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Return of the Bilas Girl


‘Bilas’ is a tok pisin word with a range of associated meanings.  It can mean jewelry and other adornments, beautiful things in general, and even glory as when the Bible talks about the glory of the Lord.  ‘Bilas’ is thus the word used to describe the traditional costume that Anastasia wore a few months ago at the cultural center.  As noted, people will randomly call out to Annie while we walk about and tell her how nice her bilas looked.  On Friday, Nov 15, Anastasia the bilas girl had a slight comeback.

The 15th was also the day that most of the students left for home.  Sadly, in regard to my teaching abilities, I spent much of the 14th and the early morning of the 15th grading my students’ final papers so that I could distribute them before they left.  There were no instructions from the Dean as to when grades were due, but I thought that before the students left was a good PR.

The 15th was also the day for the 12th grade graduation from the secondary school just down the road from us.  There was a general call for traditional dancers to come and dance at the event.  Bernadette, the middle daughter of the Catechism teacher at Good Shepherd, decided to answer the call.  So did Anastasia.  With my grading finished and with Rebecca stuck in Bursar’s office giving the students travel stipends, I decided to walk down to the school to watch Anastasia in action.  I found some students (?) in traditional garb practicing their marching, but no Anastasia:


Can you find the lone female dancer?


Would you prefer this to a cap and gown?

So after wandering and waiting around the school, I walked back to Good Shepherd and found that while Annie finished dressing some time ago, Bernadette still needed her headdress finished.  Here are some pictures of Annie being excited that she is holding a traditional drum, known as a Kundu in tok pisin or a Gissing in the local language. [Note, I had an early conversation in which a seminarian named James Gissing told me that Gissing means Kundu, with the assumption that everyone knows what a Kundu is.]

IMG_0040 IMG_0041 IMG_0042

And here is Bernadette stoically waiting for her bilas to be complete:


Her headdress consists of bird of paradise feathers and taxidermied birds! Such bilas are actually quite expensive and are carefully stored when not in use.


Ready to go!

So we all walked down to the school together.  Annie unfortunately had a cold and demanded a tissue every few minutes, which had to be applied carefully so as not to destroy her face paint.  She also wanted to be carried the whole way.  Once we were at the school, we tried to join a group of Jiwaka dancers.


Yes, that is a taxidermied bird on my daughter’s head . . .


I was a bit miffed when Bernadette’s mother insisted that a dirty coke bottle with gravel in it was a better percussion instrument for Annie than her tambourine. Sadly, Annie seemed to be feeling a bit sick and was intimidated by all the people that crowded about her.  She only danced for about a minute and then insisted on being held the rest of the time.


Momentary glory


An action shot that I had to fight the crowds to take.

So Annie participated in the graduation exercises by being carried by me behind the dancers and in front of the school board.  We then lined up with the dancers and the graduates marched between us.  I wish I could have taken some pictures of the graduates. Dress was mostly Western (one man wore a head dress) but was a hodge-podge of dress shirts, Hawaiian shirts, polo shirts, ill-fitting sports coats, a few evening dresses, a pants suit, etc!

We did not stay for graduation as Annie seemed to have had enough before we even started.  Hopefully her dancing spirit will revive in time for the next cultural show!

I should mention in closing that Annie talks daily of her dancing and of her dancing team.  She asks people if they saw her dance.  Rebecca found a book in the library with color pictures of traditional dancers and Annie carefully scans the pages looking for herself and her team!

PS. Annie has a tea party in our house:IMG_0051 IMG_0050

1 Comment

  1. Karen says:

    Thanks for the update! Annie is getting such a rich childhood experience! I loved all the pictures and so appreciate your sharing!



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