Tribal Pageantry: The Sing Sings of Papua New Guinea

Burnett Gallery, The Jones Library, Amherst, MA




Papua New Guinea, known as the “Last Frontier”, is one of the most exotic and culturally fascinating places on earth, a land where headhunting and cannibalism were practiced until not that long ago. Located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, “PNG” forms the eastern half of the second largest island in the world (after Greenland). It has more than 1,000 different cultural groups, most of whom have their own language and cultural ritual.

Dane spent 25 days exploring different parts of PNG and chose to narrow her theme to the Sing Sing. Sing Sings are gatherings of one or a few tribes or villages to celebrate events and share festivities. Large or small, they take place often and everywhere. Young and old participate by playing traditional instruments, singing, making themselves up, and donning decorative costumes made from shells, animal skins, exotic bird feathers, grass, leaves and just about anything else that nature could possibly provide.

Dane highlights Sing Sings from different locations: the tropical Sepik River area; the cool and lush Highlands; and the quaint island of Kiriwina, largest of the Trobriand Islands. Some of the Sing Sings were planned stops in her group’s itinerary, and others were fortuitously stumbled upon while travelling overland. Dane says that “each one is unique and holds its own surprises. In the town of Yanchien along the Sepik River, for example, we happened upon a celebration of the crocodile. It was like watching a theater production from the beginning stages of makeup to the end of the performance. We just got lucky.”

Although Sing Sings are local celebrations, tourists flock to the Highlands for the country’s two largest. Dane spent two days at the Goroka Festival which takes place on the weekend closest to PNG’s Independence Day, September 16th. One by one, well over 100 tribes enter the field of Independence Park sporting their own signature look, dance or song. Only by climbing up a tower by the bleachers can the spectator take in the full impact of the spectacle below. Dane says that “the event is a photographer’s dream because all of the performers are quite happy to have their picture taken and are most cooperative. For all of the places I have been and the performances I have seen, never has there been a more imaginative, colorful, textural or creative use of materials and pigments to achieve such a delightful end.”




Kiriwina Island


Kunabu Village


Mudmen of Asaro Village


Pogla Village




Yanchien Village in the Sepik River Area

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