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Rabaul’s Mask Festival is extraordinary


The National Mask & Warwagira Festival is an annual event taking place in East New Britain where the local tribes gather to display their traditional attires and dances.

The festival starts at dawn on the beach with the Kinavai ceremony, when the mysterious and feared Dukduk and Tubuan arrive on canoes from their villages accompanied by chanting and beating of drums.

Kinavai ceremony is spiritually important for the local Tolai people, who are reportedly migrated to East New Britain from Namatanai in New Ireland Province.

The ceremony signifies their landing on the shores of East New Britain Province.

Impressively looking men in red laplap, standing out from the crowd, would leisurely walk around the grass-built huts selling refreshments, food, and craft.

These men are from the Tumbuan, a Duk-Duk secret society, which is part of the traditional culture of the Tolai people. For the occasion of the ritual dances, they invoke the male spirit Duk-Duk and female spirit Tumbuan, depending on the masks they wear. Although some dancers act as female spirits, the dances are only performed by men.

The National Mask Festival usually has a programme to follow, from the start to the end.

Crowded with the dancers wearing colourful traditional attire, intricately decorated masks and spectacular headdresses, the show ground is full of fun and relish.

The dances are accompanied by the beating of kundu, lizard-skin drums commonly used in Papua New Guinea. Each tribe has its own unique dancing style, music, traditional costumes, and bilas, or body decoration in local Tok Pisin language. It seems that the imagination by Papua New Guineans has no limits.

Amongst colourfully dressed dancers, the iconic Tumbuan emerge with their famous conical masks. Both male Duk-Duk and female Tumbuan masks are cone-shaped but Duk-Duk ones are taller. With the round balls of grass leaves under the masks, only legs of the dancers are visible.

The Papua New Guinea National Mask Festival held in July every year, is an extravaganza of cultural dancing, ritual performance, story-telling and exchange - with a variety of arts and crafts on display at the show ground.

The National Mask Festival brings together traditional sing-sing groups from around Papua New Guinea, with a variety of cultures and spectacular display of elaborate masks reflecting the diverse cultures and traditions and the 840 plus different languages spoken throughout the country.

The event is quite extraordinary as it is a little different to the other cultural festivals in the country.

It focused on displaying the different traditional masks, their purposes and believes associated. Papua New Guinea is known for its unique cultures and traditions and as such, the masks contributed a lot to this.

Masks were created in different styles, sizes and shapes, which represented different believes and the areas they represented. Most of these masks are from the coastal region and the lowlands of Papua New Guinea where traditional magic and sorcery were very common. The mask festival represents this with the venue and the traditional groups participating fulfill this.

The mask festival includes groups from the New Guinea Islands, which includes Rabaul, Kavieng, and Buka, and to the North coast, which includes Madang, Wewak and the lowlands of both provinces. As colorful as the other cultural events, the mask festival displays the true tradition of the people of Papua New Guinea.

The look of the masks reflects the power and strength of traditional believes and the masks were greatly honored as they represented the presences of the spirits which gave power and knowledge to perform their traditional rituals, sorcery etc.

You are cordially invited to this unique festival in July 2019. It’s very traditional, very emotional and the performances cannot be seen at other cultural festivals. This is a scarcer and it is displayed only once and is by all means protected by customary laws and can only be displayed in certain locations and it has to be on the coast.

It is a great pleasure to also invite you to this unique event. Not only you will participate in this festival but also the venue has steaming active volcanoes and is the place where it was a major battlefield over the pacific campaign during the WWII.

The scenery, the people and the natural environment is very welcoming and you feel and experience of the Tolai people and their cultures.

 Come and join us to an experience this special event that you will not witness anywhere else in the world, an event that is very traditional. The below proposed tour packages have been specially designed to coincides with this event and give you the opportunity to witness this event.

Rabaul’s deserved title “The Pearl of the Pacific” has been substituted with “Pompeii of the Pacific” after Mother Nature unleashed its destructive forces via the volcano named Tavurvur in 1994.

Rabaul ("mangrove swamp") was claimed by the German government in 1884 as the administrative-centre-to-be for German New Guinea.

Rabaul town quickly flourished when Kokopo (Herbertshöhe) was no longer considered suitable as an administrative centre.

Under German rule, Rabaul boasted a botanical garden, hotels, casino, extensive wharves, shops, and government buildings. A sizable Chinese community occupied Rabaul, and they contributed greatly to the development of Rabaul in many ways.

Australian governance then prevailed in Rabaul from 1914- 1942. Rabaul continued to thrive as the capital of Australian mandated New Guinea until 1937 when volcanic forces caused the planned relocation of Australian administration to Lae.

However by 1937, the Japanese government had other ideas for Rabaul, and invaded this town in January 1942. The Australian defence group known as “Lark Force” was routed by the Japanese. Under Japanese occupation Rabaul emerged as Japan’s largest base in the South West Pacific in WW2.

 Approximately 110,000 Japanese military garrisoned at Rabaul, supported by the Japanese air force and navy.

After WW2, Australia resumed administration of PNG including Rabaul. Despite the destruction of Rabaul by volcanic activity and intensive Allied bombing in WW2, Rabaul was rebuilt quickly as a strong commercial centre and beautiful township.

The eruption in 1994 witnessed the destruction and disintegration of Rabaul’s beauty and status. Despite this loss Rabaul still presents an allure and fascination for those who visit the area.

When you are in Rabaul next, you are not only privileged to see the National Mask Festival but also the Kinavai Festival, Baining Fire Dance, Kokopo market, Japanese Barge Tunnel, Bitapaka War Cemetery, Rabaul Volcano Observatory, Hot Springs (closest spot to the active Mt Tavurvur Volcano) and the Duke of York Island.

Surely enough your day might start with early bird preparation, getting ready for the dawn opening of the Warwagira & Mask Festival welcoming the Tumbuans paddling on the canoe from their villages to open the Mask Festival, fiery masks worn by elder men and initiated boys towards the Festival area with the beating of the Kundu drums.

In the evening, you would take on the evening's spectacle – the world-renowned Baining Fire Dance.
The Baining Fire Dance is only performed by men from the Bainings clans, where they immerse themselves into the flames of the fire and escape the fire unharmed.

The Bainings clan is one of few cultures in PNG which do not use the Kundu drum as their rhythmic percussion instruments.

They instead, use bamboo and the sound is just as unique as the fire dance itself. This is an exciting and unique ritual, which is not performed anywhere else in the world!

To find out about the confirmed festival dates and for an arranged exotic tours around Rabaul and Kokopo, email the following: pngattractions@gmail.com

Peter S. Kinjap is a freelance writer and a blogger, email: pekinjap@gmail.com

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