Birds of a Feather

Papua New Guinea


…Papua New Guinea’s fantastic cultural heritage has been drawing a steady stream of photographers to its shores for many years now.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that my own particular passion for travelling to remote places was substantially inspired by images from this magical island which have been residing quietly in my subconscious since I first laid eyes on them as a youngster within the pages of National Geographic and the like.

The trouble with visiting places like this in 2009 of course, is that the phenomenal cultural changes that our world has seen in the last 30 years are inevitably much more evident and visible within these so called developing nations, and as such, these days a documentary photograph can be rendered journalistically redundant in just a few short years.

Visiting PNG for this first time, I was quite nervous about what I might discover here.  It has always struck me as one of those places that would definitely have succumbed to the brute force of western cultural imperialism, especially since, of all the tribal societies in the world, PNG’s surely must possess some of the most visually stunning apparel on the planet, the absence of which would be all the more obvious in these changing times.

Evelyn (centre) and friends from The Huli Tribe at a small gathering in the hills of Papua New Guinea

Well.  I can report back that culture in Papua New Guinea is absolutely not dead, in fact it’s authentically thriving, vibrant and still as visually stunning as ever.  Sure, don’t expect to see people walking to the local supermarket on a Tuesday morning dressed like this, but then again, when was the last time you donned your poshest outfit to pop out and get your weekly groceries (Paris Hiltons of this world excepted).

We have come here to investigate the significance that the bird of paradise still plays within New Guinean indigenous culture, which has involved spending time in a remote village and following the locals as they prepare for one of the many occasions on which they are required to dress in their tribal fineries.  As part of our filming we visited the Mount Hagen Show, a yearly gathering of over 100 tribes that was initially orchestrated in the 1960s by missionaries seeking to calm PNG’s ever present tribal tensions by bringing the people together in one huge cultural event.  In its 21st century incarnation, complete with banks of long lens photographers and sponsorship by Coca Cola, it would be very easy to patronize this event, reverting to the seasoned travellers’ mantra of “They’re only doing it for the tourists“.  However, I have to say that if you make the effort to dig under the surface a little and spend some quality time with the people who make up this fantastic spectacle, you will soon realize that this is in fact a genuine display of PNG’s cultural heritage done by the people, for the people… which happily includes those of us who don’t have our own tribal heritage back home.

The Hagen Show - One event, one hundred tribes

The Hagen Show - One event, one hundred tribes

. . .

Interested in more stories from Papua New Guinea?  Try HERE


6 Responses to “Birds of a Feather”

  1. Andrius Romanovskis says:

    Fantastic:) is the crime situation still a concern at Mt. Hagen?

  2. Photography says:

    photography is the ultimate expression of oneself that can be taken as an art.

  3. Timothy says:

    That was shot with a Canon 50mm f1.2 lens at f1.2 using available light on an overcast day. (1/6400 sec, ISO 640, Canon 5D mark II)

  4. Michal MISHOX Svec says:

    What lens and light have you used for the second picture?
    Its a perfect capture of the moment!

  5. David R says:

    Fantastic blog Timothy. Thank you. So much inspiring stuff here. PNG is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go too. Maybe this is the year.

Leave a Reply