Nowhere does festivals quite like Papua New Guinea. Home to hundreds of tribal groups – each with their own languages, beliefs, customs and traditions – the sing-sings (festivals) here are like nothing you've ever seen before. From dazzling fire dances to hair-raising battle reenactments, here’s our guide to some of the most famous festivals in PNG.
1. Sepik Crocodile Festival
The Sepik River is home to some of the world’s biggest fresh and saltwater crocs. The pukpuk (crocodile) is highly symbolic for the communities that live along the river, and the Sepik Crocodile Festival is a chance to honor their spiritual and cultural connection with the reptile.
Tribes arrive dressed in bilas (traditional body decorations) and each group performs songs and dances to demonstrate their unique connection with the pukpuk. You can also meet men from the Chambri tribe of the East Sepik province who are famous for the crocodile-style scarification on their back, arms and chest.
2. National Mask Festival
Every year the many tribes of the East New Britain province gather to showcase and celebrate their unique culture at the National Mask Festival. Masks play a significant role in dance and storytelling and those wearing them are said to embody spiritual powers. Immerse yourself in mask culture and witness a spectacle of song, dance and costume. One of the highlights is the Kinavai opening ceremony where members of the Tolai clan arrive in canoes donning spectacular full-bodied masks to the skin-tingling sound of drums and chanting.
3. Baining Firedance Festival
The Firedance Festival showcases the cultural wonder of fire dancing – a famous tradition of the Baining people from the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain. It's performed to commemorate the births and deaths of family members and the coming of age for young men. Watch the tribe's spirit men dance barefoot over a roaring bonfire to hypnotizing drum beats, while wearing huge kavat masks painted with big coiling eyes and protruding lips. The dancing goes on until all the embers burn out.
Join us on our Firedance Festival tour to experience this Baining tradition.
4. The Enga Cultural Festival
The tribes of the Enga province were only contacted by the outside world in the 1930s, and many Engans still practice traditional ways of living. The Enga Show was created to help preserve cultural traditions and customs for generations to come. Donning a brilliantly diverse range of traditional costumes and headdresses, tribes gather in the thousands to chant, sing, dance and take part in centuries-old rituals. The Enga Show is still low on the tourist radar, so get ready for an unforgettable cultural experience.
5. Kenu and Kundu Festival
The tribes of the Milne Bay province have a deep connection to the ocean which has provided an abundant life source for thousands of years. The Kenu and Kundu Canoe Festival is a chance to honor the spiritual connection with the water. Watch in awe as tribes come together to take part in a riveting canoe race, paddling as fast as they can to the finish line. The tribes still carve wooden canoes by hand using ancient techniques passed down the generations. There are also art and craft displays, dances and performances showcasing cultures from various tribes in the region.
6. Mount Hagen Show
Founded in the 1960s, this annual festival is one of the oldest and biggest in PNG. Dozens of tribes (and awe-struck international crowds) gather to celebrate the PNG's incredible cultural diversity through dance, drama, body painting and costume. You might also get to meet the Huli Wigmen who are famous for their unique headpieces made from their own hair. There’s plenty of delicious food on offer too, including mumu (the traditional PNG way of cooking in an earth oven).
7. Goroka Show
The Goroka Show is PNG’s longest-running festival. Held during the week of Independence Day, this three-day event attracts around 150,000 people and is a great opportunity to learn about tribes from all over PNG. Enjoy performances from over 100 tribes, tap your toes to traditional music and feast on local food. You might also get to witness the Asaro Mudmen reenact a famous battle dance that tricked their assailants into thinking they were spirits of the dead.
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