Naygayiw Gigi dance to tell stories
By Patricia Hului
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Torres Strait Treaty, an agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea describing the boundaries between the two countries and how the sea areas may be used.
The treaty also allows the indigenous residents of Papua New Guinea to visit the people of the Torres Strait Islands to perform traditional activities and exercise their traditional customary rights as they share the same Melanesian culture.
Thanks to this treaty, Naygayiw Gigi Dance Troupe was able to trade with their neighbours for materials such as feathers for their costumes as well as maintain their kinship.
Established in March 2015, ‘Naygayiw Gigi’ or Northern Thunder hails from Bamaga, the northernmost town in Queensland, Australia. Their ancestry however, goes back to the Saibai Islands, an island in the Torres Strait archipelago.
Before they wowed the audience with their exotic costumes and dances during their Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) debut, the group called upon the blessings of the ancestors.
According to the representative of the group Leonora Adidi, “We were calling our ancestors to join us because we sing about our old stories and traditions.
“Most of the songs we sing were composed by people from a long, long time ago that have become memory.”
Before they could sing these old songs, Leonora explained, they had to invite the spirits of their own ancestors to join them as they believed that when they were up there performing, they were not alone.
“They (the spirits) were up there with us, and then we believed that we had the permission to share our music, stories and songs with everyone,” said Leonora, a Torres Strait Islander from the Sui-Baidham Clan of Bamaga and Saibai Island.
Through their performances, they told the traditional and contemporary stories of their customs and daily lives.
Additionally, the troupe incorporated some props into various dances they performed.
“We had a war dance which started with a trumpet shell,” Leonora said, pointing out the shell serves as a communication device which brings people together and also serves as a warning.
“It was used to warn people that an enemy was approaching.”
Not all of their dances were of warfare. Another aspect of their culture included agriculture, in which the dancers portrayed themselves farming and planting.
The troupe also showcased a basket dance. Contrary to how domestic the basket sounds, it symbolised the approach of danger, which would see the women put all their belongings into a basket they would carry and run to the bush for safety.
As much as they have adhered to tradition and customs, their costumes have had to give way to the passing of time.
“Traditionally,” Leonora said, “We would have worn coconut or bananas leaves.”
Now they use synthetic raffia for their skirts as they are easy to keep and durable.
Since cassowary birds are also a protected species in Australia, the islanders trade with their Papua New Guinea neighbours for bird feathers they use on their headdress.
They have also traded some of their musical instruments with their neighbours who are actually only located 6km away.
According to Leonora, their community is losing their culture rapidly.
“The main reason we are doing this are not just for fun and entertainment but because we want our children to learn about our culture.”
To date, they have performed at several events such as Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival and in Papua New Guinea for the 30th anniversary of the Torres Strait Treaty.
Naygayiw Gigi Dance Troupe also won first place at the Dance Rites Indigenous Dance Competition Sydney recently.
On their experiences at the RWMF, Leonora said “The festival was overwhelmingly awesome. It was mind-blowing,”
“The people of Sarawak with different ethnicities, they are all so lovely, we feel so welcome here,” she said. “It is so good to see all the different cultures of the world being represented here.”
Thought still in its infancy, the group has high hopes to pass on their culture to their future generation.
“If one day our children think what we do is cool – that hip hop is not cool, our culture is cool – that is success.”
Follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NaygayiwGigi/?fref=ts.