From the Stone Age to the Space Age in less than a generation – it is one of the last frontiers on earth

Papua New Guinea, the world’s 2nd largest island with a population of 7.8 million, is an ethnographic goldmine. The indigenous people and culture are among the most diverse in the world. The harsh terrain and historic inter-tribal clan warfare has lead to village isolation and the proliferation of 820 different distinct languages. They first migrated to the island over 45,000 years ago. Today, half of the population, live scattered across the highland plateaus, in small agrarian clans, isolated by the harsh terrain and divided by language, custom and tradition. They have an enormous variety of tribal dress using evocative face and body paints, skirts, loin cloths, tanket or arse grass, and wearing ornaments such as bark and woven bridal belts, wigs, kina and moka shells, koteka or penis gourds, armbands and aprons. They have an extraordinary and rich oral tradition, including myths, folk tales, magical sayings, charms and malevolent spirits. Their material culture is limited to the indispensable things of daily life.

They fight over three things: land, pigs and women – in that order. To be regarded as important, men need plenty of: land for farming, pigs as a measure of wealth and wives to tend to land, pigs and children. A great effort is made to impress the enemy. Some tribes have engaged in low-scale clan warfare, head-hunting and cannibalism against their neighbors for millennia. The Huli wigmen, paint their faces yellow, red and white and are famous for making ornamented wigs from their own hair. The legendary Asaro Mudmen first encountered the outside world in the mid 20th century. The Sepik River region reveres the crocodile and is known for body scarification during men’s (& some womens) initiation raising crocodile-like scar patterns on the skin to symbolize strength and power.

The Goroka Sing-sing, lasting several days, is the most well-known annual tribal gathering and cultural event. Over 100+ tribes from all over the country participate to create an amazing spectacle of dress, colors and sounds. Each tribe displays its own extraordinarily unique style of fashion, ritual, music and dance. Body decoration and adornment are key features, using a rich variety of materials such as bright face and body paint, resplendent head-dresses, grass skirts, feathers, bone, leaves, shells, and animal skins.


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