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PAPUA NEW GUINEA

THE HIGHLANDS AND THE SEPIK REGION

         

The Sepik region is an immense grassland reserve, surrounded by one of the world's greatest rivers which runs 1,126 kilometres from the origins in the mountains to the sea.

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The people along the river depend heavily on it for transportation, water and food. Their national links with the Sepik River are symbolised in many of their ancient and spiritual rituals, such as the manhood initiation. This requires painful carving of flesh on the backs of young men with razor blades. Patterns are that of a crocodile lying on the banks of the river.

The history of the Sepik region reflects the influence over the years of the missionaries, traders, labour recruiters and administrators.

Here river and crocodiles, man and nature have learned to live in mutual respect.

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Parts of the Highlands remain untouched just as they were when first discovered in 1933. In fact, some more villages have yet to see a white man.

A Spirit House, Haus Tambaran on the Chambri Lake,
Sepik Region, Papua New Guinea.

The Sepik River has long been world famous for the quantity and quality of its wood carvings and for the imposing architecture of its Haus Tambarans - Spirit Houses. Traditionally, art in the Sepik was created in the service of magic, myth and ritual. Spirit houses were lined with shields decorated with he faces of ancestors, mythical being and nature spirits, whose likenesses appear also on masks, suspension hooks for food and on the pillars which supported the great soaring roof of the house. Ritual cannibalism was practised as a means of protection against the spirit of an enemy killed in battle and for capturing his physical and spiritual powers. Often, the head was not eaten but painted and hung in the doorway of the spirit house as a symbol of prowess and to bar entry to women and the uninitiated.

Scenes from along the Sepik.

Today the people of the Sepik are Christians, and although a superstitious belief in the spirit world still persist, cannibalism remains only as a memory in the minds of old men. The spirit houses still stand and they are crammed full of carvings, but now these are made for tourists, not ancestors, and few of them had any ritual significance whatsoever. Consequently, the aura of magic they once possessed had vanished and there is little evidence of the skills once lavished on the masks and shields which now adorn the walls of museums in Europe and in America.   

A central roof support in the Spirit House of Kanganaman,
Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. The carving represents an ancestor spirit.

The people are hardy and village life depends in subsistence farming. Visitors will be fascinated by the bright ochre colours and two metre high head-dresses swathed in plumes of the Bird of Paradise worn by the tribal elders. Dancing is proud and fierce at traditional sing-sings, with drums beating long into the night.

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The Eastern Highland Province is a one hour flight north from Port Moresby or half an hour from Lae or Mt. Hagen. Once there, you are surrounded by a steep, rugged mountains covered in dense rainforest graduating to subalpine vegetation.

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The valleys are blanketed in grass and the panoramic views contain every imaginable shade of green. Altitude varies from 600 metres in the south to Mt Michael's 2,750 metre summit.

Goroka, the largest town and capital lies at 600 metres or 5,000 feet above sea level. The Sepik river has no actual river delta and stains the sea brown for up to 50 kilometres. It is said islanders off the coast can draw fresh water straight from the sea.

The Sepik is navigable for almost its entire length and winds down through the land resembling a huge, brown coiling serpent. The force of the river tears great chunks of mud and vegetation out of the river banks and a times these drift downstream in floating islands.

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West Sepik or San-daun Province is near the Irian Jaya border and is inhospitable terrain. It is home to the Upper Sepik people who move around in long, narrow dug out canoes. Travel is always difficult as there are no roads and the rivers are narrow.

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The centres are Vanimo and Amanab and villages around here have strong religious beliefs centred on deities that are believed to hold supernatural powers vital for survival in this remote and dense countryside. Easter Sepik is the middle and lower region from Angoram to Wewak town and there are a number of large rubber and cocoa plantations along the river flats. Wewak is an attractive town which felt the might of Japanese troops who "discovered" its isolation and its hidden ports around Kairiru Island. Many war memories remain around the outskirts of the plantations and the Japanese gun still points from the Eastern end of the island. The Sepiks supply what many experts consider the best and most creative carvings which differ from village to village.

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BIRD OF PARADISE HOTEL

The untouched beauty of the Eastern Highlands Province in the setting for the Bird of Paradise Hotel where luxury, style and impeccable service await you. The hotel's central location in Goroka provides easy access to every modern facility, yet only a short drive away is the timeless village of the Asaro Madmen.

Situated at the eastern end of the mountain chain that forms the spine of the PNG mainland, the Eastern Highlands, comprising fertile green valleys surrounded by steep rugged mountains, were first discovered in 1927. Since then, the province has grown from a rest centre and vegetable producer for troops during the war to one of the most successful provinces in Papua New Guinea with Goroka as its administrative commercial capital.

Guest accommodation at the hotel consists of 52 comfortable deluxe rooms and suites that feature cable TV, IDD telephones, refrigerator, tea and coffee making facilities, hairdryer, and sweeping views of picturesque Goroka.

Nouvelle cuisine is the highlight of the elegant Lahani Restaurant with specialities such as a crocodile, buffalo, venison, and pigeon blended with the fresh Highland vegetables and fruit.

More conventional la carte and al fresco dining is offered by the Deck Bistro, while Birdy's Piano Bar adjoining the Lahani Restaurant provides wonderful cocktails and light entertainment.

A PATCH OF MOUNTAIN PARADISE

The friendly and professional hotel staff also run optional day tours which introduce guests to unspoiled terrain and the unique culture of the pr9ovince. Mount Gahavisuka National Park, noted for the famed birds of paradise, Mt. Wilhelm (4,509) metres), the Asaro Mudmen village, Kainantu pottery, and Dualo Pass - one of the highest road access points in Papua New Guinea - are just a few of the select tours.

For relaxing after a day tour or doing business in town, the outdoor heated pool is simply perfect. Follow with a therapeutic massage, or you may prefer a casual game of snooker or billiards in the Gillies Club Bar. With the Goroka Fitness Club and the Goroka Squash Club both located on the hotel premises, energetic guests have immediate access to a fully equipped gym, aerobics, and squash. Other sports facilities including golf, horse riding, pistol club and a speedway club are located nearby.

For banquets or conferences of up to 100 people, the Hibiscus Room is fully equipped to cater for your every need. Other services include 24-hour reception, currency exchange, off-street parking, room service, guest laundry, baby sitting and courtesy airport transfers. Within the hotel complex, you'll also find shops and services from newsagent hairdressing and car rental.

Getting to Goroka is quite easy. Lae is within half-hour's flight or an easy four hour drive along the scenic Highlands Highway, while Port Moresby is only one hour's flight away.

Local airlines offer very attractive weekend packages of two or three nights staying at the deluxe Bird of Paradise Hotel.

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For More Information Contact:

BIRD OF PARADISE HOTEL

P.O. Box 12
Goroka
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Telephone: +675 732144
Facsimile: +675 7321007
E-mail: thebird@datec.com.pg

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 Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 14th September 2009)