Papua New Guinea Early May 2007 The time I was in Tari, my second visit to this part of the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), gave me an unexpected eventful and colorful surprise. My reason for coming back to this highland province in early May was to see a big festival which would encompass tribes from areas all over the Tari Highlands. Unfortunately, the festival never came together. Instead, this large highland province was in the midst of its "nomination" ceremonies for the 20 or so candidates running for its open seat in Parliament in the upcoming national elections. Since PNG does not have anything like a strong party system, the elections are a fairly raw free-for-all with all kinds of shenanigans going on and a large amount of candidates.
The nomination ceremonies for each of the Tari Province candidates generally followed a sort of typical skit: The candidate would be preceded by a caravan of trucks and supporters on the road leading to the main town building or rally site. The candidate himself, a kilometer or two down from the main town rally site, would then disembark from his vehicle and begin leading a procession of supporters on foot to the rally site.
The procession was usually headed by a group of traditionally dressed locals, representing the tribe(s) of the particular area from which they come. The procession would then go to the main rally site, which for most of the week, was a missionary house in the center of the village of Margarima, about a two hour drive along a dirt road from the village I was visiting. The candidate would then enter the house grounds through a gate, and lead his group onto the house's yard, while he ceremoniously would walk up the short steps to the porch of the house, slip into a room in the front of the house and pay his nomination fee. Re-appearing, he usually would give a speech and lead a rally for a bit, which included a lively and boisterous "sing-sing" by his traditionally dressed supporters. Since I saw this same of sequence events by over a dozen candidates during the week, it was an opportunity to see the costuming of various tribes that inhabit the highland province of Tari.
Thursday of that week was the last day of the nomination period, and was the culmination of the rally festivities. Almost all of the 20 or so candidates descended with their supporters onto the town of Margarima in parade after parade of traditionally dressed supporters along with thousands of people from all over the province. The sing-sings and rallies went on all day; hundreds of colorfully dressed natives from various tribes all over the province were congregating, singing, and doing their traditional dance routines. It was pretty amazing, especially as I appeared to be the only outsider in the entire area (Aimee, my wife at the time who was supposed to have been traveling with me, didn't arrive till the next day unfortunately).
That week in Tari Province was also eventful in other ways, along with the nomination ceremonies. I stayed in the same jungle lodge that Aimee and I used the last time we were there in November 2005. The lodge is run by Steven Wari, who is the head of a fairly prominent clan in Tari.
On Monday of that week, Frances put in his nomination fee at Margarima and had a rally. Steven and I drove out for the festivities, and I ended up on the porch of the missionary house, standing behind Frances while he gave his speech. Being a few feet higher than ground level, the porch was the best viewing spot for the tribal members doing their sing-sing routine. Of course being on the elevated platform, I stood out, being the only white guy in the crowd. Some of the spectators came over and asked Francis' chief of staff who I was. The chief of staff, a large local land owner with oil interests, wryly answered that I was an advisor from America, sent by the George Bush team to help with Francis' campaign. Well, apparently that got around a bit and made quite a splash. After all, the thinking went, Francis must be pretty connected, not only locally and in PNG, but also to powerful people internationally. As a consequence of this rumor, I was told that a couple of candidates may have actually dropped out of the election or decided not to run against such a well-connected opponent!
On Tuesday of that week, Steven and I set off in the morning for another small village, the opposite direction of Margarima, where reportedly a couple of nomination rallies were supposed to happen that day. We went along a reasonably decent dirt road for a while, past the main Tari airport before turning into the hills and onto a rather rough dirt road. Here, as we went along, the road was enclosed on both sides by some fairly high dirt walls, broken intermittently by walls that turned inland away from the road. In front of some of these walls in the area would be a ditch with running water passing through. These were PNG's version of medieval moats and protective walls surrounding the various houses. We stopped at one which was under construction, and I took a careful look at it. About, 20 feet high, the moat wall was made very smooth and packed almost cement hard, so as to make it very difficult for an intruder or attacker to climb. (There is a picture of this moat wall posted in the picture gallery for this trip, along with dozens from the colorful nomination ceremonies described earlier).
As we continued down the road, we made another turn onto what would be more accurately described as a dirt path and passed by a small village. Then we came upon a procession of tribal warriors, carrying spears, machetes, old guns, and sticks. We had stumbled upon a "Compensation Ceremony". Driving ahead, Steven, stopped at a local road juncture just past a wooden bridge, and asked some of the locals about what was going on. Apparently, a young man in the village we just passed had been killed by some rascals, gang-like thugs that are a real menace in some areas of PNG, originally from the village we were now approaching. During the mourning period for the dead young man, some people from the victim's village came over and killed a young man from the culprit's village in revenge (revenge killings often target a random person that is associated in some way with the culprit, such as a relative of the culprit's clan). So, to prevent an all-out clan war, the tribal chiefs from the two villages got together and negotiated a mutual compensation agreement.
The family in the village of the first dead man would be compensated by the other village in the amount of 40 pigs and some cash and other goods. The family of the man slain in the revenge killing that lived in the original culprit's village would correspondingly be compensated by the first village in the amount of 30 pigs, some cash and other goods. At the time that we were passing thru, the villagers on both sides were in the process of gathering the necessary pigs and preparing them for the actual ceremonial exchange. This entailed cutting the pigs in half and hoisting them up by use of a long pole to be carried in procession by the men of the village to the other's village (and vice versa in this case). The procession would be led and flanked by the weapon carrying warriors. Steven and I ended up hanging around and watching this for a good part of the rest of the day.
That evening, on the way past the Tari airport, en route to the lodge for the night, We passed another type of mourning ceremony. Here, a man had died in far away Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, and whose body was to be flown in for burial later that week. The ceremonial ritual in this case consisted of six women standing in a field next to a fire while chanting and praying. I asked Steven about this. Steven told me that they were praying that the spirits bring the body of the dead man back home for burial (to be assisted by Air Niugini, the national airline of Papua New Guinea).
That same evening, we passed a colorfully dressed woman with yellow and orangish slashes of paint on her face, leading a procession of pigs down the road. This, as Steven explained, was a newly married woman who was leading part of her bride price which is paid in pigs and cash, back to her village home. Later in that same week, on Saturday after Aimee arrived, we happened upon another bride price ceremony. In that case, the families of the newly married bride were dividing up the spoils of the bride price. We stopped in the blazing hot sun of the late afternoon to watch the clan members haggle and negotiate over the pigs and cash that had been paid by the groom's family for the bride. According to Steven, this family member thought they should get X# of pigs and that member thought he should get a bigger pig, and two distant cousins thought they were entitled to more than the 20 Kina each that was allotted them (about US $7), etc. It was pretty entertaining.
As we got back into our truck to drive off, we attracted a fairly big crowd of locals gathering around our vehicle, which was a very common occurrence in many of the areas we traveled in Papua New Guinea. Some of the younger boys, eyeing Aimee as a potentially attractive mate, asked me how much I wanted for her and suggested various sums of money and pigs. I even got an offer of 1 million Kina from one of them (about US $300K) of which I was pretty tempted to consider...