By ELLEN TIAMU
RABAUL will soon come alive again like Tavurvur Volcano in this year’s Frangipani Festival. Now celebrating it’s 21st anniversary, the event will commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the twin volcanic eruptions and the 80th anniversary of the 1937 eruptions in which 200 people lost their lives.
The Frangipani Festival is also a time to celebrate Papua New Guinea’s 42nd year of independence. The festival will kick off on Friday, September 15, with the McGrade Family Cup Two Stone Kanu (canoe) Race around the Beehives.
This will be followed by an independence anniversary programme supported by schools in Rabaul. Once the sun sets the crowd will be mesmerised by an Engini – the famous Baining fire dance at Malaguna Secondary School.
On Saturday ,September 16, people in the Gazelle peninsular should be prepared to wake early to see the spectacular Tolai Kinavai on the beautiful Simpson Harbour Rabaul foreshore.
Afterwards, it will be standing room only when the streets of Rabaul come alive with noise and colour for the annual float parade through town. This year’s theme , Dance, dance, dance, keeping culture alive through dance, is sure to result in great displays of flair and creativity.
“The Frangipani Festival is a free public event,” says Susie McGrade, a member of the organising committee.
“We are very proud to be able to present sacred Tolai ceremonies such as the Kinavai and Engini without charging any admission fees.”
The support of the community is vital to the event’s success and that has been crucial to the growing number of people attending the festival each year.
With regards to the float parade, the first was held in 1995, on the first anniversary of the 1994 eruption.
“I think we had only 25 floats and we thought that was a lot,” McGrade said. “And it was really only supported by the people who actually lived in Rabaul at the time,” McGrade said.
“Then around the year 2000, we were shocked when there were 65 floats and the Rabaul Market was packed.”
Between 2012-2015, the support jumped and people were lining the streets from St Francis Xavier all the way to the Rabaul police station.
Last year’s float parade hit an all-time high with 165 floats. About 7000 people lined the streets of Rabaul that day.
The canoe race, tagged the Two Stone Kanu, has also been steadily growing in popularity since starting with 40 participants. Last year, 75 men and 55 women took part in the race around the beehives.
“And of course the Kinavai and the Baining fire dance is always well supported. These are very important parts of the event, being the cultural side of the festival and the Historical Society is trying to keep culture and history alive,” McGrade said.
The festival generates a lot of support from the Tolai people themselves.
“Last year the congestion of traffic from people travelling in from all parts of ENB was incredible,” McGrade said. “Some people told me it took them two hours to get into Rabaul because all roads from Kerevat, Toma, Put Put, et cetera, were congested to get into Rabaul for the float parade.
“That is why this year we are staging the Kinavai on the same day as the float parade so that most of the people will come to town early to see the Kinavai and stay for the float parade rather than everyone coming in for the 10am start of the float parade.”
There also has been a growing interest among overseas tourists as well as local visitors. Many ex-Tolais living in other provinces, and ex-residents mainly from Australia, visit during the Frangipani Festival.
According to McGrade, tourists who are looking for “experiences” certainly get it in Rabaul during that time. Businesses such as shops also make a mint with hotels, resorts and guesthouses in Rabaul booked to capacity.
The staging of the Frangipani Festival is done through the support of the Rabaul business community. The member for Rabaul chips in, but otherwise there is no government support.
“We are so grateful for the support of the Rabaul business community and I can’t stress that enough,” McGrade said.
“This is the only national festival, I believe, which is totally free to the public and this is all because the Rabaul businesshouses get behind this festival and support it as well as they can.
“It is a big ask, but each year I receive the financial support to stage the event. And if people cannot give financial support they give in kind with prizes, et cetera.”
Funds raised from the festival go towards keeping the Rabaul Museum open to the public.
The Tourism Promotion Authority and other tourism bodies as well as Air Niugini promote the event, so it is definitely a boost for tourism.
“The Frangipani Festival is fast becoming a global event, so I would expect in the next few years to see a huge climb in numbers for this event that will benefit Rabaul town, the province and the country.
The committee, consisting of a team of dedicated volunteers is currently finalising an exciting two-day programme with members comprising of Rabaul events chairman Dennison Kyvung, Rabaul town manager Victor Vitliu, and David Pua and Alice Guere, the Rabaul cultural coordinator Dickson Kondaul, a district education representative, Rabaul school heads and McGrade as chairwoman.
“This year we have a number of sponsorship packages available and would love to hear from any businesses or organisations interested in partnering with us. We are always grateful for any donations, no matter how small,” McGrade said.
Registration is open for the float parade and prizes will be awarded for the most creative, the most entertaining, the best corporate float and the best community group and private float.
For further information, or to register for the float parade, contact the organising committee via the Rabaul Hotel on 982 1999 or [email protected]
By ELLEN TIAMU