The iconic masks worn by the Baining people are made from bamboo, leaves, grass, bark and cloth and used only once before they’re burned or discarded. The fire dance itself is traditionally performed by young men as an initiation into adulthood; women and children were long forbidden from watching. Dances are also performed to celebrate childbirth, in remembrance of the dead, and to celebrate the coming of the annual harvest.
Today, visitors to PNG are invited to watch the Baining fire dance during festival season, but you should be aware that this is still an important cultural ceremony and not a tourist spectacle; keep a respectful distance from the fire and performers, and keep an eye on sparks, embers and ash – the dancers frequently run through the fire and kick pieces of flaming wood into the air. A spectacular sight, but not worth losing an eye over.
Flash Parker traveled to Papua New Guinea courtesy of Tourism Papua New Guinea and Swain Destinations as part of AFAR’s partnership with The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), whose members provide travelers with unparalleled access, insider knowledge, and peace-of-mind to destinations across the globe. For more info on Flash’s journey, visit the USTOA blog.