So, we finally move on to the Mount Hagen Show. The show, or Sing Sing as it is called locally, was one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, for us coming to Papua New Guinea. It was certainly why we were in the country on this date (and it had been difficult to schedule our flights around it) so we had dangerously high expectations.
ALL of which were met. The Mount Hagen show is absolutely, jaw-droppingly amazing. Hopefully the 20 photographs below (culled after long discussion and at great emotional expense from an initial 330 photos) will do the place some justice.
You stand in the middle of a rugby pitch surrounded by several hundred performers, all dressed up to the nines in banana leaves, bird of paradise feathers, full body makeup, masks, drums and sticks. All of them are dancing and swaying and marching and singing their hearts out. It goes on for two full days. It was only after a few hours of being overwhelmed by all this that we found out that half of the performers had actually stayed away. You see, their party had won the recent parliamentary elections, and they had stayed away for fear of violent reprisals from the losing side (welcome to PNG!).
The routine of the festival starts early in the morning, watching the performers arrive on the backs of buses and trucks and slowly metamorphosing from their usual street clothes into their performance costumes. Slowly the singing and dancing grows, before each group parades into the arena and joins an ever growing throng of pulsating, vibrant colour. At about 2pm the tourists and performers disperse – the tourists back to their enclosed hotels, the performers back into the surrounding shanty towns, from which loud chanting and singing can be heard late into the night. Despite Mount Hagen officially being a dry town (particularly around election season) the home brew industry must do a good trade at this time of year.
Alongside a relatively virulent strain of photographer tourist (see elsewhere) Mount Hagen also attracts a fascinating group of world travelers, amateur anthropologists and others attracted by interesting and difficult places. Our dinners in the evening were full of tales of tribal village stays in the 1960s, bushwhacking through WW2 trails in the deepest, darkest South Pacific and the occasional glancing reference to life on the ground during the Vietnam war. All pretty eye opening and awe-inspiring for a couple of humble office workers, I can tell you.
We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.