Goroka is famous for its “Eastern Highlands Cultural Show”, better known as the “Goroka Show”. It is held every year on the weekend closest to Papua New Guinea Independence Day (16th September).
In 1884 the northern part of what is now Papua New Guinea was colonised by Germany (German New Guinea) while Britain ruled the southern part, British New Guinea. Britain transferred its holding to Australia in 1904. During World War I German New Guinea was captured, and subsequently retained, by Australia though, like most things in PNG, it wasn’t as simple as that but these complexities need not concern us here. While under Australian Administration, which continued until the country’s independence in 1975, it was split into Provinces (it still is) which where themselves split into districts. For Australian administrative purposes, these districts – which contained numerous tribes and cultures – were administered by patrol officers or kiaps (a PNG Tok Pisin language derivation of the German kapitan (captain)).
The Goroka Show started in 1957 when local kiaps brought together different tribes and clans from throughout the Province. Prior to this tribes, typically separated by no more than a valley or mountain ridge, rarely got together except to kill and maim or rape and pillage each other.
Kiaps from each district showed off their district’s cultures at the show and brought in their sing sing (singing and dancing) groups. So, in these early days the show was essentially a competition between the kiaps to see who had the best administered and organised district.
With the departure of the kiaps the show continued and grew and while it was starting to become a partly tourist event in 1989 – 91 when I lived in PNG (and has become more so today – 2015) it remains essentially a Highland’s tribal gathering of great local significance attracting around 100 tribal groups from the Papua New Guinea Highlands.
While everything always seemed to be totally disorganised here, like everything else in PNG – the land of the unexpected, you just needed to turn up, relax and go with the flow and the show always delivered (and by all accounts still does) a fantastic mix of music, dancing, exotic costumes and tribal rituals. It truly was a great display of cultural diversity within a country that is probably the most culturally diverse on earth. It has got to be one of the most colourful shows in the world and can these people sing and dance? Yep, what you see here is Melanesian song and dance at its best.
While there are a couple of more accessible shows, including the Port Morseby Show, the Goroka Show continues to be PNG’s most popular cultural and tribal gathering or a top notch two-day frenzy of face painting and feathers, depending on your perspective. It is absolutely not to be missed if you are in Goroka at the time – though, if you are in Goroka at the time you will almost certainly have come for the show.
Make sure you take you camera, lots of memory and well charged batteries – the show is a photographers delight. Saying this, the reader will wonder at my selection of photos so I had better explain. By the time I actually made it to the Goroka Show I had visited countless shows around the country where I took many more photos (as other reviews on this page will attest to) so I took a mere handful of photos here – and those I took before the show started! Also, as I mentioned earlier, I resided in PNG from 1989 to 1991 – the pre digital camera age when it cost dearly to have photographs developed and printed.
I recently read an article on the 2014 show and sadly crime and rowdiness, prevalent throughout the country, is nowadays not absent even from the Goroka Show. Alas, in 2014 police needed to revert to tear gas to disperse a rowdy crowd. The writer of the article, from ABC Australia, cautioned that the Goroka Show is “not a night out at the ballet and travellers do have to take care with security”. Sound advice.
If you are intent on finding accommodation in Goroka at showtime, book well ( 6mths) in advance end expect to pay top dollar.
In the late 80s/early 90s the show used to be held in Independence Park, opposite the Goroka Market. I suspect it is still held here – if not it wont be far away as Goroka is a small place.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on a couple of years living and working in Papua New Guinea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Believe the Ambassador – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Papua New Guinea – Personal Memories.