Harold and Mary Cohen : The Papua New Guinea Slide Collection
Object ID:
Papua New Guinea
Overhead view looking over festival participants and attendees. Many ar dressed in traditional costume, while others wear western style dress. Two tall and narrow multicolored headdresses/ costumes in red, black, and white patterns seen on the right side of the image. BUildings and trees in the background beyond people.

A viewer discerns quickly that most of the attendants at the Goroka Festival are country men who journey great distances through mountain passes and valleys to attend. Very few outsiders from other countries visit during the celebration of both the fall harvest and also the independence of Papua New Guinea. On September 15, 1975, the Australian Government divided New Guinea, the second largest island in the world, transferring the eastern half of the island to Papua New Guinea. The predominant population of the country lives in the mountainous regions in villages of small often remote populations. Frequent fighting would break out between villages: pillaging, stealing women and crops, marauding, even capturing their enemies so as to steal their identity or strength as the belief may be. Still other groups captured their enemies so as to eat them, thereby gaining the strength and craftiness for themselves or to prove their manhood and strength.

Despite the independence of the country, traditions of ceremonial gatherings continued. Some were joyful: harvesting of the yams or sweet potatoes, "pay back," "moka or bigman," marriage bargaining, circumcision, and deaths. Others were death—dealing, marauding, stealing of women. Each occasion followed protocol.

The Australian government sought a means to decrease the violence and destruction and to increase their exposures to one another in a festive way to get to know one another. Festivals were encouraged by the Australian government to hold sing—sings where tribes would be paid to come together, perform and compete in showing their ceremonial clothing, face painting traditions, body decorations, singing and dancing.

That tradition has been successful and has expanded to various villages in the Highlands region. The largest sing—sing festivals occur in Mt. Hagen in the Western Highlands and in Goroka, in the Eastern Highlands. Thousands of tribesmen journey by foot, truck, or bus to attend the sing—sing nearest their home. The crowds watching are mainly from the villages participating in the sing—sing. Tourism from other countries has increased but only in small numbers.

According to the official Goroka Show website, the very first Goroka show was organized in 1957 by Australian Kiaps — "patrol officers" designated by the Australian government to oversee governing of remote to semi—remote districts in Papua New Guinea — to reduce tribal fighting by promoting inter—marriage and channel inter—tribal rivalry into positive forms of competition. PNG gained its independence from Australia in 1975.

Major sing—sing events have become opportunities for tribes to gain status without bloodshed, by competing to display the best cultural performance. The cultural shows are organized by provincial festival/show committees and financed by the allocated provincial government budget and sponsors. They are organized and performed completely by the people of Papua New Guinea.

Photographs in this series were taken in September 1996. Each September, Goroka, the provincial capital of the Eastern Highlands, holds a sing—sing gathering at the time of harvest and also in celebration of the independence of Papua New Guinea from Australia. Instead of giving a prize to the outstanding performance, each of the presenting tribes earns money for participating. The competing for a prize decreases the animosities that some of the tribes still feel against their neighboring villages.
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