Melpa Ceremonial Dance Skirt

   Dance Skirt, Melpa People
  Dance skirt, Melpa people (detail)

In 1933, four Europeans were searching for gold in the mountains of Papua New Guinea - the “Land of the Unexpected.” There is no record they found gold, but they did discover a completely unknown people called the Melpa. Luckily for them, the Melpa weren’t headhunters. They were a peaceful, agricultural group with one or two quirky traditions, who appeared to be stuck in the Stone Age.

Melpa Ceremonial Dance Skirt   
Melpa ceremonial dance skirt

When they were discovered, the Western concept of owning a wardrobe did not exist for the Melpa. Even today, eighty years later, most Melpa men only own a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and women a cotton floral dress. Usually, neither have shoes. What they do have are their traditional costumes worn during important ceremonial events, and upon these they place great value.

Featured is a Melpa man’s dance skirt. It is composed of hemp and natural pigments and was worn during the Moka, a ceremony where reciprocal gifts are given, each one bigger than the last. The Moka helps the Melpa take care of one another. It is a form of sharing; and what the Melpa wear during the Moka reminds us some things should never go out of style!

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