Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hagen Festival

Two days of colours, movement and sounds from every corner of PNG; this is the reason that I came here - the Mt. Hagen show. This year, the event drew over 100 different cultural groups (down from previous years that reached over 200) and an estimated 50,000 spectators (only 300 of whom are from abroad).

At this scale, words become inadequate for sharing the experience. Photos will help, when they come. A crew from the BBC was on site to get some footage for a new series called Human Planet. That will be a show to watch.

But, what wont be captured in the photos or video is the experience outside of the performances. What struck me was the people. So many people - but nobody asking for money or aggressively trying to sell me something. They were interested to say hi or to wave or to shake your hand. But they don't seem to have been ruined by tourists. Yet. It's coming though. After the show, I was approached by a performer who said that he was selling bags to raise money to buy body paints. Perhaps. But the story lacked conviction. It was as though he was trying it on to see what the reaction would be. This place is on the precipice of change.

I wanted to purchase a souvenir and some gifts, but I was struggling with the idea of accelerating the pace of change. The thing that makes it so nice to be here is, at the same time, preventing me from enjoying it to the fullest. I know it wont be possible to leave no trace here, but I will try to minimize my impact. I did accept an offer to have my face painted. I now have a sunburn in the inverse shape of a bouquet of flowers on my left cheek. I guess that is a souvenir that I can carry with me for a while.

Bob, Allan, Emmanuel and I headed down to the 'Bowls Club' after the show. Bob (a 67 year old Indiana Jones / Photographer) had scouted the place out the night prior. A relic of the colonial days, the club is now in the hands of the locals and has fallen into a bit of disrepair (otherwise known as having 'acquired some charm'). The club is located on a compound, which seems to be the style of the city. Through the main gate, you enter another gate, and then walk through two doors before entering the bar. Then, the bar itself is behind bars. Darts were the game of the day - kind of like modern day arrows, so it was just a continuation of the cultural experience. We were quickly challenged to a competition with the locals, who appeared to have had ample practice. But Allan's British heritage saved the expats at the end of the day.


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