The Melanesian people of the Torres Strait Islands have a unique culture, completely different from those of the neighbouring Aborigines. They were a fierce warrior people and lived from the sea. This is obvious in their dances, featuring fishing implements and headdresses with shark motives, among others. Their craft, like the dancing costumes of the Saibai islanders and feather headdresses are also real works of art.
The different islands have their own distinct dances, like those of Mer (also known as Murray Island) in the eastern Torres Strait; the Baizam (Shark) dance, the "Kab Kar" ritual dance with the "dhari" headdresses and the various women's dances are typical for this group. The Top Western Islands, like Saibai and Boigu, just off the coast of Papua New Guinea, are greatly influenced by that region, as can be seen in the long drums, sometimes covered with shark skin, and the warrior's dance "Maumatang", performed with bows and arrows. The Saibai Islanders' "Eagle Dance" is unique, with its wooden wings and head movements, rapidly side-to-side with their huge headdresses.
The young learn their dances also at school, in places like Thursday Island and Bamaga, a mixed community on the mainland of Cape York. And Djarragun College, a school of indigenous students in Gordonvale, south of Cairns, had very strong Torres Strait islander dance groups from the different island groups; regularly relatives of the students and also ex-students joined in during celebrations at the school and at festivals around Cairns and beyond. One important event on the agenda, before being cancelled due to lack of funds, was the yearly "Croc Festival" where children from different Island communities (and also some from Aboriginal communities from northern Queensland) came together for a few days of celebrations, with traditional and contemporary dancing.
Celebrations like weddings and engagement parties are great occasions where everyone is welcome, a big feast ("kapmauri", where vegetables, meat and fish are cooked in an underground oven) is prepared and young and old join in traditional dancing, accompanied by the long hourglass drums and singing. These are wonderful occasions, with men, women and children all singing and dancing together, whether in their home islands or in places like Cairns; the community spirit remains extremely strong.