Papua New Guinea’s Goroka Show – Day Two
12 September 2015, Papua New Guinea – It’s the second day of the Goroka Show and I was excited to see what surprises they have organized for this day. Day one was fun with the tribal kids competing in sing-sing performances. I was told that around 100 adult sing-sing groups usually participate on Day 02 and I can’t wait to see it. I woke up early, had a cup of coffee after taking a shower, then was already pacing the three or so blocks towards the showground by seven o’clock. The Israeli couple I was chatting with back at the hotel commented that it’s too early to go to the showground and that there would be nothing to see there yet but I didn’t mind. I wanted to do an early morning walk and feel the morning breeze in Goroka.
It was also a strategy I use in most festivals I attend; I go very early to the area where the show or parade is being organized. That way I’m able to capture show groups and individuals in their morning freshness (before they look too sweaty and exhausted) and while they are still putting on their make up and costumes or warming up their moves — lots of candid actions one won’t get during the actual show.
As I have anticipated, there were some groups who were already organizing themselves when I arrived at the showground just a few minutes past 7:00. Adult sing-sing groups were competing on this day. Putting on the make-up and headgear — often composed of huge colorful amounts of bird feathers, including those of the famed bird-of-paradise — appears to take most of the time. But as soon as the costumes are set right, the groups start chanting and dancing on pavement as the crowd, composed of tourists and locals alike, started to fill the road leading to the show ground.
The showground at the National Sports Institute (NSI) in Goroka was divided into three main sections. One area features a live band on stage in front of an open ground surrounded by food stalls that served anything from barbecue to sandwiches and hotdogs. In another section, souvenir items including a wide array of bilum bags, wood carvings, and traditional artifacts were on display. The main area, the showground itself, was a large cordoned area at the center which only dignitaries, sing-sing groups, and tourists with “VIP passes” (the one I bought for K250) can enter.
Before 9:00 am, the sing-sing groups started moving from the main road to the show ground amidst a thick crowd of tourists and local spectators. Group after group, tribe after tribe, costume after costume; the sing-sing groups poured into the show ground one after the other. As a group entered the main area, they were ushered to a section where they will perform their “sing-sing” (song and dance) as the “VIP” spectators milled around, checking out whichever group attracted their attention. Cash rewards were reportedly at stake for the winners thus each group was really trying its best to catch attention. I followed a group from the main road to the showground thinking that it was the last only to find out more than two hours later that more groups have been and were still arriving. By 12:00 noon, the show ground was packed. I counted at least 50 sing-sing groups.
I found the way the show was set-up quite confusing and presenting a number of advantages and disadvantages for the photographer looking to capture a good photo of each group. The show was not in a stadium where spectators were in covered bleachers and those doing the show were in the open ground below and thus photographers can get good, clean shots. In Goroka’s case, both the spectators and the sing-sing groups were in the open field resulting to a “free-for-all” field day for photographers. The advantage of course was that one can get up close and personal with the participants and get striking close-up photos. The main disadvantage was that it was almost impossible to get photos of sing-sing groups with clean background or without catching another photographer or spectator in the resulting image. I actually had to shoot upwards for most close-up shots to get the sky instead of somebody’s ear or nose at the background.
By mid-afternoon, the sing-sing groups started to disperse while the live band show was still in full swing at the other section of the showground. Sing-sing group members, still wearing their masks and costumes, started visiting the stalls looking for food or just checking out the souvenir items. It was another photo opportunity for tourists still seeking photos of or with the costumed tribesmen and women. Photographers can actually invite some to pose in areas with cleaner and more appropriate background but, understandably, most of them want some cash or food in return. Exhausted from “shooting frenzy” under intense tropical heat in a crowded environment; I decided I had enough for the day and started making my way through the swirling sea of humanity towards my hotel, fully satisfied that I got what I came for at the Goroka Show, the most colorful show on earth.
Author’s Note: My favorite shots will be posted in a separate series. Thanks for following A Traveller’s Tale. 🙂