Worlds colliding

In the complex cultural melting pot of Papua New Guinea (PNG) it is very easy to be transfixed by the overwhelming, crazy, colourfulness of singsings but as I have spent time mesmerised by the rhythmic sound of the kundu drumming, the glistening bodies adorned with feathers, shells and foliage, and the evocative singing and chanting of the men and women, I have begun to notice the ever present fusion of deeply traditional culture and the inescapable modern world and the beauty of these worlds colliding.

The advantage of living in a country so different to your own is being able to take the time to scratch the surface to understand the people and the culture. Unlike just visiting and seeing a snapshot, being embedded in a community allows for you to see small details and get a deeper understanding of why things are the way that they are, even if you can’t comprehend the reasoning.

During a summer of singsings I’ve not just been capturing photos of the incredible painted faces, the elaborate headdresses, or the unusual body adornments but how the ever-encroaching modern world is impacting these traditional celebrations. My feeling is that it certainly doesn’t detract from the incredible spectacle and fierce pride displayed by the different singsing groups but shows the stark juxtaposition of age-old tradition and how far things have come for PNG in such a short time.

Future headdress

01 Future headdress

Looking back with a slightly uncertain expression is this little highlands boy draped in necklaces made of beads and pig tusks but with a flash of modern PNG across his headdress; old meets new.

Whistle crew

02 Whistle crew

In full, fierce highlands bilas (traditional dress) these warriors march with axes in hand and metal whistles in mouth.


03 Aviators

This highlands style meri teams her amazing headdress with feather fringe with a pair of aviators.

Mobile addition

04 Mobile addition

These Hagen men sway in a hypnotic motion and march with spears but not without their connection to the modern world.

The Coca Cola generation

05 The Coca Cola generation

Hidden among the rustling, folded leaf skirts of these highlands women, this pikinini gazes out the huddle with his flash of red, blue and white face painting and his plastic coke bottle in hand.

Suck and blow

07 Suck and blow

In an impressive effort this women is playing the pipe and smoking a cigarette!

Tablet takeover

08 Tablet takeover

Quite possibly one of my favourite photos, this simbu man happily takes my photo with his tablet and shows true tribal technology!

Mirror, mirror

09 Mirror

After a morning of dancing and singing in the hot sun you need to make sure that your make up is still in place and as a strongpela highlands man, nothing is more fitting to do that with than with a pink princess mirror.

Rolling some bruce

10 Rolling some bruce

Taking a break, rolling a cigarette made of bruce the local tobacco and attempting to watch the festivities under his thick fringe of feathers.

Text message distraction

11 Text message distraction

That moment when you are in the middle of a singsing and you need to answer a text message!

Boom box

12 Boom box

Sitting around with your PNG bruthas playing guitar while your boom box accompanies you with some heavy beats!

Fizzy fusion

13 Fizzy fusion

I do sometimes think that PNG is sponsored by Coca Cola as the branded singsing group from the Goroka Show in 2013 displayed to perfection.  It is those moments when the groups relax that you capture them refreshing them with their fizzy fix when you are reminded that you haven’t gone back in time.

Ice cream cool down

14 Ice cream cool down

Nothing says fearsome warrior quite like a man wearing rainbow coloured bilas, eating an ice cream!

Culture and modernity

15 Culture and modernity

This photograph displays the transformation within PNG culture perfectly.  Covered in body paint made from clay with grass through his septum, this man stands next to the proud young woman in a polo shirt with her PNG flag and hat in complete contrast to his traditional attire.  The one thing that is evident from both, and the aspect that I find so amazing, is the pride of the past and the future.


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