When the steady rhythm of the kundu drums sound and the dancers move around in lines and circles, finding the right steps to the songs, one can’t help being captured by their amazing head dresses. The expressively colourful feather arrangements light up the dancing ground; the cassowary plumes down the back sway to the beat; rooster feathers wave from the tops. It’s an explosion of colour and movement.
Much of the old style of the headdresses has been kept through the years but some changed have been introduced. New Guineans have never been afraid of picking up new ideas and inspiration from others and the decorations are also, to a large degree, individual expressions.
When Roy makes his head dress ready for a dance he brings out his little suitcase where he keeps his feathers carefully and neatly stacked. They are all strung up in rows of similar feathers – some are very old. He then finds his helmet-shaped frame, and start tying one row of feathers in front of the other. Maybe he will arrange it just like he did last time or maybe he will try a new combination – he’s got a lot to choose between.
Roy has a liking for the blue and red feathers from the female Eclectus parrot, and he combines them with others from lories, lorikeets, kites, and the white cockatoo ones that have been cut to zig-zags. Then come the orange plumes of the Bird of Paradise, the big dusk of cassowary feathers in the back, and finally – since he belongs to a chieftain clan – the black rooster feathers. While some of his brothers stick to the more traditional styles, Roy always looks for an interesting new and attractive combination – he knows that it will be noticed.
This type of head dress is common, with local alterations, in most of Oro Province, and also down the coast to the area around Rabaraba, and they won’t disappear. Many of their songs and dances are important parts of the clans’ and families’ oral tradition, and for a dance only the traditional dress is appropriate. That means tapa cloth, shells and feathers, and they are worn with pride.