Seeing Antarctica with Your Own Two Eyes

Seeing them smeared with pig grease and soot from head to toe, imagine yourself in the midst of hundreds of Stone Age tribesmen as they howl their war chants at your direction or brandish the weapons they have on from arrows to axes to spears. Forgetting all about it might be better. There is a chance that you are being entertained in the annual Highlands Show of Papua New Guinea.

When it comes to the location of Papua New Guinea, you will find it in between and the equator, it shares a large island with Indonesia and it owns the eastern half and part of it consists of the small islands in the Bismarck Archipelago. In 1975 was when this country achieved independence and nationhood but before this happened, separately managed Papua and New Guinea under various United Nations trust arrangements. When it comes to the western way of life, it remains a mystery in some parts of this country.

Traveling on foot, white men in the 1930s were the first ones to explore these rugged Highlands. You can say that the white man continues to be a novelty today because a camera toting tourist is as popular at the Highlands Show as the performing painted warrior. Held alternately in the towns of Goroka and Mount Hagen, this two day show is attended by about 60,000 people at a time and most of the attendees are Papua New Guineans. Walking all the way from Telefomin, Wapenamanda, and Ukarumpa can take days or even weeks but some people do it anyway so that they could join in the festivities.

Other than having agricultural and crafts exhibits, the show also includes demonstrations of fire making and house building skills. You can also witness light entertainment in this show. With weapons and barefoot, the competitors test their skills in the bicycle races, chasing after a greased pig, and racing up a greased pole with beer and cigarettes dangling from the summit. During the sing sing competition, the tribes are able to show tourists and locals their treasured ceremonial attire and this is the climax of the weekend.

Regardless of the scorching heat, people dance and chant to the deep hollow beat of the kundu drum as the pace changes to simulate a battle or stage a legend form tribal history. A treat during the Highlands sing is the kaleidoscope of color and costume. Here is where the dancers embellish themselves well. Store bought crepe paper, leaves, beads, and feathers are used as trimmings for their luminescent faces in red and blue ochre and bodies covered with the darkest soot. For their pierced septums, they no longer use the usual pig’s tusk or other bone but resort to ball point pens and even pieces of an automobile engine and for earrings they have safety pins.

What are unwrapped and displayed here are the village heirlooms. Voluptuous headpieces fashioned from the fur of the spotted cuscus, a small marsupial, are worn with conspicuous pride, usually by the children. Because seashells were once a form of currency, people still give them much value. Seeing the tall swaying plumes of the peacock like Raggiana Bird of Paradise, the national symbol, or that of the cassowary is a possibility for some.

Then there are the eerie Asaro mudmen. These people are coated in white mud and have grotesque heads made from sun baked clay and straw. When they do their swaying dance, they slap leaves off their thighs. As told in a legend, a tribe retreated into the Asaro River after being pursued by their enemies.

All covered in the white clay when they emerged, their enemies fled thinking that they were ghosts. What the Asaro mudmen do is cover themselves in the same river mud to commemorate this victory. After the all the sing sings, cash and cattle prizes are handed out to those who are best in costume not to mention best in their presentations. Then, as the sun sinks into the Highlands, the crowd spectators and performers alike begin the long trek homeward till another year.
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