Dance Of The Kumul by Grace Maribu

July 6, 2015

Dance Of The Kumul by Grace Maribu

Many visitors to Papua New Guinea come to see the country’s traditional dancing at provincial cultural shows.

Few, however, have witnessed the jaw- dropping performance in the hinterland of Morobe Province that is traditionally called munduap and is colloquially known as the kumul dance.

It would almost seem this time-honoured dance of the Boana area could have
been specially choreographed for World Environment Day.

It involves precision dancing up and down a 30-metre structure, with some men wearing headdresses as high as seven metres and as heavy as five kilograms.
In essence, munduap portrays the wonder, peace and completeness of the natural tropical rainforest environment – from the awe-inspiring branch hopping of the beloved bird of paradise to the slow meandering of the river perch.

Preparation for the dance is done days before the show. Men chop down young trees and build the structure. It looks like a giant ladder. This is for the “sky show” where the birds of paradise – the kumul – will do their branch-hopping precision dancing. Meanwhile, other men who will be imitating trees of the forest prepare by completing and painting their five-metre high headdresses, made from the bark of the tall munduap tree.

On the day of the performance, people gather at the foot of the structure – the stage – and launch into a monosyllabic chant accompanied by kundu drums. Women are covered primarily in leaves, depicting the bush. Men take up various dancing roles – some as boars, others fish, wallaby and any animal the dancer chooses to imitate. Children are always encouraged to take part.

The dancers continue dancing in a circle, beating their drums, acting out the scene of the tropical rainforest. Some time into the performance, the show culminates to its climax – the appearance of the birds of paradise.

Specially assigned dancers burst from the circle and, one by one, hop up the middle
 of the structure in a single file. At the top, the first dancer veers off to the right, the second to the left while the third takes up the middle spot, all the while moving to the beat and chant of the singing/dancing throng below. The next trio does the same, taking up the second-highest row, and so on until the kumul dancers are all stationed the height and breadth of the aerial stage. Because the grass skirts worn by the male dancers are short and thick, the bouncing and swooshing creates an illusion of bird plumage as the birds hop from branch to branch.

Then on cue, alternate rows of dancers move in opposing directions (left and right) creating a fascinating choreography. Dancers climb and dance their way back down to the ground to re-join the circle below until the kumuls take off again into the giant ladder tree and the dancing cycle continues into the day.

“This is basically a peace-making ceremonial dance,” says Boana local Tony Kundang. “We do this as part of a reconciliation ceremony, to mark a marriage or any big event that brings the community closer. Our forefathers who came up with this dance must have watched and seen how co-ordinated their natural environment was and copied it into a dance to remind us of how we all can live in harmony with each other.”

Paradise Magazine, July/August 2015 edition

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