If someone were to make a list of the most exotic places on the planet, Papua New Guinea would probably be in the top ten. And justifiably so, not just because it conjures up images of primitive cultures and rugged, tropical landscapes, but because few people could probably locate it on a map!
The reality is that Papua New Guinea (situated 1400+ miles northeast of Australia) is as geographically and culturally diverse as anyone could imagine for a country barely the size of California. The tribes who have lived here for tens of thousands of years – some of which were only ‘discovered’ in the 1960s because of the impassable interior of the country – speak over 800 languages, with almost as many unique cultural and social traditions.
And there is no better place to see many of these than at two of the country’s most significant and spectacular local festivals: the Mount Hagen and Goroka sing-sings.
Originally proposed in the 1950s as a way to promote cultural interaction between warring tribes, these large-scale sing-sings now bring together over 100 different tribes in a purely peaceful celebration. Showcasing each tribe’s distinctive culture through dance, music, and traditional costumes, even though these festivals are not competitive, it is clear that the participants place great pride in the attention to detail in their costumes and performances.
For the photographer, it is a dream come true: elaborate costumes are everywhere, ranging from moss and lichen wigs and garments to tribal masks to colourful feather headdresses and brilliant body paint that mimic the Birds of Paradise that are native to this country.
But in order to get a better understanding of the people behind the masks, it’s important to leave the spectacle behind as well, and go to where the people actually live. Visiting villages, local schools, and even spending a couple of nights in one of the village’s longhouses will give you a sense of what daily life is really like in Papua New Guinea, and provide more context for what makes this country and its people truly unique.
Colourful, cultural, wild, and diverse, the sing-sing festivals may be what put Papua New Guinea on the map, and the reason why we schedule our adventures in August and September – but we’ll bet it’s the adventure you’ll have before and after that will make you remember this country forever.