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Papua New Guinea: Gumilababa Festivities

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Gumilababa Festivities | Papua New Guinea | Oceania

[Visited: June 2016]

Shortly after arriving on Kiriwina island, talk of the town is the opening of a new church in Gumilababa, a village north of Losuia, the main town of the island, dubbed the Station. It is going to take place on the day of my departure, and I decide I should not miss it, also because it is conveniently located on the way to the airport. So I leave with my luggage from the Station, walk up the airport road, wondering why people are walking away from Gumilababa. I come across a father with his kids, his two daughters carrying a long yam tied between two bamboo sticks. When I ask someone about the festivities, he directly offers me to show me the way. Within minutes, he opens his small backpack and shows his carvings, which are for sale. I try to explain that I have already bought carvings before, and that I am only interested in seeing the festivities.

Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): The main festival grounds with a pile of yams for each village of Kiriwina island

We reach an open area in the forest, and I see dozens of people adding yams to tall piles, formed by wooden sticks. Apart from the many piles, there are much taller stacks, with betel nuts on top as decoration. The new church stands right next to the old one: a freshly painted blue building. In front of it, poles are hanging horizontally, with pigs tied to them, hanging upside down. Their heads are hanging low, the sun is shining mercilessly on them, and it is clear they are suffering. It is part of the celebrations: while people normally eat fish or perhaps chicken, pigs are reserved for special occasions, and this certainly is one of them. Behind the church, we find more installations with yams and betel nuts. An almost continuous row of women, men, and children is bringing in yet more yams to the festival grounds. Many of them are surprised to see a dim-dim here, and come and shake my hand.

Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Tall pile of yams in Gumilababa

We see several spots in the ground with smoke coming out, and my casual guide explains that they are momo: holes in the ground, filled with stones and fire, on which whole pigs have been placed in the morning: they will be roasted for hours. We make a loop through the village, and one guy is stirring in a big pot in which he is boiling pieces of pig; I politely decline his offer to taste his brew. Coming back to the church, we see long yams which are painted like the bamboo sticks to which they are attached, together with the betel nuts hanging from the top as decoration. There is even a different looking yam which turns out to be a donation from Ghana. The pigs in front of the church are now lying on the ground, still tied to the poles with their legs. They are all panting, and one of them raises his eyes to me, as if I, the dim-dim, could prevent the unavoidable. On the festival grounds, people are still adding yams to the tall piles, and I now see that every pile represents a village on Kiriwina. Villagers from all over the island have been invited, and indeed, in the previous days, wherever I went, people were talking about these festivities in Gumilababa. I would have loved to stay, and see the rest of the day, but I have a plane to catch. When my guide takes me to the main road again, he says he has decided to give me one of his carvings as a souvenir. Once again, I am touched by the kindness of the locals. The PMV ride to the airport is with mixed feelings: looking forward to new adventures elsewhere in this fabulous country, but also missing out on the festivities here.

Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Women carrying yams to the festival grounds of Gumilababa
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Tall pile of yams with man carrying more yams to the festival grounds
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Betel nuts and painted wooden sticks with long yam
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Pigs lying on the ground, waiting to be slaughtered, in front of the church
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Painted wooden sticks and betel nut with long yam in between
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Carrying yams and betel nuts with tall pile of yams in the background
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Preparing for the festivities with betel nuts and yams
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Preparing for the festivities in Gumilababa
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Scene in Gumilababa with kids carrying yams for the festivities
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Piles of yam on both sides of a street in Gumilababa
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Tall towers of yam with betel nut and a pig hanging upside down on a pole
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): People walking past an underground cooking of a whole pig, called momo
Picture of Gumilababa Festivities (Papua New Guinea): Street in Gumilababa with tall towers of yam

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