Land disputes and a sing sing

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Oceania » Papua New Guinea » New Ireland » Kavieng
July 23rd 2009
Published: October 1st 2017
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Slept well – a few bug bites upon wakening. It rained on and off all night; never too hard. They turned off the generator – and therefore the fan – some time in the night, but it didn't get too hot.

We weren't sure of the plan for the morning (as one of the visiting Swiss women said, "No one tells you anything"😉 so we headed down to breakfast about 7:30am. Sat around for a while – eventually, they brought tea … Paul helped them unlock the cupboard … and we were given a full cooked breakfast with fruit.

At 9am, we, the two Swiss anthropologists, and the Japanese woman, Alan Beck, Warren (manager), a driver, another young man, two police officers, and a security guard – they had apparently been warned of “trouble” and sent some protection along – all piled into a van – wall to wall – and headed off down the highway.

After an hour of driving through copra and palm oil plantations, we arrived to the village. We waited in the shade for Fabian, our escort. Protocol requires that the chief and head of the show escort us into the village. While we waited, we learned that the “trouble” involved a nearby village – or a group within the same village – who believed that the land that was going to be used for the sing-sing was their land, and they should receive some money for the use of the land. There was apparently a fight yesterday – hence, the cops with us.

Alan told us, while we were waiting, that divisions within villages are very common. The divisions usually split upon clan, politics, or religion. We asked if there was often overlap between the categories, and, he said, “Sometimes clan and politics or clan and religion often go together, but not always.” He's sometimes been to villages with a row of flowers down the middle – one half of the dispute lives on one side and the other half lives on the other side.

Everything was worked out, so we walked down to the village of about 600 people of Langania. We were escorted into the mens' enclosure then sat on bamboo benches and were given coconuts while the chief welcomed us (after first threatening us and asking us when we came).

We were invited to the mask house – apparently once taboo – especially for women before the dancing began.

The first song told the story of a man standing on the reef, watching a school of parrot fish. The second song told the story of someone who missed his flight to Port Moresby. He finally catches the plane and lands at the airport in Moresby. I am utterly content. The third one was apparently hilarious, but we're not sure what it is all about.

Then the women performed a traditional dance; in honor of the dead, usually performed as part of the feast. They also did a wedding dance that seemed to involved a lot of drinking.

After a watermelon break, we saw a dance making fun of people who see things when they're in the bush. Then boys came out and did a dance that seemed to combine the Charleston with systematic mooning. It's usually performed naked … but wore grass skirts and leaves in deference to our Western sensibilities. (Probably missionary influence.) The women slap chalk onto the backs of dancers they think are doing a good job. In this case, they slapped chalk on the boys' bums.

In a pause between dances, we heard some shouting, then the audience jumped up and ran away – apparently some people from the neighboring village showed up to make trouble. The police went out to sort it out. The chief called everyone back saying, “The sing-sing is a better show than that one.” They didn't get the man out of the village, and we heard the chief say, in English, “Come on. Get him out of here.” We don't know what the man said as he approached, but he sure made the kids scatter.

The chief refocused everyone on the final couple of dances – a coconut (or kula) dance, then a kids' dance. One kid kept going the wrong way, which everyone thought was hilarious. It ended up with us all getting mooned.

Then: lunch. Pig, yams, taro. Water. After, we walked around the village, taking photos. The kids stared at us, until we smiled and waved, then they return the smile and wave and seem very happy. So many kids and young people have such straight, white teeth; it's a shame they all become addicted to betel nut.

We also learned a bit more about the conflict. Turns out the guy who has organized the show, Fabian, is using his property as the mens' enclosure … but another person claims the property for himself and insists that Fabian give him money. Fabian says the land was his grandparents', then his parents', and so the other person has no claim. The policeman told us he has invited both parties to the station in Kavieng, to work out their differences.

Note: this was only the fourth performance of this villages' sing-sing for tourists … just like we saw the third performance of the one on Lissenung Island. Definitely suggests that tourism-entrepreneurship is now to New Ireland province. Hope they don't find it too disruptive…

When we returned to the Treehouse, it was raining lightly – just like when we left. Glad we had better weather, really quite comfy on the beachfront with a breeze, during the sing-sing. Given the late hour (5pm) and the rain (and our planned 4am wake up), we napped in the evening. The lack of reading light helped, too. Dinner (lobster!), then sleep.

Additional photos below
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Cargo cult danceCargo cult dance
Cargo cult dance

A modern cargo cult: we were told this dance is about a man who missing his Air Niuguini flight to Port Moresby, and dances to bring a new one

4th May 2012

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