Caption: The world-famous Asaro Mudmen have always been a feature of the Goroka Show
By MALUM NALU
The Goroka Show, one of Papua New Guinea's greatest tourist attractions, will be held on September 16, 17 and 18 at the National Sports Institute.
It will coincide with the country's 36th independence anniversary celebrations.
This is certainly good news as the Goroka Show, first inaugurated in 1956 and the oldest in the country is well known internationally.
Goroka's was the first show in PNG, was reputed as "the best", and that reputation must be maintained.
The 54th Goroka Show has the theme 'Unity'.
This was confirmed at the launch of PNG's longest-running cultural festival, which was first staged back in 1956, at a function attended by sponsors and potential sponsors in Goroka on last Wednesday night.
"Last year, we had a record of 800-plus tourists and that is attributed to the ongoing internet marketing through our website, www.gorokashow.com courtesy of Goroka Chamber of Commerce and Industry," said organising committee chairman Gideon Samuel.
In 1956, former kiap (patrol officer) Bob Cleland writes in his memoirs, no one had seen a show before, until this one staged at the National Day Park.
"The organisers of this one, with no precedent to guide them, copied the pattern of a typical Australian country show," he remembers.
"Exhibits of every aspect of the district, equestrian events, a woodchop, foot races, a motorcycle gymkhana, marches – plenty to look at and action all day.
"The five buildings along the side of the hill housed displays by schools, government departments, businesses in town, missions, etc.
"The three buildings on the far side of the 'ring' were devoted to exhibits from the three sub-districts in the Eastern Highlands: Chimbu on the left, Kainantu middle and Goroka on the right.
"The aim was to show all the features, produce, and industries of the sub-district.
"I was a patrol officer at Kainantu at the time, and the district commissioner had approved his staff spending (not too much!) time in organising and setting up our exhibit.
"Most of the European population of Kainantu (about 20) travelled to the show and when we won the district competition, we couldn't resist rubbing it in to the other two sub-districts!
"The local villagers were curious and plenty of them turned up to see what it was all about, but there were no singsing groups.
"In subsequent shows, the singsing groups with plenty of encouragement from the government and organisers, turned up in force.
"The Goroka Show, and then the Mount Hagen Show in the 1960s, became singsing spectaculars and drew large numbers of international tourists.
"Both continue to this day."
The town's population at that time of the first show, 55 years ago, consisted of a growing number of Europeans, labourers and policemen.
It was held at the National Day Park - normally the football ground and cricket pitch - opposite the town's main market.
Organisers encouraged community involvement with invitations extended to schools as far as Wabag to enter children's exhibits.
There was also a large agricultural section.
Village people brought in garden food and the Agriculture Department set up other displays.
One of the most-impressive displays was a map of the Territory of Papua New Guinea, made up of red and green coffee beans mounted on a 15 - foot long trellis.
It won the District Prize!
In subsequent shows after 1956, European visitors flew in large numbers for the first time into Goroka.
All private accommodation was stretched to such a limit that even the 'A' School - now the Public Library - was converted into a dormitory.
Large numbers of chartered aircraft parked in neat formation at the airport itself was a first, and in itself, a sight to be seen.
The most-memorable part of the show was seeing the different groups in their colourful attire, together for the first time.
No villager had ever seen such a congregation of various tribes in one place.
The group that made the most impact on the crowd was the Asaro Mudmen.
Spectators were said to have fled, terrified at the sight of the mud - coated bodies and the large, grotesque masks.
The art of the mudmen's ritualistic dance was unknown outside their own clans until that moment!
Goroka, and later Mount Hagen, became centres where Europeans could meet and mix with a variety of native cultures.
Men of tribes that were once sworn enemies brushed shoulders in the market place or served side - by side in the local government councils.
For the tourists, these presented a unique spectacle.
The people walked in from more than 200 miles away, climbing over mountains 10,000 feet high.
Months beforehand, officials arranged for plots of sweet potatoes to be planted at intervals along the paths the visitors would take - a precaution against the raiding of gardens and possible bloodshed.
Tourists came for all over the world.
They were submerged in a vast concourse of natives, numbering well over 100,000; most of them wearing the traditional plumes and skirts of beaten bark, and carrying their spears and bows and arrows.
To accommodate "foreign" tribesmen, the show authorities built "long houses" measuring hundreds of yards from end to end.
After the display or produce and sporting events, the stamping feet, the paint and feathers, the "whoom-pah, whoompah" of the wooden trumpets - it was incongruous to see under a headdress of cassowary plumes, a balloon of bubble gum suddenly pop from the mouth of a dancer; a group of warriors bargaining with tourists for a fee of 20 cents before they would pose for a photo.
White men and women wandered unconcernedly among the crowd.
The Kenyan leader Tom Mboya, who visited the Goroka Show in 1965, confessed: "The sight amazed me.
"Nowhere in Africa would Europeans dare to walk among so many natives without a policeman or soldier in sight.
"Yet, tens of thousands of these people had not seen a white man before the war.
"Twenty years ago, neither Goroka nor Hagen existed."