the Chief of Police, who said he told all his staff not to let off tear gas under any circumstances, but they said the crowd got so unruly, they couldn’t resist.
So now I know about tear gas. Hope I never learn more.
Let’s see—where are we up to on the Goroka Show?
So what’s next?
I think the skirts are worthy of a post.
With the exception of the group doing the snake dance and the fellows wearing penis gourds (yes, I’ll get to them too) everyone—and I mean every performer—wore a skirt of some sort.
Some were quite simple—made of grass and reeds. Others were made of twisted cuscus (PNG possum) fur and still others were made of woven fabric. Of course, most were embellished with shells or dyes or other organic materials.
I was especially intrigued by one group of men that included a very white guy. Chris, our tour leader, figured the guy had paid a princely sum to be included in the group. But he knew all the moves and the words to the songs, so I think he might have been a member of that tribe.
My theory got some support a couple of days later. We stayed for several nights in an Asaro village in the highlands, and one of the babies was completely white, but not albino. Gosh, genetics are interesting.
And don’t think we’re done with the Goroka Show and Papua New Guinea itself. There must be at least 10 or 12 more posts (still deciding on how to share them). Egads, I took 800+ photos in a couple of days and many more beyond. I’m overwhelmed as I look through all the pics, and reckon so many are worth sharing. Please let me know if you’re getting tired of the subject matter.
And speaking of skirts, I am reminded of my search to buy Libby, a daughter, a skirt in Peru. That was a challenge.
Soon after I started posting items about the Goroka Show, a reader commented that my photos reminded of him of old National Geographic magazine stories. Not really erotic, but filled with an abundance of interesting flesh.
I have to admit that I was a little surprised by all the flesh on display at the show. I’m no prude, but I simply hadn’t expected that at least half of the performing women would have stripped down to their bare bums and breasts.
I suppose the show offers locals a time of year when they can embrace the culture they used to live. Having said that, I suppose plenty of women don’t want to strip off these days.
Poor John visited Papua New Guinea twice during the 1980s (I didn’t get to go). He never got to Goroka back then, but he did get to other highland communities. He clearly remembers seeing many locals ‘roll’ into town in similar get-ups. There wasn’t any show on at the time. It was simply the dress of the times.
Frankly, it makes a lot of sense. Good grief, it gets hot in PNG, and many people have no source of cash income, so they have to make-do with what the earth and sea have to offer.
It didn’t take us long to figure out that the materials and ‘fabrics’ on hand for clothing tend to be leaves, grass, shells, bark, bush rope (made of bark), gourds (more about them soon), feathers (and sometimes whole birds), branches, skins, fruit, seeds, straw, dyes, mud and clay.
As an aside, the Goroka Show reminded me of our two visits to Brazil—where anything you wear that’s skimpy is totally okay. After a couple of months in Brazil, I even got to the point where I thought it might be okay for me to buy and wear a bikini. Luckily, I came to my senses. It might have been okay in Brazil, but no where else in the world.
But after me dangling the ‘boob’ carrot for a while, it’s time to produce the evidence. So here it is.
I had to laugh (and agree) when one reader commented that if we all looked this good without clothes, the habit might catch on everywhere. Of course he’s right, but I guess it might depend on the season and the weather. Also have to admit that I’ve now seen boobs of every single shape and size imaginable. Have even seen some you can’t imagine.
The Goroka Show has something for everyone.
While sensational song-and-dance performances are at the core of the event, the Papua New Guineans don’t stop at that. There are plenty of stalls selling crafts (remember the mask I didn’t buy?) and lots of local delicacies (such as creepy-looking red sausages, grilled pork and coffee beans).
The flower show is a popular event and colourful too. As far as I know, this is the only aspect of the show in which winners are announced. Song-and-dance performances aren’t judged because so many of the tribes might be or could become enemies. But flowers are different. They must be calming! And the participants (mostly women) wore huge smiles and they showed off their efforts.
We enjoyed checking out the various displays about an hour or so before judging (so we don’t know who won). It was yet another opportunity for colour overload. Displays were classified in six categories, such as vertical, horizontal, creativity and colourist. Backdrops were judged too.
One of the last stalls we visited asked us to pay a kina (about 50 cents) to take a photo. We just laughed and said No thanks. We’d already taken a load of photos and everyone else had been thrilled to show off their handiwork.