This week’s adventures have left us totally enthralled with the culture of PNG!
On Wednesday, we celebrated Papua New Guinea’s 40th Independence Day! We had so been looking forward to seeing the celebrations. We are really close to downtown Madang where we heard a lot of the action was taking place. Jacob’s language helper, Ramos, told him he would love to accompany us into town to show us around and hang out with us for the day! Benson, the son of Terri and Rosewita (our other language helpers), also came along. Jacob had arranged to pick up Ramos at his village so he could get to town with us. When Jacob arrived, a whole crowd of people were waiting to be picked up! In typical PNG fashion, if one person has an opportunity to be brought somewhere, everyone else will try to get in on the deal. Thankfully, Jacob was able to limit the masses to just two extra guys…but it was a lesson in what happens when you offer your services in this culture!
Well we didn’t really know what to expect in town, but man did we underestimate the crowds! Hundreds of people had gathered in the main market/park area where there was a small band playing music over a loud speaker. We picked a spot and sat down, waiting to see what would happen. As we sat there, I looked around and realized we were the ONLY foreigners there. Jacob, Jason (a missionary friend) and I were the only white people and were getting quite the stares. Sure enough, my thoughts were realized as I heard the announcer say, “we welcome our three foreigners to our celebration! I can see you right in front of me!” Well that certainly got the hundreds of heads turning in our direction as I tried to dig myself a hole to hide in. haha!
The first event was a drum line consisting of men painted blue and white. Apparently they come from the highlands of PNG. When the people saw them entering the field, their reaction was so interesting. In America, we all sit and watch as events unfold in front of us. Not so in Papua New Guinea! Everyone rushed upon the drummers to get as close as they possibly could to see the action! They marched right alongside the drummers through the field. The conductor had this huge baton and kept swinging it really close to the kids (I think to try and beat them away). I began to wonder if I was actually going to see anything if this mob trend continued.
Next up were some young women in bright, plastic grass dresses, who gathered on the hill. Once again, people rushed forward to get the best seats. As the music began, I was surprised to hear club style music and see them break out into modern dancing. Every time they shook their hips, people cheered! The people around us began to get frustrated with how little they could see of the dance (or the girls legs. Or both). They started shouting at the people in front to sit down. As they were shouting, this woman goes running into the crowd with a stick from a banana tree and starts yelling and whacking people out of the way so everyone in the back could see! Hahaha talk about crowd control! Proudly, she kept turning around to us in the back, beaming and swinging her stick like a club, not caring which kid she was smacking!
And speaking of crowd control, there were apparently some very strict rules on drinking in the field. At one point we saw a large police officer go running into a group of people under a tree. Everyone backed away exposing a man who was obviously very drunk and lying on the ground. The police officer started yelling at him, trying to get him to stand up. When the man refused, the police officer grabbed him by the shirt, pulling him slightly off the ground. He wound up and kicked the guy full force in the face! We were all pretty horrified to see it, but our PNG friends just laughed at us and told us that he was a drunk man and probably didn’t feel it. Still, it was more than a little intimidating since I’ve only seen things like that on TV, not two feet in front of me.
Next up were traditional dances from different regions of Papua New Guinea called “tumbuna sing sings” (the songs of the ancestors). These were by far my favorite! Groups of people dressed in their traditional garb headed out to the middle of the field, formed into circles, and started chanting, dancing and singing. They went on for hours in the blazing hot sun!
Another thing I should mention is that here in PNG, it is totally ok for older women to go topless. A while ago it was ok for any woman to be topless. Today, due to the influence of the west, only old ladies will really be seen walking around the village or working in their gardens without a shirt on (at least closer to the cities). This change in tradition was most evident after the traditional dances, where all the younger women would immediately cover their chest, walk over to their stuff, and pull on a t-shirt on. A few weeks ago we were talking to a guy in a village who said no one from his village had clothing until WWII. He was very proud that his grandfather had received their families’ first clothes from the Japanese, whom he was helping during WWII. They had only been wearing grass skirts or animal skin to cover their private parts, with nothing on top for men or women. We heard another funny, but kind of sad story of a man who had received his first pair of pants from his uncle. His uncle excitedly helped him put the pants on. Later, when his uncle came back, the man had cut a hole in the back and front of the pants. He had forgotten how to get the pants off, and really needed to go to the bathroom! Haha! The typical dress we have experienced here in Madang is as follows: babies are naked, little boys age 6 and under are almost always naked, and little girls under 8 are almost always topless with a skirt or shorts on. Women who have children will breastfeed anywhere without covering and without concern of exposure (which is so contrasted with typical American society where they try to cover up in public), and we have heard some HILARIOUS stories from the missionaries of their experiences with topless ladies. For the Papua New Guineans, the focus is placed on women covering their thighs. Initially it was slightly surprising to be in such a different clothing culture. But you get used to it pretty quick. One day in town I saw some German women walking around in short shorts and I found myself staring and thinking, oh gosh! Something is really wrong here! And then I realized how crazy it was that I had already become so used to the PNG standards of modesty- because in America I wouldn’t have given a second glance!
Eventually, we left the field because Ramos and Benson really wanted to see the swimming race nearby! We gathered on a steep hill overlooking some pretty polluted water. We heard the shouts that the race had started and a bunch of guys came bursting out from a cove. About a quarter of the way into the race, one guy started struggling and threw his hands up like he was drowning. Everyone in the crowd started dying laughing at him! Sometimes it is just so funny to me how different our cultures are; I was sitting there really hoping that the guy actually wouldn’t die and everyone else was laughing haha! A boat came out and rescued the drowning man and I felt so bad thinking how embarrassed he must be.
One of the last things we saw was actually a perfect representation of the slow influence of western culture on PNG. A group a girls in traditional dress headed out to the field to do a dance. But instead of singing the traditional slow song, an upbeat song came over the loudspeaker. Ramos and Benson told us that the words of the song were in their tribal language, but the wild drum beat had been added in. It sounded like music you would hear in a club, but it was the traditional, tribal lyrics. And although they were dressed in traditional clothes, they had added all kinds of modern moves. It was such a strange clash of modern with ancient.
One of the very best parts of the whole experience was the deepening of our friendship with Ramos and Benson. They took such good care of us. They kept warning us to hold onto our bags, asking us if we were ok, and keeping us away from spontaneous fights that would break out. They eagerly told us all kinds of neat things throughout the day, explaining some of the traditions that we didn’t know about. It has been so neat to see the friendships with them blossom as the weeks have gone by, especially for Jacob. He and Ramos joke around all the time, and have this genuine, mutual friendship developing. When Ramos sees Jacob now, he calls him brother.
Overall it was an incredible day filled with so much learning and insight into the world of our friends. We loved getting to be a part of the Independence Day celebrations.
The rest of the week was spent in the villages doing lots of language practice. We have our first evaluation coming up tomorrow. Basically that entails a language consultant from New Tribes coming into the village with us to observe us, ask us questions and have us tell stories to our friends in the village to see where we are at with language. We are both nervous and excited to see how far we’ve come in the language learning process.
We have been so SO encouraged by everyone at home and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate all the notes and prayers you guys have sent our way! We have been growing so much through this journey and it’s been great to feel like we can have you right along with us (in spirit). We love sharing with you and we love hearing what’s going on in your life, so feel free to drop us a message at any point of things you need prayer for! We also love answering questions, so if you have any, please feel free to comment here or ask me or Jacob on facebook! Thank you thank you!