Themes: Celebrations

Celebrations in Papua New Guinea – ritual and the sing-sing

Sing Sings

Large-scale song and dance festivals in Papua New Guinea, known as Sing Sings, can last for days and often continue through the night. Body decoration and adornment are key features, using a rich variety of materials such as pigments, feathers, leaves, bone, shell and animal skins.  The largest and oldest of the highland shows is held on Independence Day at Goroka in the Eastern Highlands. Another well known festival is the Mount Hagen Culture Show in the Western Highland Province.  Festivals such as these can attract as many as 100 different tribal groups. They have also become popular attractions for visitors from all over the world. Although Sing Sings are based on traditional large-scale gatherings, their modern form was devised in the 1950s and 1960s in an effort to promote peaceful interactions between warring tribes. Despite this, violent activities are not uncommon, such as when women assault men as a traditional part of the Trobriand Islands Yam Festival, biting at their eyebrows.


Village based inter-clan celebrations

Smaller gatherings between neighbouring groups are also common.  These might be organized around harvest times, where vegetables such as yams are shown, compared and traded. Festivals are also held to celebrate social events such as weddings.  Often one village will host the event, which will be held in the centre of the village near the spirit house. Dancing is important on such occasions, along with music and song. Goods such as shells and furs are exchanged, often for promises, blessings or ancestral approval.  The atmosphere is usually friendly but also highly competitive. Careful attention is paid to make-up and costume, on which judgements the reputation and prosperity of the village’s Big Man very much depends.