On 16 September 1975, the Papua New Guinean flag was raised on Independence Hill in Port Moresby to the sound of the new national anthem, signifying Papua New Guinea’s first moments as an independent state. For the 39 years which have followed, Papua New Guineans have remembered this day through a celebration of culture, traditional sing-sings and festivities that are unmatched around the world.
While almost every village across the country celebrates in different ways, there are a number of events that truly highlight Papua New Guinea’s extraordinary social diversity. Starting in the cool, misty mountains of the Eastern Highlands, the Goroka Show is a well-attended three-day festival where more than 100 different tribes gather to perform traditional music and dances and to display their extraordinary cultural dress. From the intimidating glares of the Huli wigmen, to the strangely alluring snake dance, and the bright faces of the women from Enga, the Goroka Show is a rich tapestry of culture and history that is both phenomenal and overwhelming.
Further south, to the shores of Ela Beach in Port Moresby, another traditional event is taking place: the Hiri Moale Festival. This two-day festival celebrates the ancient tradition of great sea voyage and exchange between the Papuan and Gulf regions. Every year, Motu men would prepare their large, multi-hulled sailing canoes called lagatois and load them with handmade clay pots before setting sail westward to the distant lands of Gulf. While the men were away, the Motu women would stay in their huts and have their skin tattooed. After many months, they would look out across the waters and see the sails of the lagatoi returning, this time laden with supplies of sago. As the lagatoi neared the shore, the women would shout out “Hedihoroha Bogebada” and start celebrating to welcome the men home. The festival now recreates this legend, and features traditional dances and dress, canoe races, the Hiri Queen contest and the arrival of the lagatoi, to the delight of the thousands of people who come to watch.
No matter where you are in the country, you can find local events equally as passionate and proud as these major events, and experience first-hand why Independence Day is, and will continue to be, one of the greatest and most colourful celebrations in Papua New Guinea.