Beating the odds

Normal, Weekender

The Tutuo Moremore Culture Group take the hard road out of their remote inland village in West New Britain province to show their true colours, writes SAM VULUM

It was pandemonium – a crescendo of applause reverberated through the body of a moving crowd towards the grand stand. A woman uttered fervently:  “Aiyo! Aiyo! Aiyo!  the Government should be helping such groups,” as she struggled frantically on her toes to get a better glimpse of the exhilarating cultural performance unfolding  in a miniature fenced-in arena  during Independence Day celebrations on Sept 16 at Kimbe’s Independence Park in West New Britain province.
The exuberance suddenly subsided as concentration shifted to the main attraction – the melodic tunes of bamboo pipes blending in with the sound of kundu drum, garamut and conch shell as performers from a Tutuo Moremore Culture Group made their entry into the arena. But the real spectacle came when the dancers took to the arena with their sacred ceremonial dancing patterns, steps and moves, only to the delight of the spectators that flocked the arena.
But midway through their last song, the crowd erupted again, with some urging them on: “One more, one more.”  
In the midst of the euphoria and benign to their own inclinations, organizers requested them to perform two more numbers from the required three items for all performing groups.
The group, from Asalmepua village in Cape Gloucester district, had earlier on Sept 15 sung the national anthem with musical tunes from their bamboo pipes during the flag-raising ceremony to begin the 34th independence celebrations in West New Britain.
The woman in the crowd could have inadvertently made the suggestion but whatever her intention was, it was all too relevant to the struggle and difficulties faced by the group in its endeavour to come this far. She might have probably been shocked to learn that after 34 years of independence, most members of the group had travelled out of their village for the first time in their lives.
And they had not just seen Kimbe. They had also for the first time seen Lae, Madang and Wewak.
They come from an area that has for years been forgotten by Papua New Guinea, at least as far as easy access to the rest of the country is concerned.
There is no road linking Kimbe the provincial capital, no constant and reliable shipping service, no airstrip and no postal and banking services, let alone a single Telikom landline and two-way radio system in Cape Gloucester station and a partial Digicel mobile telephone network.
They trekked from their remote inland village to Gloucester Station and then travelled 10 hours by outboard motor boat to Kimbe. They then traveled by ship to Lae, then by road to Madang and by ship again to Wewak to take part in a bamboo and garamut festival in August.
Their performance in Kimbe was upon their return from Wewak where they were also a hit among show goers with their unique blend of bamboo pipes tunes. They attracted thousands including similar musicians from other parts of the country who admitted that the Tutuo Moremore music was superior then theirs.
While they were glad to have made the trip, the woman’s suggestion ringed in their ears as they related their difficulties in their road towards achieving their stated objectives – to preserve their culture through promotion and exposure, and to earn a little income.
Their journey began when they responded to an advertisement about the Wewak festival in the newspaper by registering with the West New Britain provincial culture and tourism office. They office had simultaneously received an invitation by the National Cultural Commission for a group to take part in the festival. They appeared to be the obvious choice to take part in the festival.
It was arranged so that NCC and the East Sepik Provincial Government took care of their travel costs from Madang to Wewak while the West New Britain provincial government took care of the costs from home to Kimbe and then to Lae and Madang.
The support was insufficient. Their MP Tony Puana only donated K1,500 and the rest had to be taken care of by the organizers and themselves from their own pockets. They had difficulty with transportation from where they were staying to Wewak and had to use their own pocket money. The funding problem resulted in six of their members being offloaded in Lae.
The culture and tourism division in the province however treated this as a pilot project and had promised to prepare well for next year’s event.
Former provincial cultural officer and manager of West New Britain Cultural Centre John Namuno, who paid a courtesy call on the group in Kimbe, said NCC should take full responsibility. He said it would only be fair if the group had been informed of how much was spent to fund the trip.
Mr Namuno also expressed concern over support for the culture and tourism division in the province.
He said extension of culture and tourism programmes have ceased. He said researchers including archeologists and anthropologists have stopped their activities in the province and the museum at the cultural centre is running down.
He said guest houses set up during his time at Kove, Vitu, Bali, Nakanai and in Kandrian district like Akanglo, Kandrian Station and Aiyu have all closed down.
He said three international tourist liners had visited the province but they have now stopped coming.
The group was formed in 2002 and has a membership of 30 that includes executives, musicians and dancers. The key instrument is the bamboo flute and is supported by  kundu drum, conch shell and garamut. The group’s contact is Dominic Namuno on telephone numbers 2759863 or 2759864.