Papua New Guinea: An Introduction to the Tolai Tubuan's Kinavai Ceremony - National Mask Festival - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Papua New Guinea: An Introduction to the Tolai Tubuan's Kinavai Ceremony - National Mask Festival

The Tolai Tubuans' Kinavai arrival at dawn by boat
Photo: Anette
To celebrate the diversity of its people, the province of East New Britain hosts an annual National Mask Festival in July where people from the tribes of Tolai, Baining, Pomio, and Sulka gather up to display their unique attires and dances (see also: 10 Tips for Visiting PNG's National Mask Festival - Kokopo & Rabaul). The festival commences with a ceremony called the ‘Kinavai’, where the Tolai Tubuans arrive at dawn in boats from the sea.

Papua New Guinea: An Introduction to the Tolai Tubuan 's Kinavai Ceremony

It all begins at dawn

We got up around 3am and went along with a group from our hotel down to the beach area where the Kinavai was scheduled to take place. In the beginning, we stood there on the pitch dark beach unable to see much of our surroundings until we started to hear the chanting and beating of drums from the sea in front of us. We could barely get a glimpse of the silhouettes of the boats out on the ocean in the dark, but soon the rising sun in the horizon gave colors to our surroundings and unveiled the mysterious Dukduk and Tubuan spirits out there on the boats.
Above: Locals taking a break amidst the festival
The Dukduks are dressed in leaves to their waist and with a cone-shaped black mask marked by white circular eyes and a crescent smile. But don't be fooled by their friendly appearance - the Dukduks are known to be unruly creatures that can bring law and justice, but might also burn down the home of those who don't pay their taxes. Their existence is surrounded by secrecy, and in fact, only a handful of people even know the identity of the person inside the costume. It is traditionally forbidden to look at the Dukduks for women and children, to whom they are believed to bring harm. The Kinavai ceremony is thus one of the rare occasions where even outsiders get the chance to take a good look at these secretive creatures.
The Kinavai ceremony signifies the coming of the Tolai people to the shores of East New Britain and is of high spiritual importance to the local people. With the mystical setting on the beach, this ceremony felt more authentic than the part of the National Mask Festival that takes place in a set arena. But unfortunately, lack of proper organization and troublesome tourists willing to do anything to get good shots really put a damper on the experience for us. One of the Tolai leaders repeatedly had to beg tourists to respect their tradition and not walk on the sacred ground or go close to the Dukduks. The tour operators didn't seem to have control on the situation and did little to approach the misbehaved tourists to make them stop.

Above: Random guy taking photos on the restricted ground
If you’ve got the 150 kina tourist pass you get access to a VIP area right in front of the final arrival spot of the Tolai Tubans where you’ll be able to get a good overview of the last part of the ritual. Which we did, but we had to approach other tourists directly and ask them to get out of the way as they would still try to go up to the boats. Slightly frustrating when the back of some random visitor occupies a large chunk of what could have been a pretty good photo. This could have been the highlight of the festival, but instead, it led to frustration and stress... In fact, we found the Baining Fire Dance a lot more enjoyable! But I still believe that with a bit better organization the Kinavai ceremony can have the potential to become a much more memorable event in the future.

The Kinavai morning ritual lasts until around 7am and marks not just the beginning of a new dawn, but also the beginning of the National Mask Festival. After the morning ritual is over you’ll have just enough time to have breakfast, and perhaps a nap, until the official program starts at 9am.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments you can leave them in the comment section below. And if you want more, you can find all my posts about Papua New Guinea here.

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
- Anette

 ◆Basic Info

  • South Pacific Export 24th National Mask Festival & National Gaming Control Board Warwagira Festival
    When: Annual event taking place in July
  • Where: Takes place either in Kokopo or Rabaul.  

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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