Imagine if you will a country with spectacular, awe-inspiring scenery from fierce mountain ranges clothed in almost impenetrable jungle to deep aquamarine seas with an abundance of tropical fish.
Imagine a country with hundreds of tribal groups, languages and specific cultures. Imagine the potential for clashes between those tribal groups, the payback[i] and potential for inter-clan fighting, and the translation of traditional sorcery into the recent horrors of witch-burning.
Imagine the variety of costumes and sounds when thousands of warriors come together from diverse places for a sing-sing, or music and dance. Where even other clans and tribal groups look on astonished at what they’re seeing. This can either be in a traditional environment or replicated from traditional practices into a form of performance for visitors eg the Goroka Show or the Kenu and Kundu Festival which we recently visited.
This truly unique place is Papua New Guinea, venue of A Million Different Journeys. When I moved there only weeks after my marriage it was still the Territory of Papua New Guinea, under the jurisdiction and administration of the Australian government.
What an amazing experience, so incredibly different from suburban Australia, and where sights and sounds are like nothing ever before experienced. For close to a decade, this country was home. For my husband it will always be home as apart from his earliest years, and school absences, this was his place which very much shaped who he is and how he sees the world.
Memories of coastal villages, mountains and mountain valleys and passes, semi-naked people dressed in elaborate costumes. The unique smell of pig-grease spread on the skin to keep out the cold, blended with smoke from a chimney-less hut. Women loaded down with kau-kau[ii] in their bilums[iii]. The blood-red stain of buai spit on the ground. The sounds of the kundu and the ululation of chanting during a sing-sing.
I feel very privileged to have lived in PNG and come to love it. In my heart it’s like a good friend who I’ve lost contact with, and from whom I’ve grown apart, but is treasured for how it shaped my view of the world, and myself, turning me into a very different person from the one I’d have been if I had stayed in Australia. I’m privileged too that it’s enabled me to understand my husband’s formative years.
[i] The practice of exacting punishment from another person or clan, for injury to the pigs or people of another clan or village. Punishment may be exacted by payment of fines or by physical violence.
[ii] Kau-kau is the Tok Pisin name for sweet potato.
[iii] A bilum is a string bag worn by women with the strap over the head, and carrying the load (or the baby) leaning against their back.