Papuans retrace early canoe voyage

Weekender

By EREBIRI ZURENUOC
A mini Duadua festival was held in at the Hilma Wong Park in Lae on Sunday, Nov 11, to welcome the Sorong to Samarai wairon (canoe) to the city.
The mini festival was sponsored by the Lae City Tourism Bureau, Lae District Administration, Morobe Governor’s office, Division of Trade, Commerce and Tourism, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG.
It celebrated the Melanesia culture, with contemporary dance performances by a Lae-based West Papua group, live band performances by Et Kalsa and Duarize, and traditional dances by Kaya Women’s Culture group and Trobriand Islands, a mime piece by Wanchef culture group, and performances by Bongalic, the snake man from Bukawa.
The turnout for the festival was good, as many people came as early as 8am. Most heard that a canoe from West Papua coming, but did not know the reason of its coming, and what it looked like.
Governor Ginson Saonu was at Voco Point that day, to officially welcome the wairon and its captain Dennis Koibur and crew members.
Around 2pm, the wairon was pulled onto the shore at Voco Point.
The Sorong to Samarai voyage is about reviving a culture that has long been forgotten. It is about reconnecting people of the same culture, by retracing history.
Koibur is from Mokmer village in the southern coast of Biak Island in the Papua Province of Indonesia. The ancestors of the people of Biak Island, were said to have sailed in a canoe from the east.
It is believed that their ancestors came from Papua New Guinea, in a wairon. Wairon in the Biak language means canoe.
The wairon was built in Nusi Island in the Padaido Group, east of Biak Island, and it started its voyage there.
I asked Koibur of his experience in captaining a wairon, and he said it is credited to his family history. He is from an ancestry in seafaring and voyages.
The last wairon from his clan existed in the early 1940s and was burnt at Nusi Island, during the Japanese invasion in World War One.
His clan has never seen a wairon since, until he got help from his family and relatives, to build one.
I spoke to Koibur on the morning of Monday, Nov 12, before they left for Northern.
“The voyage is part of retracing the history of our ancestors’ journey into West Papua,” his translator tells me.
“We chose Samarai, firstly because we were invited to attend the Kenu and Kundu Festival in Alotau, but we have already missed it, but it’s okay, we can still make the journey.”
He said the story of the wairon itself was important to his people.
“It is to trace back the history of our ancestors, from where they came from.
“We need to go back to the tip of this big island, because we believe this is where our ancestors with their canoe came from and went all the way to the west.
He said the wairon is built just like the previous ones, and its shape represents a dragon.
“In the Biak cultural history, the culture and custom of the Biak people is from the dragon, and the dragon lives under the sea.
“The wairon symbolises the dragon; the creator of the Biak custom and culture, that is, where we come from, and where and how we get our knowledge, is through the dragon.”
The wairon traveled from Nusi Island in Biak Island, to Jayapura, to Vanimo, Wewak, mouth of Sepik River, Bogia, Karkar Island, Biliau, Wasu, Buengim and then Lae city.
From the journey, he had made a few observations, and one was that the West Papua culture and PNG culture were exactly the same.
“On this journey I found that there are many similarities and connection in our cultures.
“From the places we stopped, I have seen that we have the similar kind of songs, the similar kind of dances, and similar kind of traditional bilas.
“From my knowledge, some of our tribes in West Papua, actually, their ancestors came from the place that we stopped, that is why the dancing and bilas looks familiar.
“This actually means that we are connected, back in the time of our ancestors, we actually came from the same route.”
Koibur and his nine family members were to journey on to Tufi in Oro, then on to Alotau and then Samarai.
“I hope after this voyage, there will be other voyages, not only from West Papua, but other places in PNG can sail to West Papua, for the sake of our culture and identity connection.
“Our ancestors never put a boundary between us PNG and West Papua, we are one big island and one ocean, but someone else came and put the boundary.”
“The question for us is how can we break that boundary? We need to make the journey, circling our island and ocean, so that we can reconnect.
“Boundaries are invisible, we can’t see them, and it is always in our mind, so we need to make the connection back to the history of our ancestors, to bring us together.”
Saonu in his welcome address said such events must continue, because they will boost tourism.
“Cultures are people’s identity, the white man has made history through voyages, now is our time to make our own history.
“This voyage should be a symbol of our one Melanesian culture, and it must be told to generations in the future.”
Saonu also wants each region of Morobe – Fisika, Anga and Huon Gulf – to have their own cultural shows to promote tourism in the province.
It was the first time a wairon from West Papua touched the sand of Lae city. It was also the first time a mini Duadua festival was held at a park.
The mini festival was supported by the Lae Chamber of Commerce, Australian Consulate, Melanesian Organisation Development, Lae Builders Ltd, Morobe Arts, Lae Law and Order Committee, and the Lae metropolitan command.
Let’s make this an annual event!

Leave a Reply