Kokopo, Papua New Guinea

When people think of Papua New Guinea, they think of traditional cultures. On my first true impression of the country, well outside of the messy capital, Port Moresby, I had the chance to see that in full concentration at the National Mask Festival & Warwagira held in Kokopo, the first in three years.

East New Britain province (ENB) is home to four main cultures: Tolai, Baining, Pomio, and Sulka. That’s but four language groups of PNG’s over 800. Yet even within these four, there’s vast diversity of kastoms (customs) — rites, ceremonies, singsings (songs and/or dances), and whatnot performed for initiations, funerals, bride prices, and so on.

Yet all of this coexists with what appears to be a very Christian country. And in this day and age, how often do we see traditional cultures in the world practiced as more than a costume we put on once in awhile? Is anything still considered sacred? For PNG, we know that answer already — a big yes to both — but I’m here to learn what exactly that looks like and means.
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