If ever there was a movie to be made about a museum that comes alive at night, the Papua New Guinea National Museum is it. Built in 1975, the museum is filled with artefacts from all over the country, and walking through the dark and chilly passages, the story of Papua New Guinea’s history is woven together.
It begins with an understanding of the land, the great geomorphological shifts that made Papua New Guinea an island and the change in climate that encouraged the growth of diverse plants and animals. As the landscape changed, so too did the people and the museum is a showcase of tens of thousands of pieces telling their story.
Most of them are nightmarish beyond belief. Faces carved into blocks of wood hang from the ceiling in the Masterpiece Gallery, totem poles towering high with birds clawing the faces of people, and crocodiles eating the birds. Some of the most frightening are the modest ones, the shadow of a face carved simply into a piece of dark wood, the hollowed out eyes seeming to watch you as you move. There are solid stone clubs with ribbed ends, necklaces of pigs teeth roughly strung together on flaking bark string, and knives carved sharply from the thigh bones of hunted animals.
Pictures above courtesy of the PNG National Museum website
It seems that the museum hasn’t been updated since 1975 either, and the old-school typewriter captions for the displays add to the eerie mood. Stuffed birds with glazed eyes hang from the ceiling, swinging softly in the breeze of the billowing air conditioning, and the halls are laced with the silent whispers of the faces on the walls.
The displays throughout the museum are quite remarkable and a testament to the innovative and artistic nature of Papua New Guineans. There are traditional kundu drums made from lizard skin, stone axes that date back thousands of years, nets, boats, fishhooks, and bilums. Even the most common tools are adorned with intricate designs and patterns, each piece a work of art in its own right.
The museum is a wonderful representation of Papua New Guinea, dark, ancient, exquisitely yet hauntingly beautiful, and diverse beyond everything the imagination could believe. But daytime, yes, daytime is a good time to go.
For more information, visit the official website of the PNG Museum at http://www.museumpng.gov.pg