Where is Papua New Guinea? A hidden gem in the central Pacific, Papua New Guinea is a vibrant archipelago north of Australia. The people of PNG have a strong connection to the past, with many festivals and ceremonies that are deeply rooted in tradition. Travelling to Papua New Guinea is like taking a journey back in time as you check out a unique blend of untouched wilderness, developing urban life, and strong cultural roots. PNG is also home to hundreds of distinct tribes, many with their own unique language, traditions, and captivating festivals.
Let’s take a look at some of the fascinating festivals and rituals you might encounter on a cultural expedition throughout the frontiers of Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea’s culture is an impressive blend of tribes with strong connections to their lands and urban societies embracing the winds of change. Among the various tribes that inhabit the vast highlands, coastal regions, and island territories of Papua New Guinea, each one brings a unique flavour to the nation’s cultural landscape.
The people of Papua New Guinea take great pride in their customs and celebrate this through spectacular festivals. Ranging from elaborate rites of passage to colourful harvest celebrations, each shed light on different facets of their societies, beliefs, and ways of life.
At almost all Papua New Guinea festivals, the Sing-Sing is a remarkable cultural experience that brings together tribes from across various provinces. Local tribes adorn themselves in incredible traditional attire and perform tribal dances unique to their province. The clothing isn’t merely for show—it represents the unique aesthetics of each tribe, ranging from elaborate headdresses adorned with bird-of-paradise feathers to body paints made from various natural pigments.
As the Kundu drums provide the audio backdrop to many of these dancing displays, there is a sense of celebration that can be felt throughout any arena. Sing-sings occur frequently in PNG, with one of the most popular being the Melpa Festival held in Mount Hagen. Importantly, this is a way for tribes to come together and celebrate their unique culture and traditions.
Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River region holds the crocodile as a sacred animal. This reverence is on full display in the annual Sepik River Crocodile Festival, usually held in early August. This festival is not for the faint of heart, as it revolves around a symbolic crocodile scarification ritual. A rite of passage, this ceremony symbolises the transition of boys into warriors. Undergoing this painful process willingly, the boys emerge with crocodile-like skin markings, signifying their bravery and commitment to their cultural identity.
Of course, like most events in Papua New Guinea, the festival also embraces the nation’s love of traditional dance, music, and elaborate traditional dress.
The Hiri Moale Festival is a large event held in Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea. This annual festival commemorates the historic Hiri trade, a significant cultural and economic event involving the exchange of goods between the Motu tribe and their Gulf neighbours. In recognition of the past, Motu history is celebrated, but many other tribes and trading partners also join the event.
Since this historical trading occurred via an often dangerous seafaring journey, there is a strong focus on the lakatoi – a large vessel used by the Motuan people when trading with neighbours across the water. The Hiri Moale Festival is an immersive experience featuring a thrilling canoe race with beautifully crafted traditional vessels, Motu dance performances, and the crowning of the Hiri Queen—an epitome of Motu beauty, grace and knowledge.
One of the biggest sing-sings in Papua New Guinea, the Goroka Festival, is really a sight to behold. More than 100 tribes usually gather to celebrate their culture and traditions at the Goroka Festival, which is held in Goroka each year in September in conjunction with Independence Day. Like all sing-sings, stunning costumes and enchanting dance performances are front and centre.
Celebrated in the province of Milne Bay, Alotau, the Kenu and Kundu Festival is a cultural treat encompassing music, dance, food and canoe races. It is a tribute to the region’s maritime heritage, symbolised by the kenu (canoe) and the rhythmic beats of the kundu drum. Tribesmen from different communities present their intricately carved and brightly decorated canoes, often carrying more than 40 warriors adorned in traditional dress.
Teams also compete in a thrilling race that sees these traditional vessels cutting through the crystal-clear waters where visitors can also swim. The mesmerising beats of the kundu drums, matched with the stunning performances of the dancers, make this a truly memorable cultural experience for all travellers.
Take a plunge into the depths of Papua New Guinea’s rich culture with Crooked Compass. We specialise in crafting unique, immersive experiences that you simply won’t find anywhere else. Whether it’s experiencing a breathtaking Sing-Sing festival, witnessing the formidable crocodile scarification ritual, or checking out the thrilling canoe races at the Kenu and Kundu Festival, we offer unforgettable journeys that highlight the best of Papua New Guinea’s vibrant cultural heritage. Contact Crooked Compass today to start your perspective shifting journey through Papua New Guinea’s festivals and traditions.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.