Wewak | Project Sepik | 20 May 2021
The Official Welcome Song and Dance for the Supreme Sukundimi Follow up Workshop
The follow-up workshop to the Supreme Sukundimi took place in Korogu Village from 26th April to the 2nd May 2021.* The Supreme Sukundimi Declaration is a statement that was collectively drawn up during the Supreme Sukundimi in 2020. It was agreed upon by 28 n’gegos (Spirit, Governance and Administrative building – Haus Tambaran) of 25 villages along the Sepik River calling for the Frieda Mine to be banned. After the follow-up workshop held at Korogu Village in 2021, a total of 51 n’gegos from 48 villages now fully support the declaration.
The Official Welcome Song and Dance
The official welcome Song and Dance for the workshop was performed by the people of Kembiam Village in the Kambu LLG of the Wosera Gawi District, East Sepik Province.
It was a unique experience for the village of Kembiam to venture out to any other village along the banks of the Sepik River to do such a thing. The performance by dancers at Korogu Village was meaningful and purposeful.
Kembiam is a village situated inland about 2 kilometres from the bank of Sepik. It is in a flat swampy tropical rainforest area. Historically and traditionally, Kembiams engagement with Korogu Village is through the barter system. This is an economic system where fruits, vegetables and sago are exchanged to the people of Korogu for fish and other animals that dwell in the river, lakes and tributaries.
The leader of the dancers, Jeffrey, from Kembiam, was asked why his village came and performed at the opening of the follow-up workshop. He was pretty emotional when he ventured into the deep connections his people have of the Sepik River, the lakes and swamps.
“We think about our safety too because of the Frieda Copper and Gold Mine upstream. You must understand that the Sepik River water is the same water in the form we use in the swamps, marshes, and creeks where we live. You use it out here and we also use it in there. The fish you eat out here, we also eat in there. The destruction you get is the same destruction we get. We want to stop the Frieda Mine from operating. If the Mine does operate, then we will have problems for ourselves and our children. We have swamps and so when there is flooding each year, the water goes into the swamps. That is why we came and performed our traditional dance”.
Jeffrey explained that Kembiam have three different kinds of ‘singsing’ for the same dance, which they performed on the 26th April 2021 at the heart of Korogu Village. What they displayed is called singsing ‘Taman’.
This is the third singsing of the three. The first is called ‘Wat Bangu’, the second is called ‘Manbi’. The people of Kembiam wanted to show that they have these kinds of dances and songs.
Singsing Taman is used when young men are taken into the n’gego for the cultural rite of passage, or initiation ceremony. At the ceremony, it is believed that river crocodiles leave the swamps, enter the n’gego and bite these young men, leaving evidence of the bites on their skin. The singing last from evening to dawn. At dawn, the young men are taken into the n’gego for the cultural initiation period. In the past, the initiation periods last up to one year or more. These days, it takes at least a month.
Singsing Taman began with bamboo flutes in the n’gego. The men, consisting of younger teenagers to older men, start dancing within and around the n’gego. All dancers had split bamboos in each of the hands and hit these with exact timing and movement in a uniform manner. They dance around the n’gego, within an enclosure set up with sago leaves. This enclosure allows them privacy and secrecy. This enclosure separates the villagers from seeing much of the n’gego and everything happening. Only the musky, husky with a shade of raspy murmurs from inside the n’gego could be heard together with the crisp clanging of the split bamboos could be heard. The singsing and music are heard almost like a distant sound in a dark still and night. The dancers then creaked through an un-assumed opening through clad sago leaves into the public, where the women and girls join them with perfectly timed steps and movement. The dancers then dance for a while in public, and then, the men and boys would re-entre the n’gego while the women, girls and children danced outside the entrance of the n’gego. Singsing Taman is performed without uttering a single smile, laugh, or a single word.
Jeffrey continued as he explained, ‘The singsings are ancient. We believe our ancestors also performed these dances and we are proud to continue to do this today. We continue. It’s an important song for us in the village called Kembiam’. This is a significant event in the history of the Sepik river, and it was appropriate that we share this singsing’.
An estimate of about 250 people attended the official opening event: the Supreme Sukundimi Declaration follow-up workshop.*
In his welcome remarks, Emmanuel Peni, fighting back the tears of nostalgia, feeling of connectedness, and excitement, stated, ‘today I see a singsing I have never seen before. I am grateful to be reacquainted with the inland people. I feel the spirit of solidarity and courage sweeps through me. I do not understand much of the meaning of this performance, but I see and hear you singsing about our life, our river and our fight to save our home without uttering a single word. I believe everyone here heard you’.
* Disclaimer: This was a Covid safe event where a protocol was followed diligently to ensure no one’s health was compromised. The Project Sepik team put a lot of effort and thinking into getting Covid protocols in place and liaised with relevant local and international organisations prior to the program. The team received technical support across various levels, including the local authorities. No one experienced any symptoms of covid during the event or in the weeks after.