BY LEIAO GEREGA
THEY swayed to the beat of hand held slit bamboo drums, their grass skirts swaying to the rhythm.
Even the birds in the Port Moresby Nature Park stopped to watch the natural unfolding of song and dance as the search for the 2018 Hiri Hanenamo unfolded in their leafy garden in Port Moresby.
The barefoot beauties, wearing head-dresses made of beautiful plumes and grass shirts, held up mini ‘lakatois’or clay pots as they swung to the beat of their age old traditional songs of the Hiri trade. The 14 young women from seven Motu-Koitabu villages went into their first set of judging in Port Moresby’s popular Nature Park, surrounded by trees their grandfathers knew by name.
They spotted hand painted tattoos – replicas of what their grandmothers wore when they waved goodbye to their husbands, brothers and uncles, who undertook many voyages down the Papuan Coast to trade their clay pots for sago, food and logs.
The young women, aged 18-25, came prepared to showcase their traditional knowledge of the hiri trade. “This event, Hiri Hanenamo, is the highlight of the Hiri Moale Festival, because women were required to play an important role by adhering to strict rituals, such as keeping away from the public to ensure a successful voyage (to trade in Gulf Province) for their men,” festival coordinator Udu Vai said.
Each contestant, from Boera to Gaire, will be judged on their traditional costumes, hiri knowledge, confidence and grace. “So we focus on these girls by telling them to follow the rituals set by committees such as keeping indoors or eating certain food,” sub-committee coordinator of Hiri Hanenamo, Henao Vagi said, explaining the steps taken by the young women.
Henao said tattoos in particular, tells the story of a voyage, and is an important heritage of the Motuan culture. “Each tattoos are different, some tattoos celebrate the returning of the lagatois or signify mourning, or whether the girl is married or not.” There to witness two of her small siblings contest, Melinda Nari, a past participant of Hiri Hanenamo, said the event meant a lot to her.
“My family is proud because we are keeping our identity, this reminds me of how my elders traded, the hardships they went through and the threats they endured.” She and four sisters have contested for the Hiri queen title since 2001. But this year is said to be more exciting, says Vagi, because Motuan communities gear up to showcase the historical trade voyage to a huge crowd of tourists and APEC – Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation – delegates.
“Families are excited and are preparing and are all geared up for this.
“With this being the APEC year, we know that the crowd compared to previous year will be huge, there will be tourists and delegates from the APEC econmomies and it’s going to be an enjoyable festival,” Henao Vagi said.
The second and third judging of the Hiri Hanenamo will take place on Friday and Saturday.
The 2018 Hiri Aueen, says Mr Udu Vai, will become cultural ambassador for the Motu-Koita in any Hiri-related event and if unemployed will be given the opportunity to work with the Motu-Koita Assembly for a year.