“We saw some of their bottoms, and we saw some of their [tops], but that’s OK, because it was their party and they can do that.”
And, with these insightful words from our four year old, we began our new year. And what a beginning it was! This year, our village decided to treat us to a traditional singsing (dance party) to mark the occasion! Normally, our neighbors here are dressed in board shorts and T-shirts, but last night was “narapela kain tru” (totally different)! Like with everything else we experience among the Iski, we now have more questions than when we started, but one thing we know without a doubt: the Iski know how to throw a party!
As you may have figured out by Manny’s little comment, “clothing” wasn’t necessarily part of the evening’s festivities, but what they lacked in quantity they made up for in quality! The guys wore a bark coverlet (kind of a mix between a thong and a loin cloth) and huge feather headdresses and were covered with all manner of hand-crafted “bilas” (decorations) – feathers, leaves, pig tusks, shells, and dyed grass were everywhere!
The ladies were all patterned with body paint, and each wore a uniquely patterned grass skirt, beautiful strings of little shells, and…well…that’s basically it. Oh yeah, and they held palm fronds. (Toplessness is viewed very differently here than in the States.)
This was our first ever PNG singsing, so we didn’t really know what to expect going into it, but we were hoping to get a few cultural insights throughout the night. It certainly didn’t disappoint! This thing was packed full of cultural rituals and beliefs! Honestly, at times, it was kind of like trying to catch water in a Dixie-cup while getting sprayed with a fire hydrant. There was just too much going on for us to keep track of it all! (And THAT is why we took 347 pictures, plus videos.)
And, get this: they danced ALL NIGHT (well, except for the smoke breaks, and when a huge rainstorm came through and they had to stop for a little bit, but they made up for the break by dancing later into the morning than they normally would). Seriously, it was CONSTANT, choreographed, ritual dancing, drum beating, and singing for OVER TEN HOURS! Can you imagine doing that?! I think I’ve probably danced 10 hours in my LIFE!
It was a great start to the New Year, and it was a good reminder to us of why we’re here doing what we’re doing. These guys don’t know Jesus. They don’t know about the freedom that comes from accepting His death on their behalf. They are trapped in a belief system that demands ritual performance and gives them only insecurity and tension in return. (Case in point: partway through the festivities they made a public service announcement to those who were visiting from other villages to remember not to walk around at night by themselves, because “sanguma” (evil spirits) might attack them.)
And, before I sign off, just in case you’re struggling with the idea of why we would stay up and watch our friends dance around half naked in the night singing ancestral songs, here is a quote from one of the older guys in our village:
“It’s good that you are coming to our singsing and learning how we do things. You need to know everything about us. Then, when you bring us God’s talk, you can give it to us in a way that we Iski will understand.”
And yes, their absolutely transparent desire for God’s truth gives me goosebumps too. Now, if we could only learn to make sense of their language…