At Ela Beach On PNG’s 35th Independence Day

A bilum bonanza with an independence theme - naturally

Today is Papua New Guinea’s 35th Independence anniversary. I went to Ela Beach to see what was happening – a popular spot for cultural events. One in particular – the arrival of the Hiri Lakatoi and the beginning of Hiri-related cultural celebrations culminating in the crowning of the Hiri Queen. Going back in time, I remembered when the first ever Hiri Queen was crowned though I did not attend the occasion. It was in 1971 and the Hiri Queen was my schoolmate and one of my Motuan close friends from the nearby village of Hanuabada. We were at the Sogeri Senior High School about 26 miles from the city of Port Moresby.

Today I was told the lakatoi will arrive tomorrow (Friday, 17 September). The lakatoi for this year was built by the master lakatoi makers of Manumanu Village not far from Port Moresby city. Each year one village which has been part of the Hiri trade and voyages for generations builds the lakatoi.

Am not sure whether I’ll be going down to Ela Beach again. It will be a working day and I have a few priority activities to attend to – pity but am sure will see it on telly – not the same but better than nothing.

As I wondered around the beach area and waterfront I realised how everyone was in national colours – red, black and gold. There were also dresses and dress accessories in the national colours and that included bilum.

In national colours - the unmistakable red, black and gold
T-shirts of all sizes
More bilum with the flag as a fitting symbol of nationalism - em nau.

I was taken back and really moved at the sight of so many PNG entrepreneurs who were taking advantage of the huge crowd – a few hundred I s’ppose – to sell items such as the ever evolving bilum, hats, necklaces, dresses, tops, mats, shells etc. I bought a tapa hat – made of mulberry bark from the Oro Province – the only province in PNG which makes tapa-wear.

Laplaps, anyone?
Locally produced items
An uplifting sight
Locally woven mats - local patterns
Bilum - woven multi-purpose totes that are unique to PNG especially the patterns, material and the designs of the bilum. Some tribal and handed down through generations. Others are contemporary and very a personal choice.
More PNG made and PNG traditional crafts...a treasure trove alright

I wondered around and took shots of people and activities. It was a very relaxed atmosphere. Many people of different races and nationalities were also there wandering around buying PNG crafts and taking photos. I was a local tourist by any stretch of the imagination and I relished the thought that one day soon Papua New Guinea will embark on a deliberate robust domestic tourism strategy…hmmm. Food for thought.

I found this interesting. Everyone was trying their luck - I did not witness any winners.

There were also people selling food, cold drinks and of course buai or buatau – the betelnut  – with a mild narcotic but a national treasure. There is no crime chewing buai/buatau but it is a bad habit and unhygienic to spit in public places! Ela Beach was no exception…yikes!

Buai in Tok Pisin or buatau in Motu (one of the lingua franca of PNG), and some cigarettes

The crowds were polite and there was a definite buzz in the air. I really was glad I made the effort to get out of my apartment and check out the local scene.

Some of the crowd looking out to sea...and enjoying the sea breeze and soaking up the atmosphere
The national flag flying high...
The huts in the background is part of the props for the Hiri Moale Festival
Children swimming in the warm tropical waters of Ela Beach
More people on the beach

As I walked away from the hustle and bustle of the beachfront and the many entrepreneurs and a quietly celebrating crowd, I felt good to be here amongst my people. I felt a lump in my throat at the warmth and polite crowd which mingled happily, and an evident demonstration of national pride. A sign of things to come…a hope held dear by many Papua New Guineans since I arrived here 4 weeks ago.

I looked  back and saw these ladies, we were all patriots in our own way, I thought, as I took one more shot for the road. They said thankyou as my Olympus  Digital clicked. Now where else would anyone thank you for taking their photograph.

Patriotic compatriots...a special day for a special people.

I thanked them back – only in PNG  – very comforting. From a tourist’s perspective, a unique selling point.

Memories of my beach walk on this special day.