When we arrived, the fire was raging with flames shooting 10 feet in the air, while a 12-man chorus was sitting on the ground in the outskirts of the vacant lot, making a beat with their 5-foot- tall bamboo poles by hitting rocks, poles or the ground. Not knowing what to expect, waiting and watching proved to be very educational as a huge pile of scrap wood near the fire was noticed and then they appeared from the dark, one by one, in view of the fire’s glow. Each dancer that appeared was covered head to toe in native plants from the bush and each looked like little green men from Mars. Their skirt was made of fresh green raffia, arms and legs were painted white, and a 2-foot tall red conical hat with a 6 ft.wire-like vine sticking up from it covered the head. Pandanus leaves hung all around the hat. Attached on this 6 ft long wire-like vine was a small clump of white feathers every 12 inches. And a bark cloth tail was pinned at the base of the spin. This was the beginning of the Baining night fire dance in Rabaul, New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea. The Baining live in the East New Britain Province on the Gazelle Peninsula of Papua New Guinea and these night fire dances are for initiation into adulthood, to celebrate a good harvest or the arrival of a new child, or to commemorate the dead. The fire dances are by and for men only, represent the spirits of various animals in the bush and show the various male activities in the bush. Each one of the 6 dancers appeared suddenly from the dark and circled the fire to a beat from the 12-men bamboo pole chorus. Each one then waited by the fire for another dancer to appear from the dark. When all six dancers had made their appearance, in unison, they began to circle the fire, around and around they went until they were almost dizzy. Suddenly, another dancer appeared from the dark but this dancer was different. He had a huge 3×5 foot off-white bark cloth tapas mask that covered his face with green pandanus side panels hanging down. . The mask had large red eyes painted on it that looked like Target’s bull’s eye symbol and trefoil plant designs on it. The paint for the masks came from berries and tree sap. This dancer wore a huge off-white mask made of bark cloth that covered the head like a helmet. The bark was obtained from trees where the outer bark was slipped off after being beaten to loosen. Then, the “cloth’ was dipped in water, stretched over a bamboo frame, and attached with vines or strips of bark. Hanging from the mask was a bamboo trumpet that represented the mouth and below it was an oblong circle that looked like a big dinner plate. Covering the dancer’s private parts was another off-white bark cloth oblong circle. Arms and legs were painted white and a cape and chaps made of pandanus leaves also was worn. Then the real action began. These dancers joined the other 6 circling dancers until one complete chorus had been finished, and that chorus could last a long time. It was not a tune of exact length. When it ended, it was time for the masked dancers to run through the raging fire barefooted while kicking the pile of coals in the air. The flying sparks further illuminated the dancers in a mystical way. After the coal kicking, each masked dancer then rejoined the other circling dancers and then another masked dancer took his turn at kicking the coals. And it continued like this until each of the 4 masked dancers had kicked the coals. This went on all night while men kept the fire blazing brightly and the masked dancers kept kicking the coals. Near dawn, they suddenly disappeared into the dark and the masked spirits had been frightened away from the village. And Baining women did not go near the site. And the Tauck World Discovery visitors stood and watched in amazement. Photo Copy © 2015 carolyntravels.com
When we arrived, we walked in the Sea to get to their village.A clan lady dressed in ceremonial regalia, greeted us on shore with a wet, hot pink-fuchsia glob of goo on our cheek, made by the annatto seed for a sign of hospitality.
Moisture caused the seed to “bleed” a hot pink juice all over.
Even though the 400 villagers from 7 clans had been isolated from the rest of the world since the beginning of time, the Watam clans of Papua New Guinea greeted us in full bilas attire,all provided by nature. And they knew we were arriving because they had received a code message beaten on the 8-by 3-foot hollow log (garamut) from nearby neighbors. Justin, our tour guide with Orion Expedition Cruises, told us the code said, “Justin is coming with his ship early Wednesday morning.” So all the villages started preparing for the Orion’s arrival.
Everything stopped as the school children pledged allegiance to their flag, followed by the big dragon of 10 men worming its way through the middle of the long village while stepping to the beat of their kundu drums.
Next came the alerted natives from all over with their handmade masks and carvings and other souvenirs from the famous Sepik River region. But the Watam Village leaders had to organize a governing system for the different sales people to be fair to all.
Handwritten signs of rules, written in a native language, were placed at the entrance for sellers.
But before we left, Robin Tauck, of Tauck World Discovery, presented many huge boxes of school supplies,clothes and backpacks to the children who needed them to travel to their Watam school and schools in other islands.
tour. Photo Copy © 2015 carolyntravels.com
The first sighting I had of the T-U-F-I village on Cape Nelson from our Orion Expedition ship was the 4 letters spelling it out in rocks on the bank of the Solomon Sea. There were just rocks on the green grass and trees and the Solomon Sea. Then we started to see outrigger canoes coming towards us. An almost-naked native, with strategically-placed leaves and vines, greeted us and helped us into his canoe. We glided on a narrow 300-feet deep fjord lake covered by mangrove trees for about a quarter of a mile until he took us to the landing point. We were among the first tourists to Tufi on a expeditionary cruise by Tauck World Discovery. Two men covered in black paint with big red outlined eyes and spears in hand, ran up to us, screaming and shouting and motioning us to stop. This posturing continued for several minutes in an attempt to get us to leave their village because this was their ancient way of preventing enemies from harming their village and people. Finally, determined that we were safe, we were welcomed with a fresh-flower lei that had just been made for our visit to Tufi, Papua New Guinea. Wearing the most regal, glorious, and colorful primitive tribal decorations, the village chief greeted us, along with 30-40 of his villagers, also displaying their outstanding tribal village bilas finery. The natives showed us around their village. And, dressed in their spectacular attire and tapa cloth skirts, they showed us how they take a sago palm tree, hollow it out, wash, shred and shape it into food. The men did the chopping and hollowing and the women did the cooking of the sago palm flakes over an open fire and shaped it into an oblong loaf for use later as flour or bread. It was wrapped only in leaves for storage. Then it was time for fresh pineapple, cut like a pinwheel, and displayed on a tray for us to enjoy. We all made sure we took a pineapple “flower” from the lovely lady with the sweet smiling face and adorned in the island’s ceremonial decorations. Native crafts were spread out on the ground for us to souvenir shop in Tufi, Papua New Guinea, a country just opened to tourism. Yes, even souvenir shops are in countries that have only recently seen a white man. The villagers offered to sell their handmade items of bowls, plates, tapa cloths and necklaces made of bones, wood, shells, and rocks and anything else they could find in the jungle. And yes, I have a Papua New Guinea shell necklace to go with my African print blouse and tapa cloth for a skirt, and an inlaid wood plate for entertaining. As I shopped for the unusual souvenirs, I noticed one of the village women lying on the ground and another native lady working on her. She was tattooing the lady’s face, the highest fashion and sign of beauty one can have in Tufi. The tattoo was a zigzag pattern, and I then noticed several other women there had that tattoo pattern on their face and chest also. Before we left, the villagers performed a tribal dance for us and marched right by us, giving a great opportunity to see and to photograph each one. Beautiful headdresses made of Bird of Paradise feathers were worn by most of the natives and all wore their handmade tapa cloth skirts. Papua New Guinea is, undoubtedly, one of the world’s last wild and undiscovered places. And this rare experience will continue thanks to Tauck World Discovery, Robin Tauck, and Justin Friend with the ORION Expedition Cruise Ship. Tauck believes in giving back to the people and countries visited through sustainable tourism. Robin Tauck was among the first persons from the outside to visit Papua New Guinea and arrange for this expeditionary tour. On this tour, she brought the natives much needed medical, school and clothing supplies and she formed a relationship with the places visited, with the local culture, and the natural environment. Robin works together with the people who live there and partners to enhance and protect for the future. She certainly has built a relationship with Tufi, and the natives of Watam, Kitava, Bilbil, and Panapompom, Papua New Guinea, for I had never seen anything like this expedition before or since.