By ZACHERY PER
PNG’S 41st Independence anniversary falls tomorrow- Sept 16. And one place that you’ll definitely find a whole lot of traditional singing and dancing is in Goroka. The town’s spectacular Goroka Show will be celebrating its 60th anniversary this weekend as well.
In 1956, colonial administrators (kiaps) serving in districts of Eastern Highlands would come into Goroka town with their respective singsing groups in what was the first ever Goroka show. The spectacle was held at the current National Day Park, on what used to be the cricket patch and Aussie Rules grounds for colonial workers.
The people from each district would then construct round houses at the show ground, the styles native to their clan and tribe, and in these, they would proudly display their cultures which includes more than 20 different languages.
The first show began as an entertainment weekend for everyone in the province (called districts then)with an accompanying competition to see which was the best organised and administered sub-district.
The show was aimed at showing all the features, produce and industry capabilities of the three main sub-districts of Eastern Highlands – Chimbu, Goroka and Kainantu.
One of the first colonial administrators (kiap) Bob Cleland told me in an interview in 2013 that that was the first time ever he had seen a colorful show of such magnificence and magnitude at the National Day Park.
Organisers of the first show without any precedent guiding them, emulated patterns of typical Australian country shows, according to Cleland.
Exhibitions ranged from wood chopping, foot races, motorcycle race, marches, traditional singsings, displays and they were so many to see with action going all day through to evening. In the exclusive with Cleland, five buildings were built along the side of the hill that housed displays by schools, government departments, businesses and religious displays.
He said the other three buildings on the far side of the ‘ring’ were devoted to exhibits from the three sub-districts of Eastern Highlands: Chimbu on the left, Kainantu middle and Goroka on the right.
“I was a patrol officer at Kainantu at the time, and the district commissioner had approved for his staff spending (not too much) time in organising and setting up our exhibit. “Most of the European population of Kainantu (about 20) travelled to the show and when we won the district competition, we couldn’t resist rubbing it in to the other two subdistricts!
“The local villagers were curious and plenty of them turned up to see what it was all about, but there wereno singsing groups.
“In subsequent shows, the singsing groups with plenty of encouragement from the government and organisers, turned up in force.
“The Goroka Show, and then the Mount Hagen Show in the 1960s, became singsing spectaculars and drew large numbers of international tourists, both continue to this day,” Cleland said.
The town’s population at that time of the first show, 60 years ago, consisted of a growing number of Europeans, labourers and policemen.
Organisers encouraged community involvement with invitations extended to schools as far as Wabag to enter children’s exhibits.
There was also a large agricultural section that encourages village people to bring in garden produce and the Agriculture Department set up other displays.
One of the most impressive displays was a map of the Territory of Papua New Guinea, made up of red and green coffee beans mounted on a 15-foot long trellis.
All the three participating subdistricts subsequently won prizes for their participation.
The one group that made the most impact on the crowd was the Asaro mudmen. Spectators were said to have fled, terrified at the sight of the mud – coated bodies and the large, grotesque masks. The art of the mud men’s ritualistic dance was unknown outside their own clans until that moment.
In subsequent shows after first show in 1956, overseas tourists flew in in large numbers to the Goroka every year to watch the show.
Every lodge, hotel and private accommodation becomes fully booked with locals benefitting largely from selling food, drinks and other items. Evenschool classrooms within the town boundaries are converted into dormitories for visiting groups from other provinces who either are visiting or taking part.
Goroka, and later Mount Hagen, became centres where Europeans could meet and mingle with a variety of local cultures.
The current show committee under the leadership of Keryn Hargreaves will go down on record as the hosts of the longest-running cultural show in PNG.
The event will kick start with the ‘Pikinini Festival’ tomorrow (Friday) followed by two days of family funfilled traditional singsings, various performances and a variety of activities. Hargreaves said over 150 singsing groups have registered to participate coming from as far as Hela, Karkar Island and Simbai in Madang, and even from the New Guinea Islands. “Goroka Show is showcasing PNG’s diverse culture under one roof and we are expecting 500 to 100 tourists at the show this weekend. They are coming from Israel, European countries, America, Asia and Australasia, we want to keep it going alive for the next 60 years,” Hargreaves said.
This is certainly good news as the show first inaugurated in 1956 has become the oldest show in the country and is well and truly known internationally attracting hundreds of tourists annually.
The gala event is now staged at the National Sports Institute (NSI) groundsand celebrations coincide with the country’s Independence Day celebrations every September.
By ZACHERY PER