The last time I saw a Fire Dance from the Baining region of East New Britain Province was when I was 8 years old in my home village, Matupit. I remember feeling the heat of the fire on my face and the cool sensation of tears running down my cheeks, as my eyes watered from starring too long at the giant men in masks, dancing in the flames. It was an extraordinary experience and I couldn’t pass the chance of seeing the Bainings do the Fire Dance once more when they performed at the West New Britain Mask Festival 2013.
I was just mere meters away from the dancers. I could hear the leaves that were wrapped around them go Shhhhhhhh Shhhhhhh as they danced frenziedly in and around the flames of the fire. The crowd would scream anxiously when the fire dancers spent a little too long in the flames kicking the flaming firewood around. At one stage a dancer with what looked like a mask shaped like a dog with its tongue hanging out danced his way right pass me, I could smell the strong smell of a local plant used in many traditional dances, when its leaves are crushed it expels a strong aroma, the Tolai people of East New Britain call it “Karangon” but it is known by many names.
I wondered how the dancers could see thru their masks as they danced their way weaving in and out of the fire just brushing past each other. The feeling I felt watching was truly mixed with fear, awe and excitement but the one feeling that was overpowering the most was pride. I’m part of a country that is so diverse in Cultural & Traditional practices and I pray that in the future my grandchildren and great grand children will get a chance to see the Baining Fire Dance, just as I and the pass generations have experienced.
The New Britain Mask Festival is one not to miss.