An initiative of Riback Stevedores to help the Ahi people of Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ahi Festival unites villages and Lae


Evening at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae, the once-beautiful ‘garden city’ of Papua New Guinea, now a pothole and crime-infested garden of good and evil.
It is Wednesday, December 15, 2010.
A sea of candles light up the stadium as hundreds of people, young and old, flock here to witness the first-ever ‘carols by candlelight’ programme Lae has ever seen in a long time.
Their mere presence sends a powerful message that they have enough of all the negative, gloom-and-doom perceptions that have beset Lae for far too long
It is an initiative of the St Andrew’s Lutheran congregation at Ampo, sponsored by Digicel, and is part of the inaugural Ahi Festival organised by a real angel of hope in local company Riback Stevedores, the major employer of young Ahi men and women from the six villages of Yalu, Kamkumung, Hengali, Butibam, Yanga and Wagang.    
Ahi woman leader and well-know diva Loujaya Toni, in moving welcome, talks about the hunger – both spiritual and physical – that has been prevalent in Lae for far too long and urges the congregation to let their voices soar into the sky like eagles.
And when the voices rise, they soar higher than an eagle – over the mountains, Huon Gulf and crime-infested settlements and streets of Lae - a moment many shall never forget.
Riback operations manager George Gware, the man behind the Ahi Festival, says he is deeply touched as such an event like tonight’s carols by candlelight has never been seen before in Lae.
Former Kumul rugby league captain John Wilshere, ambassador of the Ahi Festival, says the presence of so many people tonight is deeply moving.
Revereng Gigere Wenge, head bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, delivers a powerful Christmas message.
Rainy Lae lives up to name, but by the time the heavens open, most of the programme has been completed.
Tonight’s carols are part of the week’s Ahi Festival, an event which has brought together the six villages, in a sporting and cultural tour-de-force.
It really has been an amazing week as the festival brings out an extravaganza of sports and culture starting on Monday.
The Ahi talent on show this week has been mind-boggling.
Of course, Ahi prowess in sports like basketball, volleyball and netball is well-known, with current and former internationals on show this week.
It is encouraging to see young people from the six villages zealously holding on to their culture amidst the winds of change.
Ahi young talent in music is prolific.
 Papua New Guinea’s latest singing sensation Greg Aaron, widely tipped to be named winner of the 2010 Digicel Stars competition on Sunday, brought the house down at the stadium on Wednesday.
Ahi favourite son ‘Greg’ – as he is known to thousands of Digicel Stars fans all over PNG – is from Yanga and has developed a cult following since his appearance in the competition this year.
The unassuming 26-year-old had the crowd – especially young people from the six Ahi villages – singing and dancing around the paddock as he took centre stage, backed by his Thronz band of Lae.
Greg’s performance was in line with one of the festival’s objectives to promote young Ahi talent in music.
He tells me that he can’t wait for Digicel Stars judgement day on Sunday – which could be the biggest break in his music career.
“I’m proud to be an Ahi,” Greg declares.
“To be part of this Ahi Festival feels just right to me.
“I feel a sense of belonging to this group.”
Greg said that whether or not he took the ultimate accolade in Digicel Stars, with a chance to pocket K10, 000 and a major recording contract, “I’ll still be the same old Greg”.
“I don’t think I’ll ever change,” he said.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to all the Ahi people from the six villages and all the organisers and people who are taking part in this event, and everyone else.”
A well-choreographed explosion of colour lit up the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium on Sunday with the official opening.
Entertainment-starved residents of Lae thronged to the stadium in their hundreds to watch the entertainment and official opening of the festival, sponsored by local company Riback Stevedores, by former Kumul rugby league captain and Ahi’s favourite sporting son John Wilshere.
“Let us all enjoy the occasion,” he declared in his brief, straight-to-the-point address.
The opening ceremony started with a colourful march-in of teams from the six Ahi villages.
This was followed by an opening prayer by Butibam woman leader Giob Gware, national anthem sung in local language by Ampo St Andrew’s choir, a run-in by teams to join hands with staff of major sponsor and organiser Riback Stevedores, festival pledge led by organiser Bob Aaron, release of balloons, and then the opening by Wilshere.
The 15 entrants in the Miss Ahi pageant ended an enjoyable day with a parade in front of an appreciative crowd.
Before the opening ceremony, people from the six Ahi villages packed the indoor stadium for a joint church service.
Highlights of the week included the Ms Ahi pageant which will culminate with the judging tonight at Lae International Hotel, ‘Carols by Candlelight’ at the stadium on Wednesday evening, displays of traditional culture and stalls set up by non-government organisations and other service providers.
The Ahi Festival – with the theme Promoting Education Through Sports and Culture - is aimed at raising funds for the establishment of an Ahi resource centre, an education facility which will have a library, computer laboratory and conference and workshop facilities.
“The Ahi Festival is an initiative of Riback Stevedores Ltd and has the full support of the Ahi community,” explains Riback general manager Peter Boyd.

“The company believes that the effects of the social problems facing the Ahi community can be wide-ranging in size anywhere from local effects on a family or a village to the Lae community and even the entire society.
“The company therefore wants to do its part in helping the Ahi community to help themselves to take a lead now in working towards addressing some of their social problems. 

“We hope other members and stakeholders of the Lae community can also join in and help the people of Ahi in their endeavours to create an educated and orderly community that can co-exist peacefully with others in the wider Lae community.”

Boyd said the social problems of the Ahi community could be addressed only if the community could unite and work together in search of solutions with the support of strategic partners.
“The Ahi Festival can be a powerful tool to unite the Ahi community,” he added.

“It can also create awareness of the social issues and promote a team approach with key stakeholders to address the socials problems with the view to minimise its crippling effects on the people of Ahi – the current generation and also the future generation.”
Some of the main objectives of the Ahi Festival include:
•           Promoting community unity;
•           Promoting and preserving Ahi culture;
•           Creating awareness on social Issues and assistance available; and
•           Showcase local talents in culture, sports, music and business.
All that- and more - has been achieved this week.

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