In Podcast 14 in my travel podcast series, I interview travel writer Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick about her recent trip to Papua New Guinea, a country that I was lucky enough to visit myself as a student some years ago. Beth talks about the sing sing at the annual Mount Hagen show where different tribes from all over the highlands gather to sing and dance, dressed in their colourful traditional costumes with painted faces, grass skirts and head-dresses made of shells and feathers. She also spent some time on the coast at the Tawali Dive Resort where she enjoyed meeting a local family for a meal of taro and sweet potatoes with coconut and took a guided trip around the capital city, Port Moresby. We talk about how tourism is developing in Papua New Guinea and some of the things you need to be aware of in order to have a safe and enjoyable trip.
Beth runs the Women’s travel website Wanderlust and Lipstick, offering inspiration and advice for women travellers, and is also the author of several books about women’s travel. Beth also leads guided Women’s Tours to countries such as India, Bhutan, Vietnam and Cambodia and is planning her first guided trip to Papua New Guinea for 2011.
Beth was drawn to Papua New Guinea by because she is interested in tribal societies and had in the past seen photos from the Highlands of people wearing their colourful traditional dress.
We discuss the Mount Hagen show that takes place for 2 days every August at which local tribes gather to dress up in their traditional finery and put on a display of singing and dancing.
The large scale sing sings such as the Mount Hagen show started as a way for tribes to get together in a friendly way and to dampen down tribal tensions and warfare.
Beth flew to the Highlands for the show and she recommends going with a tour group as accommodation is expensive and it is not easy to get there by public transport and flights are also limited and need to be reserved well in advance.
Beth was lucky to see a pre-show and have plenty of opportunity to photograph the tribal groups preparing and practicing their dancing. The show takes place over two days over a weekend although it is shorter on the Sunday
Beth visited the Tawali Dive Resort on the South East coast of Papua new Guinea near Alotau where there excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities on the reefs of this stretch of coast.
Beth also enjoyed a guided walk through the settlements along the coast and spent some time with a family for a traditionally cooked meal of taro and sweet potatoes steamed in banana leaves with shredded coconut. As a blond and pale skinned westerner, Beth was the centre of attention and enjoyed playing with the children there.
We discussed the food options, especially as Beth is a vegetarian and she found that in mainstream hotels the usual range of western style food was served and especially in the Highlands there were plenty of different fresh fruits and vegetables. On the coast you can also find excellent fresh fish.
However, as there is not an established tourist infrastructure, Beth advises making sure you keep some snacks with you, especially at the Mount Hagen show where you would not want to break off from such amazing displays, and food is not necessarily easily available.
Beth took a guided tour on her last day in Port Moresby when she visited the University Book Store, the Botanical Gardens, the waterside stilt houses and a craft store where she bought some handicrafts, such as a wooden carvings. Beth was taken around by her guide, Andrew who has lived in Port Moresby for many years but is also a Huli wigman.
We discuss the importance of pigs in the society of Papua New Guinea, as they are used to settle arguments between tribes, are used as a bride price and are generally a sign of wealth and status. Pigs and women are apparently the things that people are most likely to fight over.
Beth also hopes to visit the Sepik area on the northern side of PNG when she returns next year where there is a large river system with many remote communities where foreign visitors are a welcome novelty.
We talk about the local culture and the wildness of the people and country, where only a couple of generations ago it might be normal to be at war with the neighbouring tribe and with 850 different languages spoken by different tribal groups, how Pidgin English is a unifying force in modern times.
We talk about the dangers that you should be aware of, especially in large cities such as Port Moresby, where it is inadvisable to walk around without a guide or someone with local knowledge, in case you wander into dangerous areas or situations where you might be a target for theft.
For this reason, and because of the lack of tourism infrastructure, Beth advises visiting the country as part of an organised group or tour, rather than as an independent traveller, as many parts of your trip may need to be arranged in advance.
Beth found that despite the need to travel with a guide, she was able to connect with local peoples, through smiles and sign language and by showing postcards of her home town of Seattle.
Beth plans to return to Papua New Guinea in August 2011 with a small tour group to visit the Mount Hagen Show, Sepik River area and possibly the coastal area of Madang. If you are interested, you can contact Beth through her website at Wanderlust and Lipstick.
For more information of Beth’s visit to Papua New Guinea, and other travel articles you can visit her website Wanderlust and Lipstick where you can also find details of the Wanderlust and Lipstick Travel Guides and the Guided Tours that Beth organises. Do take a look at Beth’s photos of Papua New Guinea - all photos used are copyright of Beth Whitman.
If you enjoyed this travel podcast please check out my other podcasts in my Travel Podcast Archive
More Papua Guinea articles by Beth Whitman
More Papua New Guinea articles from Heather
After last week’s photo in the school in Papua New Guinea, I thought I’d follow up with this one of me meeting the elders on the same trip, when I was a student. I spent a few weeks one summer vacation with some fellow students doing research in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea as part of our university courses.
As I was studying history, part of my course was a dissertation on ‘First Contact’ in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I found a local student who acted as my translator and conducted loads of interviews with the old men of the village about their memories of the first time they saw a white man, which was only in the 1940s. Around that time, steel began to be traded into the area – before that stone axes were the norm and shells were the local currency.
During this interview we had a lot of laughs with this old boy in the pith helmet. At one point he started mock-attacking me, to show me how he chopped at the necks of tribesmen over the hill who they were often at war with.
If you want to find it on a map, I was in Taguru Village in Pangia District of the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, way beyond where the tourists go. Mind you, it may have changed a bit since I was there 20 years ago, but I think Papua New Guinea’s still pretty off the beaten track, as a tourist destination. Any of you out there been to Papua New Guinea?
Other Papua New Guinea posts
My, how young I look! It’s back to my student days in Papua New Guinea. When I was at university, I organised a group of four students to spend a few weeks in Papua New Guinea carrying out various projects related to our university studies.
We were deep in the highlands of Papua New Guinea in places that tourists would never get to, unless you had a reason to work with the locals, as a teacher, medical worker or missionary. As it’s over 20 years ago, you’ll forgive me if my memory’s a little hazy, but I do remember that the local American missionaries were kind enough to loan us their guest house, and that we lived on tinned fish, rice and sweet potatoes and whatever local vegetables the local ladies would come to sell us at the door. My project was on the oral history of the area, delving into the history of tribal conflicts and first contact with the white men, first traders and explorers, then missionaries who moved into the area in the 1940s in a race for souls.
This picture was taken at the school house when we visited one day, I can’t quite remember why. As always a photo can tell a story, and from this you might think the story was of an isolated people still wearing grass skirts and barely touched by western influence. In fact, the normal dress was western style but in order to keep in touch with their local culture, one day of the week was designated to the children wearing their traditional dress. Oh and my eye is always drawn towards that little boy picking his nose!