As we walk through the large, wooden gates of Constitution Park in Port Moresby, there is excitement all around. Artists are enthusiastically selling their wares from the traditional huts that line the walkways, a sing-sing group with bright colours and long feathers takes it place on the stage, and a traditional long haus looms over the hundreds of people walking by. This is the 5th Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival, hosted for the first time by Papua New Guinea.
It all began in 1984, when leaders from Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia met to discuss opportunities for cooperation within the Melanesian region. They acknowledged that culture was an important and powerful element within their societies and agreed that it needed to be preserved, protected and promoted. The idea for a Melanesian arts festival was born, and since the first festival in 1998, it has been an on-going success.
Held from 29 June – 10 July 2014 across various locations within Port Moresby other than the main base at Constitution Park in Waigani, including the Moresby Arts Theatre, University of PNG, Jack Pidik Park, National Museum, and Ela Beach, the arts festival was a colourful showcase of the rich and diverse cultures within the region. From traditional dancing, fire walking, painting, theatre performances, fashion shows, canoeing and live musical performances, the festival demonstrated that the culture of Melanesia is still very much alive in its people.
“It’s good to be here,” says Vanuatu carver James Philemon, as he takes a break from the long totem pole he is carving. “Our traditions and cultures are important to us and we want to share that with other people. We speak through our art and share stories about who we are.”
As James continues to carve, his chisel naturally following the lines of the wood, a collection of images start to emerge. Next to him, an artist is drawing traditional patterns on a sand board with his finger at a mesmerising speed, the shapes of turtles and fish and flowers weaving together like magic. In the background, the deep, soulful music from a local band reverberates from the main stage and cheers of delight rise from the captivated audience members.
The Melanesian Arts Festival was indeed a celebration of diversity, a rich tapestry of colour that shows the world that arts and culture is still very much alive in Melanesia.
Article published in Vision City Magazine, October 2014, Papua New Guinea