It’s show time at Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province


Olga Fontanellaz is swept up in the song and dance of the annual Enga Show.

Tribesmen wearing giant hats made of moss and fresh herbs. Credit: Olga Fontanellaz

The fierce-looking women are painted in rich, earthy colours and wear giant round hats made of moss. They are rhythmically jumping up and down in unison to the beat of drums.

‘Suli Muli,’ they sing loudly, a song that gave the name to their tribe in Enga Province.

The pounding and stamping of their feet reverberates through my chest and clouds of dust rise from the ground. Next to the women are the dancing men. The men wear similar round hats, but they are made of their own hair, like the famous Huli Wigmen.

Hundreds of sing-sing groups are here with the Suli Muli, singing and dancing, their long feathers swaying to the rhythmic thumping of kundu drums.

Their contagious sound is the background music for the next three days of the Enga Show in Wabag.

Discover the showground

There are groups in exotic costumes, from grass skirts to fibre aprons, brightly painted faces and bodies, intricate headdresses made of green foliage, moss, couscous fur, birds of paradise and cassowary feathers, and skins decorated with dried nuts, kina shells, cowrie, and cassowary leg bones.

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As the sing-sing groups parade into the showground, I am immediately drawn to a group of young men covered in clay and mud and wearing headgear made of moss, and decorated with white spots. I have never seen them before. They are the Lyano Spiders from the village of Lyano, known for its garden spiders.

‘The showground is a whirlwind of pounding feet and bouncing heads.’

All of a sudden, loud war-like cries and whooping sounds resonate in the air. Leaping forward and mock threatening a group of tourists with bows and arrows, Hewa people simulate age-old battles.

But soon, these warriors from Hela Province put down their weapons. Rubbing two stones together, they show their traditional fire-making technique. After the demonstration is over, one of the tribesmen, fancying a cigarette, reaches for a lighter. He clicks and clicks, but the lighter doesn’t work. He grabs the stones. This time, the ancient method seems to work better.

A bit of history

For the past 25 years, the Enga Show has been a meeting point of sing-sing groups from different provinces, but recently the organising committee decided to focus exclusively on Engan culture. The only exception given is to Hela Province because the two provinces are believed to share the same forefathers.

Resplendent with their vivid yellow-and-red-painted faces, the elaborate wigs made from human hair, and hornbill beaks on their backs, the Huli Wigmen from Hela Province are the most recognisable among all the tribes. Forming a perfect line, they jump up and down to the beat of drums. Once the dance is over, they pose for photos, enjoying the attention of the spectators.

While the showground is a whirlwind of pounding feet and bouncing heads, local craftsmen demonstrate how they build traditional Engan houses and bridges, how they make their famous round hats using their own hair, and how they create sand paintings.

‘I grind up coloured stones to get the fine sand of natural earthy colours,’ explains a passionate artist.

Sand painting isn’t the only trademark of Enga Province.

The next Enga Show is in Wabag on August 9–11.

This is an edited version of the article ‘Show time’, which was first published in the July-August edition of Paradise, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini. 

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