Sepik River

Animals are always as important to me as people, no matter where. Murik Lakes New Guinea 1983.

From Rabaul our ship took us to Garove Island.

Spirit house at Garove Island.

After the adventure of the fire dancing, things were much more light-hearted. At Nagada we were entertained by these cheerful lads pounding on bamboo poles with old flip-flops.

Accompanied on guitar, it made a unique sound.

The next intended excursion was to Angoram on the Sepik River which was some distance from the shore and involved flying in a (very) small fleet of very small aeroplanes. It was a short flight, so they would do a shuttle. Except that the weather put a damper on things. No-one wanted to fly to the highlands in bad visibility.

So we went to Murik Lakes where, above the cats and cockatoo, sat a huge hornbill.

Murik Lakes were mangroves at the mouth of the Sepik River.

Somehow, the dancers managed to get themselves painted (with red ocre) and into their complicated costumes at short notice. The costumes were made completely of natural materials, cowries and oyster shells, bark cloth and feathers.

The faces at top were intended to look like masks of powerful spirits.As they danced, the shells made a unique rustling.

The man above, in the centre has wild boar tusks around his eyes. The large feathers are from cassowaries.

According to what I read, these dances, “Sing Sings” are still performed on special occasions. And, as of 2008 at least, it is said that these people have not suffered much from exploitation. Long may it remain so.

Just what I always wanted, to sit in a dugout in a life jacket in sweltering heat, on a crocodile-infested muddy river.

Our over-long, somewhat precarious ride in the motor-driven dugouts got us a nice sunburn and a welcome by these fierce looking gentlemen.

Yes, waving spears at us. All for show, of course.

This one hadn’t learned yet how to be fierce but I think he had potential.

Haus Tambaran (Spirit House) Angoram, Sepik River.

At the top, not a cross, but a carved pole with wings.

The Sepik River “expedition” was of interest to artists as well as anthropologists. New Guinea art is much sought after.

New Guinea art is inspired by their diverse flora and fauna. Most of the items are quite large, which did not inhibit our fellow (rich) passengers from acquiring many kinds:

Canoes (yes, someone bought one of those), story boards, carved wooden sculptures, shields and masks of many types;

Dance masks, clan masks, ancestral masks, canoe prow masks and savi masks (black magic).

Getting their purchases home promised to be fun. I trembled at the idea of someone showing up at check-in with an actual full-sized canoe. But I imagine they made arrangements with a shipper.

While it was extremely fine in quality and very decorative, one would need to live in a museum-sized house to display it and somehow out of context it wouldn’t seem the same, to me anyway.

At Angoram of course, there was more dancing and there were ladies in actual grass skirts. Some of the feathers came from the glorious birds of paradise which regrettably we never saw any other way.

We did see trees laden with fruit bats, flying foxes. When startled, they would take to the air in huge black clouds.

Another of “Tim’s faces”, that I particularly like.

Sometimes your riverside property is in the river, hence the stilts.

Have you ever sat in a dugout? Legs straight out in front, exposed to noonday sun and sit erect for an hour. Any movement discouraged as the canoe is quite likely to tip you in the river. Especially if you travel with hooligans as I did

Yes, that’s me announcing what I think of them. I’ll let you guess.

Once or twice, while travelling with Timothy, I was known to lose my sense of humour.

Maybe three times.

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