Friday, 11 September 2015


Traditional men’s attire, thankfully withloin cloths rather than penis gourds.
What is modesty in clothing is very much culturally determined and changes through time. The next little bit you cannot see is the tempting bit. I was once told (and have not researched) that in the Victorian era ankles were sexy, because they were usually hidden. Even table legs were hidden at times, in case their curves suggested ankles and led someone into temptation. These days, ankles are no big deal, or calves, or knees, or… you get the idea that western culture has been raising their standards.

In PNG, the standards are different again, and also changeable with time and place. The traditional wear in some areas was a grass skirt for women (topless) and a penis gourd for men. Few women go topless these days. Those who do are usually older women who have had several children and have nothing to hide. Their breasts are purely functional and been put to good use over many years. Not exactly appealing by western standards! Even when in traditional dress, younger women will wear a sports bra or a singlet top these days, as outside standards have caused them to cover up. Thankfully penis gourds are only seen in tourist shops, as I’m not sure I want to see that sort of traditional dress.
School kids in traditional dress, adjusted for their modesty.
Compared to traditional dress, the dress that was introduced by missionaries and colonials is very covering. This has then become the standard dress for church and official events. Women are common in their meri blaus and men in collared shirts and trousers. Men from areas influenced by missionaries from other Pacific nations, Fiji in particular, will wear an islander man skirt for formal occasions.

Boys are allowed to run about naked until they are five or six years of age. Girls are taught to cover their crotch from the very beginning. While the boys run around with everything on show, the girls always have a nappy or a skirt on. A three year old boy in one village I visited refused to wear his trousers, taking them off as quickly as his family tried to put them on. An affectionate toddler would come to me for a cuddle, which is rather awkward when one is trained in child safety but the child coming for a cuddle is naked. While nakedness is fine for small boys, there is a line. One small boy would get in trouble for standing with his hands on the ground and looking at people between his legs. ‘We don’t want to see your ass’ he was told. Apparently it is the bottom that is dirty and not to be flashed about.

A formal occasion and a church elder is in his islanderman skirt.
As well as appropriate clothing, being clean for certain events such as church is important. In my area, this means being seen to have a wash before you go to church. Having had my wash earlier, I admit to being annoyed at this standard. I chose to meet it by washing my face and arms, rather than having a full wash. If people question me, I point them to John 13:10.

Much of PNG is clothed by second hands clothing shipped from Australia and New Zealand. I have a lot of fun seeing what bargains I can find. My wardrobe has more brand name items in it now than ever before! Locals tend to choose function over fashion, which includes not reading what the shirts say. I have had many giggles from inappropriate slogans. One of my favourites is a wise and gentle village uncle who often wears a shirt that says ‘Sex Panther, Time to Musk Up’ with a picture of an 80s porn star twirling his handlebar moustache.

Small boy is wearing clothes for once!
So what is appropriate clothing in PNG? I hide the shape of my crotch and upper thighs, either by wearing a skirt or by wearing a long top with trousers. I usually keep my shoulders covered, either with sleeved tops or broad straps. My skirts are usually just past my knees, not so much because knees are risqué, but because it is a practical length that the wind can’t make mischief with and I can still sit on the floor with. It does not matter so much if the shape of my chest is seen, but figure hugging clothes are hot and loose clothes are cooler, so I tend to go with the latter. I keep a Sunday meri blaus for church and wash my face before I go. I adjust my wardrobe for village or town.  I am happy wearing what I do here, then come back to Australia and feel like everyone is half naked.

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