Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea’s fantastic cultural heritage has been drawing a steady stream of photographers to its shores for many years now. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my own particular passion for travelling to remote places was substantially inspired by images from this magical island which have been residing quietly in my subconscious since I first laid eyes on them as a youngster within the pages of National Geographic and the like.
The trouble with visiting places like this in 2009 of course, is that the phenomenal cultural changes that our world has seen in the last 30 years are inevitably much more evident and visible within these so called developing nations, and as such, these days a documentary photograph can be rendered journalistically redundant in just a few short years.
Visiting PNG for this first time, I was quite nervous about what I might discover here. It has always struck me as one of those places that would definitely have succumbed to the brute force of western cultural imperialism, especially since, of all the tribal societies in the world, PNG’s surely must possess some of the most visually stunning apparel on the planet, the absence of which would be all the more obvious in these changing times.
Well. I can report back that culture in Papua New Guinea is absolutely not dead, in fact it’s authentically thriving, vibrant and still as visually stunning as ever. Sure, don’t expect to see people walking to the local supermarket on a Tuesday morning dressed like this, but then again, when was the last time you donned your poshest outfit to pop out and get your weekly groceries (Paris Hiltons of this world excepted).
We have come here to investigate the significance that the bird of paradise still plays within New Guinean indigenous culture, which has involved spending time in a remote village and following the locals as they prepare for one of the many occasions on which they are required to dress in their tribal fineries. As part of our filming we visited the Mount Hagen Show, a yearly gathering of over 100 tribes that was initially orchestrated in the 1960s by missionaries seeking to calm PNG’s ever present tribal tensions by bringing the people together in one huge cultural event. In its 21st century incarnation, complete with banks of long lens photographers and sponsorship by Coca Cola, it would be very easy to patronize this event, reverting to the seasoned travellers’ mantra of “They’re only doing it for the tourists“. However, I have to say that if you make the effort to dig under the surface a little and spend some quality time with the people who make up this fantastic spectacle, you will soon realize that this is in fact a genuine display of PNG’s cultural heritage done by the people, for the people… which happily includes those of us who don’t have our own tribal heritage back home.
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Interested in more stories from Papua New Guinea? Try HERE