Tereo speaks English, uses a dating platform on the Internet and, like most people in Papua New Guinea, is a member of a Christian church. He still believes in black magic and miracle healers. Help against backache Herbs, protects against bark from pregnancy, of which he is convinced. His great-grandfather, he says, still ate human flesh, he cooked it in the bamboo cane.
John Bee Tereo can move in both worlds: in the modern capital, Port Moresby, where the Apec Summit takes place this weekend. The heads of state are expected to be from 21 Pacific riparian states, where nearly half of the world’s population lives. And he knows his way around the enchanted highlands of Papua New Guinea, where every year in autumn the big “Goroka Sing Sing” is held, a festival where the members of 156 tribes perform their traditional dances and masks.
Black-red-gold dominated, it is also the national colors of Papua New Guinea
They come from the rough countryside of the provincial town of Goroka. Many villages are difficult to reach. Until a few decades ago, people here lived cut off from the rest of the world. Now the participants are crowded in the backs of the trucks, which drive in columns over the dusty main street of Goroka to stop somewhere for the preparation of their big performance.
Behind a corrugated ironworks some women of the Melpa tribe have settled down near Mount Hagen. They are barefoot and bare-headed, wearing only seashells, bamboo fronds and pieces of fur. The less Western clothing, the better the rating of the festival jury. The women help each other with the creation of the headdress. In a scuffed suitcase lie feathers and sheets, carefully pressed between the pages of exercise books. Each feather is individually put in cap and headband. The procedure takes almost three hours.
People are flocking to the football field. Anyone who does not belong to a dance group has at least put a colorful flag in their hair. Black-red-gold dominates, they are the national colors of Papua New Guinea, because the Goroka show coincides with Independence Day. In 1975, the country was freed from the Australian protectorate, formerly the northern half was German colony, the southern half British. This is still remembered today place names like Annaberg, Marienberg or Finschhafen on the Bismarcksee.
The festival is an invention of the Australians. In the 1950s, they had the idea that a joint celebration could pacify the warlike tribes in the highlands and reward the best groups. But the dispute over the first places led even more to bloody fighting. For five years, all participating groups receive the same bonus.
Dark clouds hang over the football field. By noon, the square fills with a few thousand people. No group resembles the other: some are painted like skeletons, others carry huge boats made of bast and feathers on their heads. The “Mudmen” have put clay masks over their heads and put long bamboo claws on their fingers. A group of men is wearing penis quivers made of gourd tube, old women are sitting in the meadow with their eyes closed, like exhausted birds balancing the huge feather headdress on their heads.
Tourists, almost all in mosquito-repellent safari clothing, walk through the crowd with their cameras outstretched. It is not easy to hide the golfer advertising on the sidelines. Always there are the bright lettering of the local mobile operator in the background, spoiling the spectacular motif of an authentic ceremonial. After all, the mask dances do not belong in the football stadium but in the village square. There they have their rights to every tribal ritual and every family celebration.
Getting there: Direct flight to Singapore, from there to Port Moresby with Air Niugini. The highlands of Papua New Guinea can only be reached by plane. The national airlines PNG Air and Air Niugini fly daily (total price from 1500 Euro).
Accommodation: The luxurious Airways Hotel is located directly at the airport in Port Moresby, double from 203 Euro, www.airways.com.pg; cheaper is the Holiday Inn Express, double from 135 euros. In Goroka: Bird of Paradise, DR from 101 Euro, www.coralseahotels.com.pg
festivals: The next Goroka show takes place on 15./16. September 2019, www.gorokaevents.com. Similar festivals are in Rabaul (July), Mount Hagen, Wabag, on the Sepik River (all in August) and in Lae (October).
To the country: www.papuanewguinea.travel
The traditional costuming is not a thing of the ancients. Even the boys wear the masks with pride. They combine the traditional patterns with modern elements. Ben Alphonse is 16 years old, he has made up like the comic character “Joker”, his friends wear Rastamützen and shirts in Batman style. For the selfie, they stand up and gesticulate like rappers. They prefer to hear, but the German 80’s duo is number one in the hit parade. Alphonse is proud of his country. “800 languages,” he says, “that’s not available anywhere else.” He himself speaks three languages, but he does not understand the songs of the dance group next door. “They come from another valley.”
Note from the editors The research trips for this issue have been partially supported by tour operators, hotels, airlines and / or tourism agencies.
Papua New Guinea is the country with the largest linguistic diversity in the world. In the rugged mountain landscape, 839 languages have developed in isolation, some as different as Arabic and Chinese. Of the eight million inhabitants, on average only 10 000 people speak the same language. A “Wantok” is a person who speaks the same language. Wantok comes from “one talk” and describes the principle according to which life in Papua New Guinea works: A Wantok can rely on one hundred percent of his group, but he must be completely subordinate to her. In the past, survival was necessary, but today it leads to coercion and nepotism, so that critics call democracy in Papua New Guinea a “Wantocracy”.
Port Moresby is probably the only capital in the world that does not connect any roads with the rest of the country. Separated by rugged mountain ranges from all other places, it is like a foreign body in a land where stone age and modernity clash particularly violently. It could be a beautiful city, picturesquely situated on a promontory surrounded by turquoise coral sea and laced with tropical greenery.
A glittering mall, brand new government buildings, and a few hotels are scattered across the hills. On the wide streets run heavy SUVs, not a single moped. At second glance, the skyscrapers are blocked, the vehicles armored; there are slums on the outskirts and people sitting on the roadside selling crocheted bags and betel nuts. One should not walk in this city, too many robberies and abductions. Port Moresby is ranked fifth on a list of the world’s most liveable cities published by the magazine each year.
The government holds 40 Maseratis ready for guests. There are hardly any roads on the island
It is precisely here that the heads of state meet for the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community. Because there are not enough hotels for the 6000 Apec guests, there are several cruise ships off the coast. The government has 40 Maseratis and three Bentleys embarked to chauffeur the guests. There are almost no roads outside the city. Across the country, people protested against buying a car and stopped working. For despite the export of gas, oil and gold, despite fertile soils and a rich culture, Papua New Guinea is the poorest country in the Apec Group.
Frenchman Philippe Gigliotti came to Port Moresby 20 years ago as a backpacker. “You can not travel this country on your own,” he says, “unless you have a lot of time, let you invite and pass from village to village.” He stayed nine months. Today he organizes study trips to the island. Three-quarters of its customers are adventurous retirees. Because who wants to get to know the country needs money. Apart from a few diving hotels on the coasts, there is no tourist infrastructure. Most travelers can therefore tailor made tours. Andreas Comrink, who organizes such trips, says: “There are four groups: the ethnologists, the divers, the bird lovers, and the people who have been everywhere else.”
Only about 2,000 Europeans, including 680 Germans, visited Papua New Guinea last year. Nevertheless, tourism is the great hope of the country, it wants to become a secret tip for eco-tourists. Because it is both: a land of overwhelming beauty, with wild rugged mountains and intact coral reefs, with rare birds, exotic plants and the world’s largest butterflies. And at the same time, it is one of the most violent countries in the world, with a martial culture where women are burned as witches and villages are burned for the sake of blood revenge.
Nevertheless, travel is not dangerous, says Gigliotti. On his tours through the highlands he was advised several times between the fronts of a tribal war. The fighting was interrupted briefly, friendly waving on the roadside, then he could continue. One reason for the violence he suspects in the language diversity. “In conflicts, the motto is: fight first, then talk,” he says. “But that’s not true for tourists, they do not belong to this world.”