Papau New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. 848 different languages are spoken within its borders, which is a considerably large portion of the 6500 spoken across the globe. The majority of its 7 million population, more than eighty percent in fact, live outside of urban areas, usually in small communities. Its tourism infrastructure is still finding its feet, and books and magazines describing the country offer only snippets of its grandiose beauty; traveling to Papa New Guinea then is like stepping into the unknown.
Geographically the country is rugged and mountainous, it has a vein of mountains called the New Guinea Highlands that run across from the West, with high peaks such as Mount Wilhelm at 14,793 feet in the east. A mixture of wetlands and tropical rainforest occupy the bulk of the rest of its land, with vast beautiful coral reefs touching its shores. While being only a ninth of the size of Australia, Papa New Guinea has just as many mammal species and more frogs and bird wildlife. It is thought that its wild and untamed landscape is home to many undiscovered species of plants and animals.
Each year Papa New Guinea is host to a number of cultural festivals, the biggest of them is the Mount Hagen show in August. The Mount Hagen show is a chance for all the surrounding Highland tribes to get together. Each tribe wears their own unique distinctive headdresses decorated in feathers and flowers, and their bodies are covered in paint representing their traditions, heritage and way of life. This traditional attire from the Highlands region is some of the most vibrant across Papa New Guinea, and it contrasts with the setting at Mount Hagen among the mountains and forest to create an astonishing spectacle.
Some of the tribes have skeletons painted all over their body, some display expensive collections of jewels and beads, some wear huge masks, others dress up as the warriors of old, spears in hand chanting and singing. The one element that connects all of the tribes together and the one aspect of all of the tribes’ traditional dresses that they most appreciate and cherish are the feathers of the birds of paradise. These beautiful birds are an important part of the culture, and the connection with these birds dates back some 40,000 years. Some of the feathers that are displayed in the plumes of the dresses are many generations old. It was believed and is still told in tales that the birds are mythical phoenixes, or birds of God, descending from heaven.
The sounds of the Kundu drums and various other instruments from around the region provide the distinct soundtrack to the event. They are played and beaten as thousands of tribesman and women march through the town and onto the central field. Next comes the traditional dances, these dances imitate the mating rituals of the birds of paradise, which are so loved and revered. All of the dances, costumes, and music from the hundreds of tribes that attend are all unique, their style being part of their history. This event is the culmination of culture in a nation, the bringing together of people and communities in sharing and celebrating tradition, individuality, and also understanding the link that ties them altogether as the people of Papa New Guinea.
Papa New Guinea is an exciting and rich nation; colourful in its traditions and ability to celebrate and work together as a unified nation shown here at Mount Hagen and being a member state of the Commonwealth, Papa New Guinea will bring this cultural celebration with them to Glasgow as the Commonwealth games begin.
How can the rest of the Commonwealth learn from Mount Hagen’s cultural show?