The beginning of the Baining fire dance, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, showing one of several masked tribesmen who will be dancing to the haunting, hypnotic rhythms tapped out by about a dozen men using bamboo poles to tap out the music on wood
Rabaul, built around Simpsons Harbour, is the home of the Tolai people, but the surrounding high Baining Mountains are the domain of the Baining people. Leaving our ship late in the afternoon, we tendered to the Rabaul pier where we boarded small vans for the drive up the mountain (about 45 minutes on unpaved roads) to have a rare opportunity to witness the Baining’s tribe fire dance. This dramatic display is a traditional part of ceremonies ranging from the celebration of a birth, the beginning of the harvest season, to the initiation of young men into adulthood. During the ceremony, accompanied by men using bamboo poles to tap out haunting, hypnotic rhythms on wood, the Baining men dance and jump over red-hot coals and through the flames wearing elaborately decorated masks created just for the dance. This dance is unique to the Baining tribe and Papua New Guinea. We were extremely fortunate to be able to watch this ceremonial celebration in the mountains above Rabaul – a ritual that until recently was relatively unknown outside of Papua New Guinea.
Here one of the Baining men danced and jumped over red-hot coals and through the flames wearing an elaborately decorated mask created just for the dance, Baining fire dance, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea; note that traditionally in the tribe no women were permitted to watch the dance ritual performance
The tribesman in the “crocodile” mask was by far the most energetic and daring of the dancers the evening we attended a ceremonial dance, Baining fire dance, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea
Four masked dancers and a couple of men walking around the fire with a highly decorated “banner”, Baining fire dance, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea; there was a break in the rain and the nearly full moon helped light up the ceremonial performance area
Here the “crocodile” dancer, with bare feet, energetically danced through the coals, kicking them up into the air for a “fireworks” display, Baining fire dance, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea; note the umbrellas, as it rained the first hour of the performance
At the former New Guinea Club building in Rabaul, that is now a museum, the masks on the left and right are from a Baining fire dance performance, Papua New Guinea; traditionally, at the end of the dance the last rite was for the dancers to burn their masks – it remains taboo to sell or give non-tribal visitors a dance mask