Tag Archives: Hiri Moale Festival

Hiri Queen – Watercolour

The Hiri Queen. JK.Leahy Watercolour


The  crowning of the Hiri  Hanenamo Queen is an annual event in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  The contest is run to coincide with the PNG Independence celebrations. Above is my own interpretation of the queen. I enjoy this contest and the festival itself and am very proud of the Motuans for continuing to reinforce their heritage to their young women.

In 2016, Olive Tau was crowned as 2016 Miss Hiri Hanenamo Queen followed by her Runner- up Boni Bitu from Porebada village.

In third place and taking the Miss Hetura for 2016 was Maha Asi from Tubuserea village. See their pictures below courtesy of Loop PNG.


Hiri Trade – Adventure Kokoda
The Hiri Trade expedition was between the Motuan and the Erema (Gulf) people in the Gulf of Papua. This is a form of barter trade where the Motuans traded clay pots for sago with villagers along the Gulf coastline.
The Motuan (men) sailed westwards during the south-easterly winds known locally as the “Lahara winds”. After the trade, they returned when the winds changed eastwards. These winds are called the “Laurabada winds”.
According to oral history, the first sailing trip was led by an Edai Siabo of Boera village. Siabo was said to be inspired by a sea spirit after a fishing trip. With this inspiration, he and his henchman built a lagatoi (double hulled canoe) and made the first trip to the Gulf coastline.
This trip and subsequent trips were necessary because during these times there was usually drought along the Motuan coastline. Return trips brought a bountiful of sago to last throughout this drought. The actual trade would take only a few days however the return trip usually took place after 2 to 3 months.
During this long wait repairs are done on the canoes and relationships are strengthened among the traders. As a result of this long period of time away from home, it causes uncertainty back home – resulting in wives and partners of crew members re-marrying.
The return trips are usually arduous and dangerous as the wet winds brings with it storms. Lives are often lost also during these trips.
The last of such trading trips was in the late 1950’s where a Lagatoi sank just off the coast of Boera village. Several lives were lost in this mishap.
The colonial administration then banned trading trips as such. Today access to better transport system such as motor boats, airplanes and road links also contributed to the end of such trips.

What Hiri Hanenamo means.
Hanenamo is a young woman who display the right attitude, manners and behaviour and whose character is respectful of the such title. She observes the rules, norms and laws of her society bringing happiness to her family.
It is from this original concept that the modern-day Hiri Hanenamo (Queen) competition is derived from. In fact the wife of the first Hiri pioneer Edai Siabo was the first Hiri Hanenamo for her display of commitment and dedication to the rituals vital to ensuring a successful Hiri Trading voyage.
Hiri Hanenamo is not attributed to beauty alone; beauty is only one aspect of being a Hiri queen. Elegance and grace in carrying out duties and performances are also considered. Approval and appraisal by village elders honour such a person.
Today many of these components of village life are taken into consideration by the judges during the Hiri Hanenamo Quest staged during the festivities.
A young girl is declared Hiri Hanenamo if she can display the appropriate traditional qualities to the judges. In addition, authentic tattoo designs, bodily decoration and ornaments according to the background of the woman’s village is also taken into accounts.
Hiri – Trading route and voyage taken by the Motuan sailors.
Moale – Motuan word for celebration, happiness or joy
Hanenamo – A young Motuan woman who abides by all customary expectations within the community she resides in.

Where is your grass-skirt?


A young woman in a brand new grass-skirt from the Trobriand Islands.

The story about grass-skirts

A question I’m often asked, and I know I am being teased by friends and people from other cultures is; “where is your grass-skirt?” Many people expect you to have one and wear one because you are from the islands. May be they are just joking or wishing they could see you in a grass-skirt. Who knows? The other question I often get asked is, “where are your coconut shells?” We will leave the second question for later. May be they have watched too many Tahitian dancers.

As for the grass-skirt, let me tell you, I do have one. In-fact, I have had more than one over the years. I have one grass-skirt with me here in Australia. It was not easy getting it through quarantine, but it got through. The sad part is that I have not had a chance to wear the grass-skirt in ten years. It is now too short and small for me. That says a lot doesn’t it? I need to start thinking about making a new one.

Smaller skirts for ankles.

The heritage of PNG women

Grass-skirts are the pride of women in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands. In the Melanesian region, grass-skirts are made from  and dyed, with natural fibres and pigments. More women are using Chinese made dyes for the brighter colours, but often, traditional performances, songs, and dancing call only for plain grass-skirts.

Sago palm fibres on a Central Province grass-skirt waistband.

Grass-skirts are made from young fibres of sago palms, bark, sisal, pandanus, banana fibres, and many other natural fibres. The time it takes to source, collect, and prepare the raw materials; splicing, drying and dying takes a lot longer than actually making the skirt. The collection of the material process could be weeks or months and the skirt can be made in a week or less.

Using imported dyes in a Trobriand Island grass-skirt.

Using natural fibres

In my tribe, women use young palm leaves for grass-skirts. The shoot is cut early morning and boiled or spliced and dried immediately to stop iodising/browning of the cream colour. This process captures the supreme creamy white colour. If you ever see the weaving of the Micronesian women, the same kind of process is used to keep young coconut fibre almost white. A tree bark is kept under water for weeks before it becomes soft enough to pulp and split into threads for twisting. The threads would then be used to sew the palm leaves into place at the waist band. When the palm leaf is dried, we decide where the colours would be on the grass-skirt design and dye the colours. For black we use charcoal and dark grey, the fibres are buried in the water for a few weeks. Red comes from a tree seed and finally turmeric is used for yellow and orangey shades.

Rhonda prepares her grass-skirt for festival

I found this interesting film on YouTube (see link below) which gives an insight into a young woman’s preparation for the Hiri Moale Festival. Rhonda Tiana, a Motu-Koitabuan gives you an opportunity to see her prepare her grass-skirt, and use it in the Festival. This grass-skirt is from Central Province.