Wednesday 26 October 2022

From On Board: Heritage Expeditions Melanesia. Kopar village on the Sepik River

#expeditioncruising .

People talk about travelling “off the grid” and many times it can be as mundane as finding a new pizza bar away from the main drag. Well, “off the grid” in PNG is what it's all about and usually involves the famous Sepik River at some point. 

An overnight sail from the port of Madang, Heritage Adventurer anchored at dawn just off the mouth of the mighty waterway with a six knot current to keep us in check. An early 7am start set the tone for our expedition and ten fully-loaded Zodiacs were soon hugging the hyacinth-enmeshed bank spotting Brahminy kites, sea eagles and egrets while we waved a cheery 'good morning' to the few canoes and banana boats already on the water.

Meanwhile the good folk of the village of Kopar were waiting for us, dressed to the nines in ceremonial kit of beads, shells, tusks and feathers, all embellished with lashings of face paint. After the flag was solemnly raised, the drums throbbed a mesmeric beat and the dancers took over the scene twirling, stomping and yelping to their ancient rhythm.

With beads of glistening sweat streaming from their torsos, the men retired to their backroom, signalling the next act in the our 'Rhythm of the Sepik' – retail! 

For anyone even vaguely interested in the world of indigenous art, the Sepik River region is one of the most sought after for high quality, authentic pieces. Furthermore, Sepik items come complete with the legend and lore of this most spiritual location. From crocodile men to volcano gods, the Sepik is a truly magical place and one cannot leave without a memento of your visit. 

For me, it was a small but beautiful totem from Robert Saya who had come all the way down from Angoram, a day's paddle upriver, to display his wares. 

“My family have been carvers on the Sepik for generations,” Robert tells me as he scratches his name onto the back of my purchase, “my father showed me how to carve when I was just five. My cousins are here too with their carvings.” It saddens me somewhat that I will only have room for one in my duffel bag.

After a superb lunch from Exec Chef Adam, we set sail for Manus Island, through a smouldering send-off from the volcanic Schouten Islands.

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