On one of our first Bird-of-Paradise Project trips back in 2004, we were driving a rural road in the Western Highlands of New Guinea. Passing a small village, we noticed a huge gathering of people. There appeared to be a traditional ceremony going on. We stopped and saw that indeed, there was a ‘singsing’, or traditional dance in progress, with dancers wearing huge headdresses of bird-of-paradise feathers, faces and bodies painted, muscles rippling and carrying battle-axes. This was exactly what I wanted to photograph, since I was very interested in documenting the use of bird-of-paradise plumes in New Guinea culture. This was not a performance for tourists, but a real village ceremony where bird-of-paradise plumes still played an important role. As I approached the fringes of the crowd, I pulled my camera out of my shoulder bag. Just then, I noticed a man striding toward me from the right. He was a dancer who had finished performing. His face and torso were painted in bold patterns, and his headdress made him look even more imposing. As he moved toward me, he was shouting something I couldn’t understand, and at the same time he was pulling his stone axe out of his belt. I became a little concerned. I tried to signal my friendly intentions with a forced smile and started shoving my camera back into the bag thinking that perhaps the sight of my camera was what had offended him. Then I finally understood what he was saying. “Snap me! Snap me!” he was yelling. He wanted to pose for a picture (with his axe)! I obliged and received a friendly reception after that. We visited the village again the next day for the continuation of the ceremony, when I took the photo above of a group of dancers sporting a huge number of bird-of-paradise plumes.
carol tarrant says
Tim this is a tremendous photograph, of these bio diverse tribes people. I am very interested in this ‘compensation ceremony’, did you discover what was the issue? Also was this taken in independant Papua New Guinea or suppressed, marginalised and brutalised west Papua? Of course these indigenous people are all the same Melanesian race…but as we now know their life expectancy is VERY different!