By PETER S KINJAP
IN an era when many traditional Papua New Guinean customs have been lost to the country’s younger generations, the legacy of the Kenu and Kundu Festival continues to grow in the Milne Bay capital of Alotau each year.
Flamboyant participants from Milne Bay and the eastern Papuan coastline usually converge at what has been a vibrant celebration of the time-honoured tradition of dugout canoe and hour-glass drum making in Papua New Guinea.
Having garnered interest throughout Papua New Guinea and the international community since its inception in 2006, the Kenu and Kundu Festival has become one of the hallmark traditional festivals of PNG’s annual tourism calendar.
Many business houses joined to support the festival to celebrate and preserve another of PNG’s fading traditional skills as part of their corporate social responsibility.
Held in November every year for three days, both domestic and international visitors can expect a vibrant display of colour, customs and art, as the traditions of the Milne Bay people take centre stage in an effort to revive dying cultures and customs.
The canoes and kundu drums are a significant part of the lives of the people of Milne Bay and are widely used in traditional ceremonies and rituals. The war canoes are especially crafted from special woods under strict customs to derive the best results and ensure success and victory in battle.
The canoes used in the festival are crafted the same way as the ancestors of the Milne Bay people built their own canoes many years ago.
The colours and patterns reflect the tribes and the areas the canoes come from. Traditional dancing groups representing all corners of Milne Bay, including Eastern parts of the Papuan region create a rich variety of performances.
Prizes are given to winning groups and the canoes are assembled a day earlier at Wagawaga Island, to form a convoy before sailing to Alotau for the official opening ceremony.
Other activities include arts and craft displays, string band competitions and traditional and contemporary drama performances at the event.
International tourists who find the event complimenting other recreational activities can think of Alotau as a destination for cruises, snorkelling or diving in the waters of the Coral Triangle. They can also explore tropical fjords in outrigger canoes and meet generational witch doctors to experience passionate energies of PNG’s most exciting cultural festival.
Touching down at Alotau airport, once the Bob Gurney airstrip during the WW2, Aioni Tours, a local tourism SME, provides the pickup at the airport and takes you to experience the village life. The visitor can witness traditional basket weaving, fire making, coconut climbing and husking, cooking with clay pots and have the chance to see the last feasting zone during the period of cannibalism in the province.
Aioni Tours offers bush trekking, learning about traditional hunting methods used by the locals, survival in the jungle and bird watching to have a feel of the virgin tropical rainforests.
You can also hang out with the locals to learn the traditional fishing methods or have the chance to paddle a traditional canoe which is used by the locals as a mode of transport.
The dancers from Rossel Island in the Louisiade District of Milne Bay are the icon of the annual event, dressed up in their full traditional attire. The Rossel Islanders, unlike other groups who use the kundu, dance to the sound of their singing and chanting.
Canoes of all types and of many different uses take part during the festival. There are races for both traditional sailing canoes and war canoes. Despite the scorching sun, everyone enjoys themselves, going from stall to stall where business houses usually market their products and services.
Each year in the first full weekend of November, the small and peaceful Alotau, comes to life with an explosion of vibrant culture, traditional canoes and the unmistakable echo of the conch shell.
Feast on traditional delicacies
Be enthralled by swaying grass-skirts, pounding rhythms, the scent of the sea, and the warmest welcome from a people who open their home, culture and hearts to you!
Many international tourists, local sponsors and others flock to Alotau to witness a unique showcase of Milne Bay culture. There were more than 2,000 participants from around Milne Bay, including canoeists from Gogodala, Western and dance groups from neighbouring Northern.
Tourists come from around the world.
When officiating at the 2018 event , BSP general manager Frans Kootte said the bank supported the National Kenu and Kundu Festival for eco-tourism.
“It is also important that the people of Milne Bay, and Papua New Guinea for that matter, initiate and support such festivals as it promotes the preservation of traditional customs and knowledge for the benefit of future generations,” he said.
“Our young people are the future of our nation and deserve support and encouragement in this regard,” he added.
He also said that while participants and the community enjoyed the mix of canoes, ceremonies, singing and dancing “which does makes a spectacular visual experience,” every person should resolve to preserve the unique cultures and traditions and also pass them on from one to the next.
BSP has made a commitment of K75,000 annually for three years. Last year was the second of their three-year commitment for sponsorship and this year will be the final year for the bank as gold sponsor with naming rights.
There will be more traditional dancing and canoe races at the show this year. These festivals and celebrations are platforms for different cultural groups to mingle in to promote peaceful and harmonious living in Papua New Guinea. If you are planning for an exotic holiday this year make it to the Kenu and Kundu Festival on Nov 1- 3 to witness this spectacular event showcasing the fascinating cultures of Milne Bay and surrounds.
The stunning traditional canoes and kundu drums used in the festival are a significant part of the lives of the people of Milne Bay.
This cultural highlight comprises dozens of canoes, some with 40-plus warriors, adorned in traditional dress and paddling to the beat of island drums, leaving a powerful impression.
Races are held amid much rivalry and celebrated with just as much revelry.
The dance performances are even more spectacular with brilliantly attired groups from all around Milne Bay. The 2019 Kenu and Kundu Fesitval is a celebration of culture not to be missed!
- Peter S Kinjap is a freelance writer and a blogger, email: email@example.com