Day M18: The Morobe Show

15.10.11: This weekend is the Morobe Show, an annual event (now in its 50th year) which started as an agricultural expo, but has now morphed into the premier cultural event of the season. If you want to get your photo taken with a Papuan tribe in all their awesome regalia, this is the place to do it.

The Papuan Chief had finally come into port at 1800 last night and there was an outside chance that it might sail today: I kept my mobile phone on extra loud ring just in case and had all of my stuff packed and ready to go. But the good news was that I would at least get to see a bit of the Morobe Show.

Ben kindly picked me up from Stan’s flat in the morning and we drove over to the showgrounds with his mates: Duncan, Tom and Chris. The crowds beyond the fence were incredible: it seemed that everyone and their dog had descended on Lae for the weekend. Once inside it was a little less hectic.

The showgrounds were mapped out around a central oval which was used throughout the day for various events: the horseracing being the most hilarious and the stunt bikes being the most fun. Tomorrow they’d have a huge ‘singsing’ in which delegates from dozens of different tribes would congregate in the oval in their outrageous costumes for the kind of dance-off that precedes a rugby match between New Zealand and Samoa.

Today was all about the Morobe Show Queen competition. Twenty contestants adorned in their village’s finest traditional costumes (which skilfully covered only the unimportant bits) competed against each other by explaining to the judges in the most monotone voices imaginable where every last feather, bead and shell of their costumes came from. The chick with the snake got my vote, just for having a snake, although some of the head-dresses were several shades of awesome… I wanna organise a tribal-themed house party as soon as I got back to the UK.

In other parts of the festival site, you’d find fruit, flowers, grain, coffee beans, tea, horses, pigs, chickens: this was, after all, an agricultural show. But for me it was all about the tribal dress. I mean, where else can you go to take a photo like this:

Serious, DUDE.
DUDE.

These guys black themselves up with oil and melted tyres. Later on in the day, one of the fellas attempted a bit of tightrope walking in the central arena. Well, I say ‘tight’ rope, but I actually mean ‘not very tight at all’ rope: he fell off a good 17 times. But you know what they say: 18th time’s a charm. He was given a rapturous round of applause.

That evening I was invited to a barbecue at Ben’s place. Ben lives in the same compound as Alex, who was leaving just as we were arriving. He wound down his car window. ‘Graham: I’ve been trying to call you all day… the Pap Chief sailed early.’

Alex looked at his watch. ‘Well, it will have sailed in about five minutes.’

My stomach punched its way into my mouth. ‘You’re kidding?’

‘We’ll have to see if we can get you on the next one.’

‘Bu-bu-bu-’, my mind raced: I had been checking my phone all day. Maybe with all the people at the show, the mobile network was too busy for me to get the message. This was a disaster: my visa would probably expire, the ships I was hoping to join in the Pacific would be all knocked out of whack, whatsmore: Mandy would kill me.

Alex couldn’t hold his serious face any longer. ‘Naaaaah… only joking – it leaves tomorrow!’ and he drove off, no doubt chuckling to himself like a James Bond villain.

Grr…

Before we cranked up the barbeque, we all decided to head over to the Golf Club and watch Wales beat France at the Rugby World Cup Semi Finals. History will show that’s what should have happened, but for some reason (must have been a dodgy satellite transmitter or something) it looked like France won by a single point.

So my last night in Lae was spent eating yummy barbecue with a merry gang of ex-pats, drinking Scotch (Alex came back) and commiserating (in spirit) with the Welsh.