Inga’s Travelogue: Merry Cultural Disconnect!

Christmas is not a huge deal in Pindiu. My uncle had organised to bring a live pig up from the coast, but for various reasons that purchase fell through, and we ended up with a truckload of ready slaughtered meat instead. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except it arrived a couple of days before the 25th, and obviously nobody has a fridge in the village. So we had our big feast on the 24th, leaving Christmas Day to pass completely unnoticed except for the birth of these little pumpkins:

Baby bacon.

Baby bacon.

My uncle called them his Baby Jesus Pigs, and remarked he should take them down to the Revivalist bible camp to sell at an inflated price.

With Christmas being a non-event, my family organised a local dance troupe to perform a sing-sing for us on our final night in the village.

Mum has always really enjoyed a good sing-sing. She’s had various performances recorded onto cassette tape over the years, and ever since I was a little girl Mum would play these percussive, repetitive tunes to accompany her housework, while I’d periodically try to slip in a Savage Garden CD instead. So as you can appreciate, I was really keen to finally see one of these functions live and discover what the fuss was about.

With all due respect to the hundreds of years of cultural history of Papua New Guinea, I found it duller than a Coldplay concert. I enjoyed the first couple of songs, bouncing around in my grass skirt on the arm of one of the ‘professional’ dancers – but after that it became repetitive. The men beat their kundu drums and leap around, while the women shuffle around them in a circle and wail. I don’t like Papua New Guinean singing – it’s reedy and pitchy, and there’s always at least one woman harmonising in the higher registers that sounds like a howler monkey fucking a cat. I spent much of the evening wishing I was African – let’s face it, those guys have the market cornered when it comes to epic native music.

Everyone else had a ball though, and they only stopped when it started raining at midnight.

Meanwhile, in true colonialist missionary style, the Revivalists squatting downtown had spent most of the week preaching that traditional singing and dancing is satan’s work. Duly horrified by our drumming and chanting on top of the hill, the Revivalists promptly turned up their PA system and blasted their hymns loud enough to frighten the devil himself. Our crew responded with an enthusiastic increase in volume. It turned into a comical battle of defiance between the stamping heathens in their grass skirts and the God-fearing citizens in their dapper suits, made even more ridiculous by the fact that a steady trickle of half-arsed Revivalists was abandoning the bible camp in the darkness to come and watch our performance. By the end of the night there were eighty or so people milling around the yard, stamping and singing. Many of them were in dapper suits.

The next day it was time to catch the plane and fly back to Lae. I’d made a big fuss about being in love with the cute Canadian pilot who flew us up, so my family had a  grand time teasing me about their new ‘in-law’ and the various reasons why he probably wouldn’t show up. In the end the plane was two hours late and the pilot was a Kiwi, much to everyone’s disappointment.

There were lots of hugs and handshakes to be had, and I squeezed the hell out of each member of the family (as well as a few people I’d never seen before). As I watched their faces and waves blur as our aircraft lifted off over the valley, I had the distinct feeling my life would never be the same.

True to her usual form, once we disembarked in Lae my mother took to chatting up the Kiwi pilot, and we soon found out he was friends with Hotass Canadian. Well, did my eyes light up. My American uncle had indulgently insisted Nicole and I spend the last two nights in a hotel in Lae, rather than in my other uncle’s three bedroom shack with 11 other people – so when I mentioned to Kiwi pilot where we were staying, he offered to come around for some beers later in the evening with his Canadian friend. Well, I felt like the cat that got the cream.

And the rest of this debaucherous tale will have to wait for another post.

My grass skirt brings all the boys to the yard.

My grass skirt brings all the boys to the yard.

Just play some Pitbull already.

Just play some Pitbull already.

Everybody dance now!

Everybody dance now!




Bye bye everyone :(

Bye bye everyone 😦

Nicole the hijacker.

Nicole the hijacker.





7 thoughts on “Inga’s Travelogue: Merry Cultural Disconnect!

    • Well look at that, good observation. I’m not actually sure about the shape…my uncle told me in the old days they used be decorated with cockatoo feathers though, rather than plastic sheeting.

  1. Especially like the outcome of battle of the sounds.

    This series has been a fabulous read, Inga. Liz usually steers well clear of reading blogs but is enjoying yours immensely. Having met your Mum is probably the driving factor.

  2. In a few weeks the Comanche tribe will have their “Homecoming” powwow in a park just north of my house. Your comments on the PNG traditional singing and dancing pretty much mirror my thoughts on the Comanches. Repetitive. Same drum beat. The only way to know they’re doing a different “song” is that the “dancers” change from female to male or in age range. But, it’s tradition.

    Awaiting the age-restricted password protected post on the two nights in the hotel in Lae, and resisting the urge to make a snarky comment using a different spelling of the word Lae …

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