Just about everyone in Papua New Guinea has a legend or folklore that is animated into a traditional dance and performed at ceremonies. These stories, dances and ceremonies identify who we are and our uniqueness in the melting pot of urban centres where many of us now reside. Often these dances and myths have messages or lessons that are passed down the generations through this form of oral history.

I come from an area known as Jiri’ipu which is located on the North Coast of Oro Province. This is a story and dance from my place and it is called Ta’tao’n. The dance is highly animated and requires a group of dynamic female and male dancers who beat miniature kundu drums and shake rattles. There is no singing but the dancers are dressed in brilliantly designed tapa cloaks and colourful headdress. It was performed in 2007 at the Korobosea International School by school children to celebrate Papua New Guinea’s 32nd Independence anniversary. The leader of the dance group was my youngest sister and Grade Five Teacher Miss Ethel Paine.

Legend has it that one morning in the beginning of time, some young Amazon virgins set off into the forest in search of handsome warriors in shinning armour. They came upon a huge okari (terminalia kaernbachii) tree upon whose branches hung beautiful, shinning, maroon-coloured fruit. Captured by the splendour and in wonderment, the virgins circled the tree and searched for fruit which may have fallen on the ground beneath the tree.

A graceful dance around the gigantic Okari tree

But alas, there were no fallen fruit! Believing that they had discovered the fruit that would produce them their handsome warriors, they decided to perform a graceful dance around the gigantic okari tree to entice the fruits to fall into their arms.
(In this part – a group of dancers perform as they encircle an elevated enclosed platform where another group of dancers are waiting).

The virgins danced into a momentum of frenzy to seduce the shiny fruits to fall into their arms, albeit not one fruit fell. The hours of dancing, and waiting and frenzy were all to no avail. The virgins were no ordinary virgins. They were passionate and driven to find the warriors of their dreams. So they regrouped and discussed their next course of action.
(In this part – the group of dancers on the ground move away from the platform).

As twilight set in and darkness began to veer its head, the virgins decided to abandon their mission and turn back home. Suddenly, a gust of wind propelled through the jungle, blowing through the okari tree branches causing one coveted fruit to fall to the ground. The delighted virgins all rushed to pick up the fruit. They could not believe their luck and looked at awe at the true beauty of the maroon fruit in their hands. In turns, they fondled, caressed and cuddled this exquisite fruit that looked like nothing they had ever seen before.
(In this part – Two females and one male dancer with rattles dance into the arena at the base of the platform. Simultaneously one male dancer in the elevated enclosure rises and performs in rhythm. This male dancer then descends from the platform to be acknowledged and received by the dancers on the ground).

No handsome warrior in shining armour

Upon reaching their village, the virgins placed the much-adored fruit under a clay pot believing that this amazing looking fruit would transform into a handsome warrior to be wed by the virgins. Each morning after that, the leader of the virgins would open the clay pot to check how the fruit was developing. Many mornings went by but nothing happened. Eventually, the virgins decided to crack open the okari fruit to discover what was inside.

To their disappointment, they found no handsome warrior in shinning armour. Indeed, there was no wedding for the virgins. In fact, the virgins had done the forbidden - they had adored, fondled and caressed the fruit, fooled by its outer beauty.

In the modern or the present context, we are relayed several messages from this legend and dance.

 Do not be fooled by beauty
 Beauty is only skin deep, or
 Do not judge a book by its cover

The word ‘Tao’ extracted from the name of the dance and legend is the word that describes the okari fruit or nut in my language. Tao also means to fondle, caress and adore and also originates from the legend whereby the virgins caress the fruit.

Even today, we still believe that when you pick up a beautiful, shiny maroon-coloured okari and hold it; do not touch the eye of the fruit. Or, you will find nothing inside when you break open the fruit.

Korobosea International School

The Ta’tao’n performed at the Korobosea International School comprised of a group of female and male students including Malaysian Jen Wen Phoon. The theme for the School’s Independence celebrations was “Independence for all: Lifting the barrier of gender, poverty and race”. International students chose provincial groups of interest to participate with. Jen chose Oro province and he was assisted by the Oro provincial students and their families to be attired suitably.

Malaysian student Jen (left) joined the Oro group and stole the show.
All students are encouraged to participate in their place of origin (provincial groups). Dances are either taught by teachers or volunteers from their provincial groups who have special knowledge and skills of traditional dances. Dance practices are usually held during school hours and can take up to 6 -7 weeks of practice before performances. The teachers at the school take the lead in their provincial groups.

The event which takes place on 14th September (Papua New Guinea's Independence Day is Sept 16)every year should be penciled in, in every Port Moresby traveller’s annual calendar. You will not be disappointed.



Design in CSS by TemplateWorld and sponsored by SmashingMagazine
Blogger Template created by Deluxe Templates