By VINCENT KUMURA
OFTEN called “The Land of Handred Mauntens”, Bundi, which occupies the central most scenic part of the Bismarck Range, is indeed a hidden jewel for cultural tourism in Papua New Guinea. Sharing borders with Jimi, to the west, Gembogl, to the south, Asaro, to the east and the majestic Ramu plains to the north, Bundi boasts some of the most exotic traditions of Papua New Guinea that are yet to be exposed to the world.
On the evening of Friday, August 25, I was reading in my little mountain cabin when the sounds of distant kundu drums and bamboo beats echoed up from the valley. Five singsing groups from Upper Bundi that were to take part at a mini cultural show the next day were rehearsing. I could sense that the drums and beats were handled with a slightly higher degree of excitement for what would be the first-ever Snow Pass culture show. Gentle raindrops did nothing to dim the celebration. As night deepened, the accompanying slight wind intensified the coolness over the valleys and mountaintops. When the drumbeats faded to nothing, silence and darkness enveloped everything. All was quiet. The valley was asleep.
The next morning was glorious. The sun rose to clear the fluffy white clouds. Its warmth melted the fresh morning dew on the surface of the mountains. Activity was heightening around the main arena and excitement was everywhere. The big day was here. Dancing groups had prepared for weeks. Those who weren’t on the dancing teams were also animated.
It was time to meet and greet. But most importantly, it was an occasion to see and exhibit the sacred dances that had been handed down for generations. People from the surrounding villages started flooding in for the show. Our guests arrived on a white trooper just as the midday fog was closing in on the valley like mellifluous white bed sheets.
Suddenly, in a well-choreographed fashion, flames flared from the white clay pots that donned the heads of the Imuri fire dancers of Karizokara as they set about welcoming the entourage. The amazing ghost-like figures were the heart of the show. Occasionally, they seemed hidden amid the sweeping white fog as they escorted the guests to the cenre of the show ground. The moment was surreal.
Four other cultural groups – Kaima Miri and the women’s Poikoiya from Yandera, the women’s Konandi group from Ruvutara and the hosts, the Snow Pass women’s Geligeli – were already dancing in brightly coloured costumes and chanting to the beat of kundus and bamboos. The rarest of dance patterns and varied voices echoed above the roaring drum beats, blending seamlessly as the crowd erupted into warm smiles and the camera flash adding to the ambience.
The hive of activity paused a little while for the guests to speak. Danny Kunda, a dynamic young youth leader, and Anna Krua, the local village court magistrate and the voice of the women in the community, welcomed everyone and explained the purpose of the gathering. Businesswoman and a great supporter of tourism in Bundi, Betty Higgins ,spoke on the importance of cultural tourism. The owner of Mt Wilhelm Trout Farm and Betty’s Lodge also bemoaned the bad road conditions to Bundi and Snow Pass and challenged leaders to make roads a priority.
“Better road infrastructure is paramount to sustaining the tourism business in rural PNG,” she commented.”
The chief guest was Pamela Christie. Originally from New Zealand, she is the manager of PNG Trekking and lives in Port Moresby. She runs a website called pngtrekkingadventures.com and is an expert on Kokoda Trekking. One of her great loves is travelling around PNG, learning the different cultures and encouraging sustainable tourism practices with small village set-ups.
She praised the beauty of the place.
“In my 30 years of being in PNG, I have never seen something so breathtaking like this,” she said.
“It will take awhile, but we will do our best to tell others of the kinds of amazing tourism products you have out here in Bundi.
“It only takes just one person to tell the other and that’s how we grow the tourism business in remote villages around PNG.”
Dave Buller, an Australian Defence Force personnel and avid photographer, was also a guest. “I love the landscape around here. I have been to many places in PNG, but this I would say, is one of my favourites.”
After the show, Betty Higgins and her friends checked into the Snow Pass Eco-lodge for refreshments and coffee and discuss how Snow Pass Eco-lodge can be registered on the PNG Trekking Adventures website.
The last hours of the afternoon rushed on and the sheets of wispy, white fog returned to the valley, engulfing everyone and everything around it. It is a heavenly feeling to reach out to touch the fog, but cannot catch it. Bundi is indeed a place where Heaven meets Earth.
The temperature dropped sharply after dinner as our guests got into their thermal jackets and sat around a bonfire under an open sky. They sipped hot coffee and watched the locals perform kango, a traditional courtship ritual. The kango continued until the last of our visitors had hit the sack. By midnight, everyone was tucked in. And I was alone again.
- Vincent Kumura is founder and director of Kumura Foundation. Last year he received the 2016 Digicel PNG Foundation Men of Honour Community Ingenuity award.