PNG National Mask Festival day one

After the wonderful opening Kinavai ceremony the afternoon of the 26th Papua New Guinea National Mask Festival was filled with mask dances from various local villages, primarily belonging to the Tolai and Baining tribal groups, but also Pomio and Sulka.

First up was the Tovateder Mask dance by a group from Ngatur, who are Tolai. In a pattern that was to become very familiar over the next two and a half days a group of red cloth clad men emerged from a thatched area. Half or more were dressed simply and provided the music, while those with elaborate headpieces were there to dance. All this in temperatures and humidity that were a challenge sitting in the shade, let along singing and dancing in the sunshine for up to half an hour.

They were followed by the very rarely performed Madas Baining Mask dance by Vunga village, who are Baining. These were some of the most elaborate and sizeable masks of the festival, towers made of bark, carefully balanced with ropes and a supporting pole.

The Aperapere dance by Ramale NCR offered smaller but even more elaborate headpieces, which were amazingly balanced on their heads through some intricate dance moves, a testament to practice, strong neck muscles, and hair tied into the headpiece.

Afterwards was an official festival opening by the Governor General of PNG. There were powerful speeches from local politicians, sponsors and the organising committee on the importance of preserving culture. There was recognition of the importance of culture in preserving and reinforcing values, and the economic gold of attracting tourists to this little known destination.

The final dance I saw of the day was the Atabaran Mask dance by Ravat village, wearing striking, if almost comic, yellow wigs. Their dance was captured by these young cameramen.

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