Written by Roslyn Tony
Oooo…puooo….oooo (men echoed in unison)
Boom, boom, boom, boom, (beat of the kundu drums)
Aya uo…uo..uo (women hullabaloo in approval and admiration)
“Gosh! There are here. Hurry, load the sweet potatoes into the string bags,” exclaimed Ambai excitedly. We loaded our string bags with sweet potatoes, collected some dried bush leaves, fold and balanced it on our heads. We made a knot at the long ends of the big string bag and swung it around, up, and onto the dried fold bush leaves in one swift movement. We then swung the second bag into place on top of the first and reached forward with one bare foot for our garden sticks. Grasping it firmly between our big toe and second toes we skillfully lifted it to our hands.
Soon we were on our way, concentrating on carrying the load and stepping carefully as our bare feet sought out good grips in the slippery rigid trail. We sang our favourite courtship songs in choir all the way back. We left the string bags of sweet potatoes in our huts and hurried along to the dancing arena.
The dancers were already dancing. Their heavily oiled skin glittered in the afternoon sun. Their head dresses made from the choicest plumes of Bird of Paradise sway to and fro to the beat of kundu drums. It was a splendorous sight. The women’s high pitched hullabaloo continued as the singsing took momentum.
Ambai and I found our way through the crowd. We stationed ourselves at a position where we could take a good view of the dancers. Comfortable with our location, we joined in the fun of hullabaloo with the women, whilst the dancers sang and danced to beat of the kundu drums.
The egin (traditional singsing) is performed in a rectangular formation. The four song leaders stand in each width of the rectangle formation. Other dancers lined up on each side of the rectangle formation. In the middle are four song carriers. Their job is to bring the song from the song leader to the dancers and back to the song leaders. Once the song reaches the end of the rectangle formation, the song leader starts the same song again. This time the song is accompanied with the beat of the kundu drums. The kundu drum is beat one’s in front, then to the left and right side and back in front simultaneously, whilst the dancers all danced into the middle, then jog backward to form the rectangular formation. They then turn and face the spectators then turn in again with their backs to the spectators. When their backs are to the spectators, the next song is sung. Jog on the spot is the dancing pattern. Songs of achievement and success are sung. The same song is not sung twice.
It is during traditional singsing time that a dancer wins an Egin bride. If a young girl is attracted to a particular dancer, she intercepts the dancing formation, holds the hand of the dancer and dances along with him to the beat of the kundu drum. The dancer who wins an Egin bride is the Egin hero.
It is also a tradition of the Simbu’s that a Simbu female must know how to hullaballoo (agun) in the Simbu way. It is offending not to hullaballoo in appreciation. So Ambai and I got deep into the applause and excitement of the day. We screened every young looking dancer in the dancing group. The young dancers knew very well that screening was on so they sway beautifully to the beats of the kundu drums.
My eyes could not resist this particular dancer. The way he swayed, sang and beat the kundu drums was just perfect. The desire to intercept his dance formation was burning in me. I tried to brush aside the feeling but it was irresistible. In a flash of light, I felt my arm around his sweaty, oily arm and found myself swaying in tune with him to the beat of the kundu drum. His arm felt relaxed as if he was waiting for that moment all along.
Applause of achievement filled the air when the singsing group noticed that it had won an admirer. The danced stopped abruptly and the kundu drums kept rolling simultaneously. The women hullabaloo and the men yodeled in unison.
For a singsing group to win an admirer during the performance is the talk of the day. It is a custom that tallies were kept on the number of admirers won during singsing time which will then be a tale to tell in time.
After the dance the egin bride goes with the dancers to their village. She remains in their village for a week or so until her relatives go to pick her up. If the she decides to stay, marriage arranged is settled. If she decides to return home with her relatives, then valuable items like shell money, bilums made of cuscus fur and food were given to her to take back with her. These valuables items are symbols of thank you for appreciating the dancing group’s performance.
That afternoon, I walked with the dancers back to their village. Words have already reached the village and applauses where coming from all directions. I was the center of the attraction, for I was the Egin bride. It gave me a feeling of pride and value.
A little information about the writer:
I am Roslyn Tony. I am a teacher by profession and I have taught in community, primary, high school, secondary and private schools respectively in my 19th years of teaching. I come from a mix parentage of East Sepik and SImbu. I love teaching.
I started writing to the Crocodile Prize and River since 2014. My two first short stories on heritage writing were published in the 2015 Crocodile Prize Anthology. I was twice winner of the Rivers Award on Peace and Harmony 2014 and 2015).