Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Baining fire dance, Papua New Guinea

Last week, I returned from a trip hosted by the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority. It was a 15-flight trip -- necessary if you're visiting multiple areas of the country, given the scarcity of roads and the abundance of islands.

A highlight for me was attending a Baining fire dance. One of PNG's 800+ distinct tribes, the Baining live in the mountains of the same name, just south of Rabaul on the island of New Britain. It was an hour drive from our accommodations at Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort, the last 10 minutes along a severely rutted, 4WD dirt road, to the village of Kainagunan.

This village is one of only a few that perform the dance on request for tourists. For large enough groups, they'll even travel to your hotel in Kokopo and do it there, though I can't see the appeal of that. Rolling up to the village square with the fire just getting started, watching the dancers with 100+ people from in and around the village, using the pit latrine -- these were all integral to the experience.

The following shots were taken with a Canon PowerShot A630 point-and-shoot, stabilized on a little wooden table or whatever other flat surface happened to be around. The audio was recorded using a Zoom H2.

Fire is needed for a fire dance. Dozens of stick bundles had been set aside as fuel. They burned fast and were added continuously.

These are a few of the dancers. As the dance is a kind of secret male initiation ceremony, they are all young men from the village, and the animal identities of their huge papier-mache masks are not shared. Apparently, the dancers spend up to a month in the jungle beforehand, cleansing themselves and ingesting/smoking fun substances in preparation.

And then they dance around, through, and directly on top of the fire. We saw a couple guys spend as long as 15 seconds in the center of the flames. Their feet were tightly and thickly wrapped with what looked like green palm fronds that would be resistant to heat and combustion...can't say the same for their bare thighs.

Other elements of the dance included carrying "naughty" children -- screaming -- around the fire, and running through the flames and kicking showers of embers into the crowd.

1 comment:

Kathy Amen said...

Really neat audio!