A million smiling faces

One of the greatest joys that I found living in Papua New Guinea was the amazing diversity and no more so than the incredible faces that you saw daily on walks to the market, rides on PMVs and adventures to other Provinces.  As time passed I was able to identify facial features from people’s different tribal groups, for such a relatively small population I found it amazing how starkly different features could be for one country.  Due to its location and history, PNG is one of the most heterogeneous, distinctly different nations in the world and Papuan ethnic groups are fused with Melanesian, Polynesian and other Austronesian characteristics.

Today I want to celebrate and share some of the most striking, wise, beautiful and enchanting faces in PNG:

Anonymous market meri, Samurai island, Milne BayAnonymous market meri, Samurai island, Milne Bay
I couldn’t take my eyes off of this lady as I sat at the market on Samurai island in the early hours of Sunday morning as I was waiting to catch a dinghy back to Alotau.  She was setting up her stall with dried fish and she was busy laying out her produce whilst chasing away the flies with a banana leaf in her bright, stripped jumper.  I was captivated by her light eyes and light curly hair.

Anonymous, lapun meri working at a road side market on the Highlands highway to Enga 2Anonymous, lapun meri working at a road side market on the Highlands highway to Enga
There is just something so captivating about older people in PNG, often you can’t really age a person but I always feel each person’s face tells a story and this woman is no exception.  I captured her photo on my first roadside pit stop on the way from Mount Hagen to Enga where I gobbled chips from a plastic bag and supped coke from a plastic bottle – proper PNG!

Anonymous, man and meri selling buai outside a small shop next to Kipuli school in EngaAnonymous, man and meri selling buai outside a small shop next to Kipuli school in Enga
I passed these two people every day when I walked up the hill to Kipuli primary school, stoically sat selling their buai to passers by and watching the world go by.  I love the wise faces of Highlands people and this mans beard is particularly impressive!

Cesia, bubumama going to visit her pikinini in New IrelandCesia, bubumama going to visit her pikinini in New Ireland
I met Cesia when I travelled by boat from Kokopo in East New Britain to New Ireland.  She was going to visit her children and she took me under her wing for the journey.  I just loved the way her warmth shone through as we talked in Tok Pisin and broken English.  It saddened me that the owner of the guest house we were waiting at for our ongoing PMV wouldn’t let her use the toilet, despite letting me use it so I walked with her to find one.

Clara, dedicated assistant to Angela Kaupa the President of Mini Vava, GorokaClara, dedicated assistant to Angela Kaupa the President of Mini Vava, Goroka
Clara without question is one of the most striking woman that I met in PNG.  Her strong facial tattoos so prominent on her warm face.  It saddened me to hear that she hadn’t chosen to have the markings and that she felt embarrassed of them but I saw her as a strong, beautiful woman.

Anonymous, teacher in Wewak, SepikAnonymous, teacher in Wewak, Sepik
This Sepik meri has the very distinctive cheek and brow markings and is wearing a very colourful meri blaus.  It is less usual for young people to have facial markings although some people still do but for smart occasions the meri blaus is the go-to outfit.

Anonymous, market man in EngaAnonymous, market man in Enga
There is something so captivating and intense about this man that I couldn’t help but take a photo.  Just sat at the market by the side of the road in Enga watching the world go by (and probably wondering what this dimdim wants with a photo of him!)

Lucy Toba, Head of Language strand at Sonoma Adventist College, BouganivilleLucy Toba, Head of Language strand at Sonoma Adventist College, Bouganiville
Simply stunning.  The beautiful, smooth, exceptionally dark skin pigment of Bougainvillian people is so striking and stands them apart in PNG.  Lucy is a real head turner!

Joyce Ilam, pawa meri Toli teacher in Gaulim, East New BritainJoyce Ilam, pawa meri Toli teacher in Gaulim, East New Britain
In East New Britain (ENB) there are two very distinct cultural groups, the Baining people, the original landowners and the Tolai, from the Duke of York peninsula, who displaced a lot of Baining people on ENB.  The two people are visually and characteristically very different.  Joyce has Tolai heritage and typifies the confident, charismatic character and has naturally lighter hair and skin tone.

Vincent, bigman at Sup village on Mushu island, WewakVincent, bigman at Sup village on Mushu island, Wewak
You can’t deny a man with a feather in his beard!  And this bigman (tribal leader) from Sup village is the perfect fusion of modern and traditional in his Yamaha baseball cap and fluorescent shirt but with his deeply buai stained teeth and feather adorned beard.

Martha Lego, the widow from the RaikosMartha, widow from Raikos, Madang
You would be hard pressed to have missed the full story about Martha but this beautiful, slight woman from the remote Raikos was one of the strongest, most determined woman that I met.  Sat with peanuts and her bilum to her side outside a traditional bush material house telling stories, this is real life PNG.

Anonymous, market meri in Enga 3 Anonymous, market meri in Enga
Over time the clear difference between Highlands and Coastal faces becomes more evident but what always remains is the warmth and intensity of people’s eyes as well as the overwhelming desire to sit down and tell stories.

Anonymous, market meri, Gaulim Anonymous, market meri in Gaulim
The irony of the smiling mouths in PNG is that they often come with the telltale, deeply buai stained and often blackened teeth.  Chewing the combination of beetle nut, lime and mustard can create this thickly masked grin and no more so than at Gaulim market where buai is so cheap you can often walk away with more than you bargain for…

Anonymous, buai market seller, GaulimAnonymous, buai seller in Gaulim
…and the moral of the story is that ‘two please’ could mean two piles but it could also mean two kina’s worth which I can tell you is a LOT more (a whole bilum full to be precise, plus the extras as a present for the white meri chewing buai!)  That is quite possibly why this cheeky faced market seller is looking so happy with herself!

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