Keeping our Culture, Making it Timeless

Weekender

By BALTHAZAR MORIGUBA
THE town of Kiunga came alive with the beating of the drums signalling the start of the Sel Kambang Festival.
The event held over the weekend of June 28-30 despite the wet weather created an atmosphere of unity.
Kiunga is a port town on the Fly River in Western, just upstream from the D’Albetis Junction with the Ok Tedi River.
It is surrounded with swamps and rainforest lowlands which are also of interest to birdwatchers with a high chance of observing crowned pigeon, yellow-eyed starling, large fig parrot and flamed bowerbird as well as other large variety of more common species.
The Sel Kambang (penis gourd) is unique to these particular tribes – Yongom, Faiwol, Awin, Ningerum, Pare and Biami in the North Fly District, as well as Telefomin in West Sepik.
There are four different distinct sel kambang types worn by the tribes in North Fly District and the Telefomin in the Sandaun province.
The first one is with the hook type either facing upward or downward.
The second one is with the straight end.
The third one is the round one.
And the fourth one is the peak of the hornbill (Kokomo).
They come all in different varied sizes which are worn by young boys, young men and elderly men.
The six local traditional tribes in North Fly District despite the rain and wet weather danced to the beat of their kundu drums, the whistles from their small kwavu sumaim (small bamboo flutes) and the melodies of their enchanted voices.
Also there performing were brothers and sisters from West Papua.
As showcased and displayed during the, one only have to come to Kiunga to witness, feel and experience the amazing and unique traditions and cultures of the Sel Kambang people.
The effects of colonization and missionization have been considerable.
Renewed interest in former “lost” traditions is of growing concern, particularly in establishing identity. Therefore, the Inaugural Sel Kambang Festival had its theme “Keeping our culture, making it timeless”.
As is the aims of most modern cultural festivals and shows today in Papua New Guinea, is for the maintenance or preservation of traditional dance forms and styles in our societies.
Likewise, the main aim of this Sel Kambang Festival was to show the way in which the people of North Fly District are retaining their music and dance traditions, cultures and identity in the present-day environment of inevitable change through the process of appropriation, through such festivals.
By showcasing these, many different forms and types of North Fly music and dance, their different functions and roles in society were revived, which still showed that despite the many impact and influence of alien musical and dance forms and styles, theirs’ is still intact and which they can be identified with.
At the same time, the festival also gave some insight into traditional music, the musicality of the people, their attitudes towards music and the different types of instruments employed in musical performance.
The Sel Kambang Festival is an initiative of the North Fly MP James Donald.
The Festival is essential and necessary if we are to preserve and keep practicing our traditional arts and culture for succeeding generations who no doubt are and will be born into a society from which traditional cultural forms may and will have almost disappeared; Donald said.
Similarly, it is also necessary to perform and showcase our arts and culture if one is to understand, uphold and practice it as a whole. Arts and Culture is an integral part of the sum total of the six traditional tribes of the North Fly District.
Young children and adults are generally students of natural history, and they acquire their knowledge song by song, dance by dance and music by music, and their future access to knowledge lies heavily in their repertoire of the song, music and dance cultures.
Donald said in my endeavours to help my people preserve, protect, maintain and promote the traditional arts and cultures, especially, the music and dance of the six traditional tribes of North Fly District, the Sel Kambang Festival is the most significant event to do just that over the years annually.
It is hoped that after the staging of the festival, songs, music and dance cultures and related activities would be revived. Although the focus of the festival was on the sel kambang, other traditional dances were also highlighted during the festival
The Sel Kambang Festival was also about promoting North Fly District cultures and its diversity.
This festival is significant in terms of promoting and maintaining their cultural identity. It is to be the main catalyst to celebrate and promote the cultures of the six main tribes of the North Fly District of Western.
A meeting was held at the end of the festival where festival organizers, the provincial and district administrators, and the National Cultural Commission Officers resolved to have the festival dates to be held annually from Sept 11-13 which is in the drier season of the year in North Fly District.

  • Balthazar Moriguba is the Music Technician with the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies.

Left: The Yongom tribe “
– Picture courtesy of Sel kambang Festival facebook page.

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