Evening at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae, the once-beautiful ‘garden city’ of Papua New Guinea, now a pothole and crime-infested garden of good and evil.
|Butibam village women performing at the opening of the Ahi Festival in Lae on Sunday, Dec 12
Their mere presence sends a powerful message that they have enough of all the negative, gloom-and-doom perceptions that have beset Lae for far too long
|Wagang village dancers
And when the voices rise, they soar higher than an eagle – over the mountains, Huon Gulf and crime-infested settlements and streets of Lae - a moment many shall never forget.
Riback operations manager George Gware, the man behind the Ahi Festival, says he is deeply touched as such an event like tonight’s carols by candlelight has never been seen before in Lae.
|Go Ahi...Riback Stevedores operations manager and Ahi Festival mastermind George Gware makes a strong point at the opening
|John Wilshere waving to a fullhouse crowd at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae on Sunday, Dec 12
Rainy Lae lives up to name, but by the time the heavens open, most of the programme has been completed.
Tonight’s carols are part of the week’s Ahi Festival, an event which has brought together the six villages, in a sporting and cultural tour-de-force.
It really has been an amazing week as the festival brings out an extravaganza of sports and culture starting on Monday, Dec 13.
|Butibam village beauty Catherine Maliaki leads her team with a traditional dance around the field on Sunday, Dec 12
Of course, Ahi prowess in sports like basketball, volleyball and netball is well-known, with current and former internationals on show this week.
It is encouraging to see young people from the six villages zealously holding on to their culture amidst the winds of change.
|Yalu women performing at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium on Sunday, Dec 12
Papua New Guinea’s latest singing sensation Greg Aaron, widely tipped to be named winner of the 2010 Digicel Stars competition on Sunday, brought the house down at the stadium on Wednesday.
Ahi favourite son ‘Greg’ – as he is known to thousands of Digicel Stars fans all over PNG – is from Yanga and has developed a cult following since his appearance in the competition this year.
The unassuming 26-year-old had the crowd – especially young people from the six Ahi villages – singing and dancing around the paddock as he took centre stage, backed by his Thronz band of Lae.
Greg’s performance was in line with one of the festival’s objectives to promote young Ahi talent in music.
He tells me that he can’t wait for Digicel Stars judgement day on Sunday – which could be the biggest break in his music career.
“I’m proud to be an Ahi,” Greg declares.
“To be part of this Ahi Festival feels just right to me.
“I feel a sense of belonging to this group.”
Greg said that whether or not he took the ultimate accolade in Digicel Stars, with a chance to pocket K10, 000 and a major recording contract, “I’ll still be the same old Greg”.
“I don’t think I’ll ever change,” he said.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the Ahi people from the six villages and all the organisers and people who are taking part in this event, and everyone else.”
A well-choreographed explosion of colour lit up the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium on Sunday, Dec 12 with the official opening.
|Team Kamkumung banner
“Let us all enjoy the occasion,” he declared in his brief, straight-to-the-point address.
The opening ceremony started with a colourful march-in of teams from the six Ahi villages.
This was followed by an opening prayer by Butibam woman leader Giob Gware, national anthem sung in local language by Ampo St Andrew’s choir, a run-in by teams to join hands with staff of major sponsor and organiser Riback Stevedores, festival pledge led by organiser Bob Aaron, release of balloons, and then the opening by Wilshere.
The 15 entrants in the Miss Ahi pageant ended an enjoyable day with a parade in front of an appreciative crowd.
Before the opening ceremony, people from the six Ahi villages packed the indoor stadium for a joint church service.
Highlights of the week included the Ms Ahi pageant which will culminate with the judging on Friday, Dec 17 at Lae International Hotel, ‘Carols by Candlelight’ at the stadium on Wednesday evening, displays of traditional culture and stalls set up by non-government organisations and other service providers.
|On the catwalk...Miss Wagang Jeanette Jana struts her stuff
“The Ahi Festival is an initiative of Riback Stevedores Ltd and has the full support of the Ahi community,” explains Riback general manager Peter Boyd.
“The company believes that the effects of the social problems facing the Ahi community can be wide-ranging in size anywhere from local effects on a family or a village to the Lae community and even the entire society.
“The company therefore wants to do its part in helping the Ahi community to help themselves to take a lead now in working towards addressing some of their social problems.
“We hope other members and stakeholders of the Lae community can also join in and help the people of Ahi in their endeavours to create an educated and orderly community that can co-exist peacefully with others in the wider Lae community.”
Boyd said the social problems of the Ahi community could be addressed only if the community could unite and work together in search of solutions with the support of strategic partners.
“The Ahi Festival can be a powerful tool to unite the Ahi community,” he added.
“It can also create awareness of the social issues and promote a team approach with key stakeholders to address the socials problems with the view to minimise its crippling effects on the people of Ahi – the current generation and also the future generation.”
Some of the main objectives of the Ahi Festival include:
• Promoting community unity;
• Promoting and preserving Ahi culture;
• Creating awareness on social Issues and assistance available; and
• Showcase local talents in culture, sports, music and business.
All that- and more - has been achieved this week.