Papua New Guinea is the world’s third largest island country with some of the planet’s most extraordinary biodiversity. Papua New Guinea is home to the third biggest forest in the world, after the Amazon and DR Congo. That massive rainforest is home to the only poisonous bird on the planet, the world’s largest butterfly, the longest lizard. It also boasts the Pacific’s largest area of mangrove forest, coral reef, and sea grass beds.
This remarkable diversity doesn’t just include nature, but extends to indigenous cultures as well. Despite being home to over seven million people, the population of Papua New Guinea belongs to over seven thousand different cultural groups. Each of these has their own language, enjoy variety in cultural expression including dance, music, body paint, costume, and weapons.Let’s take a cursory look at one particular tribe; The Huli people:
The Huli clan call the Hela Province and Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea home. With their striking red and ochre body paint, the traditional attire of the Huli people is the one of the most colorful in the country. The Huli have lived in the central part of Papua New Guinea for thousands of years, supporting themselves primarily through hunting and agriculture.
One of the peculiarities of Huli tradition is that they all believe themselves to be one person– the descendant of an ancestor named Huli ,who was the first to cultivate their ancestral land. The Ochre (Red clay) and Ambua (Huli word for yellow clay) are considered sacred in Huli culture, setting the their warriors apart from those of neighboring tribal groups. The upper part of their face is painted yellow, and the lower part ochre.
Alongside the body paint, the real show-stopper features of Huli traditional costumes are their wigs. They’re so important in Huli culture that male members of the tribe are also known as “Wigmen.” The Huli obsession with wigs is related to their unique initiation rites. At the age of 14 or 15, Huli boys leave their families and are sent to live in a sort of “bachelor school” to learn their role in society.
The most important activity during this time is taking care of the boys’ hair, in order to produce ceremonial wigs. Their hair is wet three times a day with what they call holy water, then sprinkled with fern leaves while chanting spells. At this point, the boys must refrain from eating fat and spicy foods so that their hair grows strong. As the hair grows, it’s gradually formed into a kind of mushroom shape by using a band of bamboo. The boys must sleep on their back with their head on a brick in order not to ruin the shape.
After approximately 18 months, the hair is close shaved and the hair is woven into a traditional Huli wig. The wig masters will add ornaments such as colored clay and bird of paradise or parrot feathers. There are wigs for everyday use and for ceremonies, for personal use and for sale. The most elaborate ones can be sold to the highest bidder.
After the boys’ first “haircut,” the process starts again. Some young men will produce up to five or six wigs before it’s time to marry. According to Huli beliefs, only the hair of unmarried boys and young men can be used for making wigs.
Unmarried Huli men prepare themselves for adulthood in a unique way. They enter a school for bachelors for a period of between roughly 18 months to three years where they receive instruction on the biological and ritual process of masculinity. The young males are separated from their mothers and all women for much of this period and when they aren’t, they are absolutely forbidden from physical contact with any female. Sexual contact in particular would contaminate their stores of male essence.
There are no Huli “chiefs” in the hereditary sense, all leaders come to power through their ability at war, skill in mediating disputes and by amassing wealth in pigs and shells. Warfare never ends within the Huli culture as vengeance is preferred to any peaceful settlement. It is said that when a person returns one injury with a greater one, his victim normally seeks counter vengeance rather than accept this as justice. Most Huli wars originate from personal disputes between individuals, with alliances centering on the issue and its main players.
Pigs are the Huli’s main exchange commodity and they are often used to pay for bride price, death indemnities as well as ritual payments.
You want to experience this culture and enjoy their scenery, the perfect place to stay to experience the unique Huli culture is at the Hela Province of Papua New Guinea. They are friendly with tourists and will allow you to visit their villages and join in their festivities.
Do you know of any intriguing culture? Please share with us in the comment section.