Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Bird and Mudmen Bunkum

Asaro Mudmen, Port Moresby Cultural show
How myths are born
The Bird of Paradise is the national bird of Papua New Guinea and it is also the name of the best known hotel in Goroka.

Its closest rival during my time in the Eastern Highlands was the Lantern Lodge.  I used to play for my supper on the electric organ at the Lodge when the mood took me, not that it really mattered as the bar was always full and drinking was on most people's mind.

The Bird of Paradise had a gaggle of tribesmen and meris selling artifacts out the front as this was the main accommodation for the few tourists that passed through.

There were some good pieces to be had and recall a very nicely carved, clay pig whistle that I bought on the doorstep of The Bird.  A good set of a black palm bow and arrows could also be bought although the best were to be found out in the villages, which is where I purchased mine.

The traditional bows are strung with a strip of bamboo and are very powerful.  I tried mine out with a target in the back garden at Sinofi street and its impaled the cardboard target and supporting tree to a depth of ten centimetres.

The arrows are objects of beauty in their own right with various tips for hunting fish, birds and fighting other warriors.  the fish arrows resembled a mini harpoon with their splayed bamboo tip bound with fibre.

Later I purchased a second ceremonial bow from a different part of PNG.  This one was covered with woven orchid vine in red and white hues which made it quite a beautiful object.

I note that these days The Bird has joined the Quality chain which no doubt brings more bookings.  It still gets good reviews from travellers.  When I was there it was managed by an Australian and his Chinese wife who was very strict about maintaining standards.

They commissioned me to produce a portfolio of photographs of local scenes and activities to decorate the hotel's lounge.

Many tourists take in the much vaunted Asaro Mudmen tour while they are in Goroka.  I happen to know that the following is a load of conceived bunkum!

"Tribal folklore records that centuries ago the warriors of Asaro were defeated in a tribal fight with a neighbouring village. Honour compelled the men to retaliate with a “payback” raid, and, to make themselves look fierce in the process, covered their bodies with grey mud. According to legend, the ruse worked, and their enemies fled at the sight of these ghostly apparitions"

The late Tara Monighan, who worked for TransNiugini Tours at the time, was one hand when this "legend" was born and she recounted it to me.

The Asaro people were trying to find a way to look distinctive at a singsing ceremony and it was an expatriate Aussie who suggested that the local clay deposits be used over a cane frame to make the now "famed" Asaro masks.

The result as they say is the "stuff of legends" and has proved a nice little earner for the local tourism industry.

Far more interesting is the Raun Raun Theatre (right) which was being built in Goroka during my tenure.  It is an interesting example of contemporary ferro cement construction and architecture and was completed in 1982.

The project architects were Paul Frame and Rex Addison.

The Raun Raun Theatre came into existence in 1975 at the suggestion of Professor Ulli Beier from the Insititute of PNG Studies.

"In early April, 1975, the Raun Raun Traveling Theatre was formed in Goroka with a grant from the National Cultural Council. A theatre truck was purchased with some help from the Goroka Rotary Club and housing was granted by District Authorities to accommodate drama students on the one hand and director/office on the other. The Theatre’s original function was to travel with ‘maket raun‘, a suggested scheme for taking public services, private sector activities and entertainment to a circuit of large village centres around the area."

Greg Murphy was the Director of Raun Raun Theatre and we had a close working relationship beween the School of Art and Design at Goroka Technical College and his company

The same ferro cement technique was applied to a number of houses elsewhere in the Highlands and I photographed several of these for an Air Niugini magazine article.
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Madang Memories

There are few prettier places to visit in Papua New Guinea than Madang which is on the Bismark Sea coast.  After months in the Highlands it was welcome respite to take a Talair flight to the northern coast and spend a few days of in the tropical climate under the palms.

Madang Girl
I visited Madang several times although the first was one of the most memorable. I stayed on Siar island which is a small island close to the main town of Madang.

The enterprising headman, Paul Munz, collected me in his dug out canoe and ferried me across to the island for a weekend of island culture, living amongst the local villagers.

Accommodation was in a beach side, thatched roof haus; termed a bure elsewhere in the Pacific.  The sound of garamut drums and string bands filled the air each evening when the heat of the day had dissipated.

This was also my first experience of snorkeling over a coral reef.  The one surrounding Siar teemed with marine life and the colours of the fishes ad corals were simply breathtaking.

Giant clams and bright yellow and pink brain corals were in abundance.  Electric blue fish darted amongst them.  For someone reared on a diet of Jacques Cousteau undersea adventures back in New Zealand television, this was the real hting.

It was easy see why PNG is regarded as one of the world's great diving locations. In other coastal regions the diving is over sunken World War Two ships using scuba,

I shared my weekend on Siar with visitors from other parts of Niugini.  One was an anthropologist who was spending several months living on the island, studying the traditional ways of life.  It seemed at the time that most of the world's anthropology PhD students made a bee-line to PNG to complete their theses; the same applied for linguists, they were everywhere!

Potter - Madang
Smugglers Hotel in Madang was a renowned hideaway and I recall coming across the actor Michael York, who was then in his prime, enjoying a relaxing 'getting away from it all' holiday.

I took photographs in Madang which were later turned into postcards and sold commercially by a company in Port Moresby.  One of these images was of Smugglers.

Another postcard was of traditional Madang potters and their pottery.  The style and clay, which is a red earthenware, differs from the Zumin pottery of the Markham Valley.

Pottery is made on a small turning base without a wheel.  It is then handcoiled and beaten.

The detrius of the last war was still clearly visible in the surrounding jungles and some of the toughest fighting aginst the Japanese took place along this coast.  Old pieces of Marsden matting were still in use as make-shift fences and derelict aircraft were left to rot where they had crashed or been destroyed in battle.

War Wreckage - Madang

Japanese Artillery Piece
War Wreckage - Madang
The string bands of Madang and other coastal and island communities have a very haunting and repetitious rhythm.  One of the more distinctive instruments is an assemblage of hollow bamboo tubes, much like a xylophone, which are played by beating the top with a pair of rubber thongs (jandals).  They used guitar and close harmonies.

An example of bamboo percussion, although in this clip it is the Tatok Bamboo Band from the neighbouring Solomon islands (Bougainville)

These bands can also be heard entertaining in the bars of the major hotels such as Smugglers (mentioned above) and the much older Madang Resort hotel, which began as a German colonial guest house prior to World War One - 1914-18.

I stayed in the Madang Resort Hotel for a weekend when I was the Eastern Highlands chairman for the 1980 South Pacific Festival of Arts.  The organising committee met there under the chairmanship of Mali Voi and Helen Dennett.  Mali went on to become a UNESCO cultural expert based in Apia and Helen remained a world authority on traditional Sepik art.
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