The girls and I, plus Miriam, our neighbor Anna and her daughter Bernardette, attended this festival on Papua New Guinea’s independence day Sept. 16. Traditionally, this was a coming-of-age ceremony known as Kongar, but now it is mostly a local weeklong singsing culminating in a big mumu. The feast was to be on Friday, the last day, so there were actually no pigs being killed while we were there at all.
There were a decent number of dancers in traditional garb, an official platform with announcements about “pasin blong tumbuna” (the customs of the ancestors) being made, and what Anna identified as a “haus tambran” – a “spirit house”.
She clarified that the people around here are Christians and that she doesn’t think any actual spirits are inside- it’s more of a historical exhibit of “pasin blong tumbuna”.
The landowner, one of the festival organizers, let me look inside. It mostly seemed to be a repository for wood carvings in the traditional style, plus some traditional weapons, and was clearly too crowded with odds and ends to be any kind of actual pagan worship space.
While retaining the name of the old coming-of-age ceremony, the Kongar Festival now seems to fall into the category of the modern PNG singsing, with groups of competing dancers from differing areas of the country.
There were local groups, from both sides of the river valley.
There was also a large contingent from Mt. Hagen, with their characteristic red face paint.
I and my companions could not identify this man. His triangular pole he carried around had feathers that flapped like bird wings, and he seemed to be a free agent of sorts– he was the only one, and roamed around from group to group.
By far the most popular group was from Chimbu province, performing the traditional courtship ritual of “tanim het karim leg”, with a mixed group of men and women sitting with their legs crossed over their neighbors’. Instead of the actual nose-rubbing that courting couples would do, they instead made exaggerated head waggling movements, emphasized still further by the feathers on their heads.
This was Tabitha’s first singsing!
We’ve now been here for over a year, and it was nice to reflect on how far we’ve come– I could identify the different regions by their costumes, we could recognize people we knew from church dressed up in their bilas, and I could hold conversations in Tok Pisin. Happy independence, PNG.