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Breathing new life into Asia-Pacific indigenous arts

Festivals and performers help Austronesian cultures win wider audience

Papuan youths parade on Sorong's sports field during the first Festival Noken in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. (Photo by Kit Yeng Chan)

SORONG, Indonesia -- A group of slender yet muscular youths clad in straw loincloths, their bodies adorned with swirls of white paint, recently marched in formation onto the modest sports field in Sorong, a coastal town in the eastern Indonesian province of West Papua. As they approached, people crowding around stalls selling the famous hand-woven bags of the region lifted their heads and moved onto the stone podiums surrounding the field.

Proud and charismatic, the painted youths started shaking in the traditional dance styles of Irian Jaya, the Indonesian half of Papua island. As they jumped, ran and twirled in circles and in single file, they raised the intricately woven noken bags, a symbol of their Papuan heritage, high in the air.

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