COLIN TAIMBARI goes on assignment to the Asaro Valley in Eastern Highlands province
SEVERAL kilometers out of Goroka town towards Simbu province, on the main Highlands Highway is a beautiful stretch of road lined with trees on either side and dotted with little hamlets and gardens typical of this most populous region with a few well-kept primary schools with modern structures in between.
We are in Asaro Valley, home of the famous Asaro mud man which has become synonymous with Eastern Highlands province worldwide and is the cultural symbol of the province.
Once again, we are here on another of our many photography assignments for the Papua New Tourism Promotion Authority’s online image library www.pngphotolibrary.com and this assignment in particular is built around the popular Goroka Show.
My colleagues David Kirkland and Tim Nemeth from Brisbane, Australia, and I with our guide Pato Matani from Yaukove Treks and Tours are following a group of Japanese tourists who are visiting the Asaro mud man today.
Tour operator Goroka Treks and Tours which specialises in Japanese tourists has given us the greenlight to photograph their clients engaging with the locals in typical Highlands village setting, especially with the mud man.
However, our information about the exact location for the mud man performance is a bit off and we end up at another village.
Pato is adamant this is the only village and the authentic home of the mud man but our big busload of Japanese tourists/models is nowhere to be seen.
After a few mobile phone calls we are directed off the main highway up to a neat little hamlet set on a little ridge with its beautiful flower gardens.
A bearded short and sturdy looking young man introduces himself to us as Tiger Moses Woods. ‘Tiger’ as he affectionately known by locals and tourists alike after the great Tiger Woods himself, has been running his Geremiaka Mud Man Cultural Group since 1998.
All the performers are from his “haus lain” (clan) including his four year old son Tenige who has been performing for tourists since he was one.
“I started all these because I know my son will one day carry on the mud man culture when I am old,” he says with pride.
Before long and without warning, the ghostly figures of the mud man emerge from all corners catching our Japanese friends by surprise and sending them into euphoria.
My mates David and Tim are excited.
Exactly, the picture we are here to photograph.
The Japanese is a big group at the Goroka Show (Sept 12-13) this year numbering about 25 people, there isalso a big contingent of European tourists making up a healthy number of about 100 or so tourists at the show.
Our friend Thomas from the Goroka Show Society is pleased with the turnout of tourists and the colourful display of singsing by some 70 traditional dancing groups from all parts of Papua New Guinea including a group each from Western and Manus provinces, Bougainville and Kairuku in Central province.
“There was a lot of doubt about the Goroka Show ever happening this year because of lack of financial support from the provincial government and others but we have been able to pull it off with support from some business houses and certain very staunch supporters in Goroka and we are very grateful to them,” he said.
Thomas also thanked the PNG TPA and in particular, corporate services manager William Bando, for the K5,000 donation and for standing in at the last minute to formally declare open the show that Saturday.
The show was not only very peaceful but we had two glorious sunny days filled with song and dance and fun and laughter as one could see a very pregnant Japanese tourist hanging onto the tail end of a black python dance and imitating the snake dance while at the same time giving the thumbs up to her amused compatriots.
For David, Tim and I though, we were here for work and this was a very important photographic shot which we have been planning for two years.
David and Tim had to bring in extra lighting and camera equipment and we set up a temporary studio at the show ground at the National Sports Institute.
Each day during the show, we would wonder out into the multitude of dancers and grab hold of someone we felt had the looks, smile, traditional dressing and of course the colourful face painting and we would get them to pose for a photograph in our makeshift studio.
Tim, who was on his first trip to Papua New Guinea, is a very technical photographer who runs a private studio in Brisbane and he was smiling with excitement every time. David who is not knew to PNG is a professional photographer specialising in travel and tourism in the Asia-Pacific region and his most recent work for mobile phone company Digicel is featured around town including the young girl on a white beach on Pigeon Island near Kokopo with a big smile and reaching out with her hand as if to grab something.
Our idea of the Goroka Show shot was to capture the best high quality images with the sharpness and clarity that we can blow up on very large billboards around our towns and cities.
“Colin, I think we got some good pictures in Goroka,” David says at the end of the show.
There is still a long way to go on this project but without the support of our industry partners particularly Air Niugini for the discounted airfares and excess waiver on our camera gear, we could not have come this far and the National Government for continuing to realise the importance of promoting a positive image of PNG by continuing to fund the project over the last three years. Our sights are now set on our next assignment which is the Canoe and Kundu Festival in Alotau on Nov 6-8. See you all in Alotau.