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PNG’s 63rd Garoka Festival.

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2021 by brunyfire

September 2019 – Garoka.  Our departure flight from Wewak following Brunyfire and Mr TN’s epic Sepik River Sojourn the next morning is delayed which means Brunyfire and Mr TN are most likely going to miss their connection to Goroka from Port Moresby and sure enough, we’re told that we’ve been bumped off the flight, will have to stay overnight and hopefully fly out the following day. But knowing how tricky our Air Niugini flights have been to date, and how hectic it will be because of the festival, we create a stink till we get tickets – in business class!

Our group is as relieved as we are when we finally get sorted out on arrival at Garoka, but it was touch and go as no-one knew the name of where we were staying – some of our party were not pleased, but we managed to get things sorted amicably enough with our tour leaders eventually. The following morning after breakfast, which, being on PNG time, took an age, we meet up with Rafael, the guide from Paiya Tours, who has our festival passes, and we pile off to the festival Showgrounds.

Today’s event is all about the kids and they, their mums, dads and chaperones are in full swing by the time we arrive.

Everyone is very generous with their time allowing people to get up close and personal with their cameras and whilst most of the tourists present are well behaved and respectful, there is still the minority that we feel embarrassed about. The ages of the kids range from 2-3year olds to early teens.

Ever the journo, Mr TN can’t help himself and when asked what he thought of the show by a French film team, proceeded to put the world to rights – they appeared to lap it up and the interview went on for quite a while!

We head back to our hotel via the local market which is packed – lots of small sellers all with local produce but of exceptional quality.

Just goes to show that this country is rich in resources and it’s people are resourceful – pity that doesn’t filter through from a higher level to improve local living conditions, roads and other vital infrastructure.

In the afternoon, we head out to visit the fabled Asaro Mudmen, who are recognised throughout the world as a primary cultural symbol of the New Guinea highlands and Papua New Guinea.

The clay they cover themselves in, and what they make their masks from, is sourced from the valley below near the Asaro River. They dig down and then mine a short way underground, with someone hanging onto the heals of the digger in case the roof above collapses and he has to be hauled out by his feet. They don’t ‘open cut’ their clay mine, as the exposed clay would weather away too rapidly, hence the more dangerous process. We arrive at the same time the pikinini’s arrive home, and are taken to the village dance centre – quite a sophisticated set up comprising of newly constructed tiered seating (with a set of fully functioning toilets out back) and a hut, in front of which a smoky fire is lit, from which the Mud Men emerge in menacing silence.

The story of the Mud Men that we were told involves the Komunive villagers who, on being  banished from their homes after an attack, escaped into the river to hide. When they emerged from the water, their bodies were coated in white clay and their enemies, mistaking them for the avenging ghosts of slain villagers, fled in fear. We participate in a group selfie…….

……..firestarting……

………and archery lessons.

Finally head back to the GK Lodge for dinner and an early night as we are headed back to the show grounds first thing in the morning.

We get to the festival grounds by about 8 am, and already the different sing sing teams are streaming in. Apparently the groups are being judged from the moment they enter the arena by circulating judges, so there is a cacophony of sound all around.

The details of the headdress above are of hundreds of tiny beetles.

The whole spectacle was overwhelming – one of the most empowering of experiences that any of us could hope for. The participants were always happy for us to take their pictures – allowing us to arrange them as we wished and to take selfies with them – such a generous and friendly people. Even when we piled back into the air conditioned comfort of our van to be taken back to our hotel, the thousands of people that thronged the outside of the arena, forcing the vehicle to cut through the swathes of bodies gently and slowly, didn’t phase us as all were friendly. Anywhere else, Brunyfire’s agoraphobia would have been rife with the fear of the crowd’s mood turning. It didn’t – the crowds were happy and flirtatious with Amenia who was made to feel like a princess!

Thanks to one of our party, Robert Harraka, the group got invited to the Aipos Moko Moko tribe. Robert had met and performed with these guys at Goroka back in 2016 and had vowed to return with his wife, Rosanna. Robert, Rosanna and the group were greeted with great ceremony, and they all proceeded to get right into the Moko Moko celebrations and feasting. (Check out Robert’s video and blog story). The meal prepared for everyone was a mixture of meat and vegetables steamed over the fire in bamboo tubes like the ones we had seen at the market.

Mr TN delighted the crowd by playing the bad wolf and scaring the kids into begging for more……

An amazing trip – with a great travel buddy and new friends……