Sing Sing in Purkunawi, Sepik River (PNG 2012)

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16th of September is the day when Papua New Guinea got its’ independence officially.

In September 2012 I was on a two month trip on the Sepik River, in the Sundown Province of PNG.

Emilyn, Mary and Lorrie Augwi, three sisters, from the family who hosted me, organized a sing-sing festival in Purkunawi, a village on Middle Sepik, to celebrate the Independence Day. They were aiming to get the authorities’ involved in developing a vocational school. They had invited Michael Somare, the governor of Sundown Province to attend the sing-sing. (Somare is the first prime minister of PNG)

For sing-sing ceremony, the clans take out spiritual masks to invoke the spirits of their ancestors in ritual dances. In Purkunawi it wasn’t a proper warrior sing-sing and the masks were not the powerful ones, which were left safe at home, in the haus tambaran (spirits’ house). Despite this, sing-sing was a serious event and everybody joined with enthusiasm, even if just for the community pride.

Most of the sing-sing groups came from Blak Wara, an area at the foot of Waskuk Hills, where the haus tambaran and sing-sing are still alive. From hundreds of ethnic groups, spread along Sepik River, only a few kept their traditions, against protestant missionaries. Watching them with their masks was like holding a post card from a far-away place.

Next day, after sing-sing, the flag raising ceremony and Christian songs marked the Independence Day. And two fights, one for money and one for a girl, completed the whole event.

Three years later I returned to Sepik. Mary Augwi was busy with the newly opened vocational school, in Ambunti. Her older sister, was also running a school, downstream, close to Pagwi. Mary told me how in the previous year, Purkunawi show didn’t work. It degenerated in fights between clans. But they were determinate to organize it again. I was not coming for the show, I was going to see the villages in Blak Wara.

 

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