Posts Tagged With: traditional

The Tufi Tattoos

Ramona at Kasiawa

Ramona at Kasiawa

When a Tufi girl is ready for marriage she might, for some weeks, enter the hibernating process of getting a facial tattoo. The tattooing is an old traditional practice that has faded away and disappeared in most communities, but there are some areas where the tradition lives on.

Ethel is proud of her tattoo

Ethel is proud of her tattoo

The girl stays in seclusion during the time of the application, which is made by a qualified tattooist – sometimes a relative; always a woman. First the pattern is drawn in black, and when the girls’ parents have expressed their appreciation the tattooist starts the actual process. Dulcie at Kafuaruru village and Levinia at Angorogho, two of the still active tattooists, use a modern needle instead of the bush needle that was tapped by a stick, which was the old way. The dyes today are also mixed with modern ingredients that give a stronger and more lasting colour. This way the tattoo has to be worked over only twice, instead of three or four times which was the rule before.Ethel from Kuruwe says: “Mine was made by a lady from Sefoa. It was my parents that decided, but they listened to me too, of course. Nowadays the girls decide much themselves, but only a few get them. My auntie from Angorogho made one last year on a girl from Mafuia – that’s the neighbour village.”

A hundred years ago tattooing was common all over Papua New Guinea. Most places it was only for the women. The method was basically the same everywhere, but the patterns and what areas would be marked varied between the different areas. Some had their whole bodies tattooed, starting with a section at a young age, then adding some every year, and the final needle applied around puberty. At Tufi it was the face and sometimes the neck, and some would – only for the husbands to view – have their thighs tattooed as well.

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You’ll find some more about the Tufi tattoos in my book Beautiful Tufi, and there’s a set of photos on Flickr:

DSC_9813 DSC_8579-2 Betel nut girl 2-2

Categories: Book, PNG, Travel, Tufi | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Clay Pots of Wanigela

Ethel is the potter adding a decoration here

Ethel is the potter adding a decoration here

Clay pot lin-up at Ganjiga

First you take your fire wood and arrange it in a star-like manner so that it will be a solid resting place for your pot. When it’s there in place, you line it with some banana leaves and then start filling it up with vegetables. The ones that need the most time to get properly cooked, usually the taro, you place on the bottom. Then you add the water, and maybe some coconut milk. On top comes fish or meat, before you place taro or banana leaves as a cover on top. Now you only have to make sure that the fire keeps going.

Today most of the cooking in the Tufi villages, as well as everywhere else in Papua New Guinea, is done in aluminum pots, but for certain occasions – for a feast, or a special visit – you bring out the clay pots. All around the country there have been century- or millennia-old trading systems, where tribes with access to the best clay locations have distributed their pots in exchange for other goods, sometimes over impressive distances. Around Tufi the treasured clay is found at Wanigela, in a small area a couple of miles from the Collingwood Bay shore line, and

Daisily at Tumari puts on the 'lid'

Daisily at Tumari puts on the ‘lid’

here both the pot making and the trading is still very much alive.

While the Wanigela people bring their clay pots, the villagers from the Tufi fjords bring mats and dogs; the Maisin to the

south trade their tapa (bark) cloth, and the Cape Vogel tribes their shell work. For a big feast or ceremony, as the mourning meal at Ganjiga shown above, there will be a great number of clay pots lined up and looked after by the women, while the young men help out with shredding coconut and the elders sit and discuss clan matters.

Fish on top

My full series of pot making can be seen in the ‘Wanigela Clay Pot set’ set on Flickr :

The ‘bible’ on this topic, “The Traditional Pottery of Papua New Guinea” is written by Patricia May and Margaret Tuckson.

Categories: PNG, Travel, Tufi, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Spectacular Head dresses

Dancing at Kwafurina

Dancing at Kwafurina

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.

Roy chooses between a series of beautiful pieces

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.

Attaching to the frame

Attaching to the frame

This one wears Roy's signature

This one wears Roy’s signature

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.

A classical example from Kabuni

A classical example from Kabuni

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.

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My First Visit to Tufi

Morgensol  m tittel-2

We are sitting on the porch of Benson’s auntie having a well-deserved rest. I turn my head – the view from up here is as promised: absolutely gorgeous. The green ridges that line the fjords are stretching out toward the Bismarck Sea, parts of them covered with kunai grass, and parts of them forested. The sea is shimmering along a wide horizon.


This was back in 2005, and here from Kikita, high on the ridge behind the fjords, I had my first panoramic view of ‘Beautiful Tufi’. The walk up there, through the band of pretty, small hamlets, was the highlight of my first Tufi stay.

It was a short stay, only five-six days, but I had the feeling already before arriving there that this would just be a first glimpse; an entré that would be followed by longer and more adventurous visits.

I should thank my sisters and brothers-in-law down in Queensland for giving me the idea in the first place. Through them I knew that Papua New Guinea was not at all inaccessible, and since I was looking for a culturally exciting place to visit PNG was a natural pick. On the Internet I found my way to Tufi, with a small resort and possibilities for village stays. And so I took off.

Morgensol m kano

Paddling along coconut-lined beaches in traditional outriggers; stopping for a chat in villages and hamlets; getting to know people who were both interested in telling their own stories and listening to mine – this all made a deep and positive impression on me. I wanted to see more; I wanted to hear more.

Another of my memorable first-visit impressions was waking up to a beautiful sunrise on the beach just below the guesthouse at Kufure village. There I was also well taken care of by Davidson (in the photo below) and Erwatius, by Bona, Champion and Benson, and this is one of the reasons why I let my book both start and end at Kofure beach.

Davidson tak 2

The first paragraph here is from a little story that I wrote about my walk to Kikita for my old travel web page. If you’d like to see the whole story you click here.

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Memories from Morobe


Sad-eyed ladies of the Highlands

A mudman approaches me, his face a fearsome smile with teeth pointing in all directions and his arrow aiming straight for my chest; the feathers from the headdress of a Morobe warrior whip my face as he tumbles by; from the bright, red face of a Chimbu woman I am greeted with a look that could kill, before she dances on with rolling hips. The sound of drums and hundreds of voices fill the air while shells, dusks of grass and bird feathers whirl by in a cascade of colour. I’m at the Morobe Cultural Show in Lae, Papua New Guinea…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was back in 2006, when I had timed my Lae visit for the big annual sing-sing. These big gatherings in Papua New Guinea, whether in Mount Hagen, Goroka, Moresby, Lae or Alotau, must be the ultimate places to see and indulge in tribal traditions and pride, to get absorbed into the music, the dancing and the colours.

A great thing is that the performances that are put on represent a living culture. The songs and dances are important pieces in the oral historic tradition that keep tribes, clans and villages together, and when I have visited Tufi I have stumbled upon several small and local events.

The Morobe show was the first big one I got to see, and what a spectacle. Bringing a camera to an event like this is a real challenge – you just want to keep snapping continuosly. Here I have dug out some photos and a film clip to give you an idea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe top paragraph here is the beginning of a text that I wrote for my old travel story web page. A pdf of the full story is here, and below that a link to the ‘Under a Big Sky’ site:
Festival of sound and colour


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Colourful Collingwood Bay


Just south of Tufi is Collingwood Bay. It’s a wide, beach-lined bay with a mix of tribes and languages, and with a history intertwined with their northern neighbours. To find out about a mining project in the test drilling stage and a logging project of doubtful legality, I made my way down there, but I was also in for a wonderful and memorable visit. It materialised in an article for AirNiugini’s Paradise magazine. Here are some lines from the article, and further down you’ll find a link to the full article.

DSC_7910After passing the last houses, the banks of the Vayova River had come a little bit closer to our gently moving canoe, and soon coconut fronds and tall forest trees were forming a ceiling over our heads. The fiery, bright blossoms of the New Guinea Creepers lit up the greenery like strings of Chinese lanterns in orange and red, some places hanging straight down, while others drew beautifully curved arabesques above us, almost like circles. What a fabulous and colourful way to mark the start of our little expedition.

Joe and Moses were my companions and we were going up to have a look at the lake just north of the two hills behind the Uiaku and Ganjiga villages. For more than a hundred years this lake was only visited on special occasions – there is a sad story behind this – but now the young men go up there fishing, and they have decided it should be alright for a stranger and waitman to visit as well. After the short canoe ride I was looking forward to a long, nice walk through the forest.

– – –

DSC_7879One can’t visit the Maisin people without purchasing a prime piece of tapa cloth, and Betty is one of the experts. Tapa has been made for centuries along the northern coast of PNG and the Maisin have a well founded reputation for making the best. Betty had one that was almost finished, and I could tell it was going to be a great one, with the traditional parting into four similar sections.

It was going to be a girl’s or woman’s tapa, which they wear as a skirt when they put on their traditional costumes, so it was much bigger than the loin cloth variety that are for the men. The black contours were already in place and showed a beautiful, decorative pattern with iconic ocean waves on the top and bottom.

When I came back later that day Betty had finished making the red dye, the dun, and was starting to add it to the tapa with a pandanus brush. Earlier in the day she had collected the inner bark from a saman tree and leaves from the dun tree, which were then heated in a pot over the fire. When the consistency and the deep, blood-red hue was achieved it was ready for application.

The tapa fibers also come from the inner bark of a tree, the mulberry, and after being peeled off with the greatest care it is beaten on a wooden log with a mallet that looks like a small cricket bat. The fibers loosen and the bark extends. After one or two hours of beating, the cloth has got the right size and it is then hung to dry in the shade. Betty knows all the secrets of how to get a strong and beautiful tapa, and for her, as for all other Maisin, the keeping of this tradition has become an important part of her identity and it also generates some income for her family and her community. She is proud of her work.

Full Collingwood Bay article :

41-45 Paradise Vol. 1, 2012



Categories: Travel, Tufi | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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