Mud Men | Tribes & Ethnic Group – Planet Doc

One of the most numerous, and most singular groups in the highlands are the Huli. They live in the western Highlands, around the city of Tari. Their first contact with white men an Australian patrol near the river Tagali – was in 1935. They normally go bare-chested. They have belts made of fibres, and hanging from them there is always a HONGOIA, a knife made from the tibia bone of the cassowary, a flightless bird slightly smaller than the ostrich, and which is very common in PNG. In their rituals, they paint their faces with red and yellow clay and vegetable dyes. At the initiation ceremony, a hole is drilled through the nose, into which they will later insert pigs teeth, feathers or small pieces of wood. Hanging from the back of their necks, the powerful hornbill beak symbolises strength and courage in battle. Their large, three-peaked hats are made with their own hair, and decorated with flowers and cassowary feathers. The geography of the highlands, and the constant battles between the different groups, make communication very difficult. At the moment, access to the western region is impossible, due to the wars among the tribes, which cause five thousand deaths a year. But it has always been like this: every village, every settlement has studied the best way to defend itself from neighbouring clans or tribes. They have made the best bows, more effective spears, heavier, more solid axes and clubs, shields with which to protect themselves, systems of defence and attack, traps and ambushes. Perhaps the most ingenious of all are the ‘mud men’. They live near Goroca, along the upper reaches of the Asaro river, and hence they are also known as the Asaro. Their strange means of defence is to turn into spirits and frighten off their enemies. For this, they make these masks of mud which, with their grotesque, exaggerated features, look like galactic monsters from distant, fictitious planets. The majority of the ethnic groups in the Highlands believe in superhuman beings that live in the rivers, caves, the sky and the forests, and which intervene constantly and decisively in the lives of men. This is their religion, and they make offerings to ask for protection, and to ward off misfortune. These supreme beings are called ‘dama’. Between them and humans stand the ‘dimini’, the spirits of their forefathers. There is also a third group of beings called the ‘tomia’, who live in objects like stones, necklaces, spears, etc., and cause illnesses and misfortunes. The sorcerers can turn these forces against other people, in ceremonies called ‘Puri-Puri’, which take place at night. Once they have finished their masks, the warriors daub their bodies with clay, which they will later dye grey with another, more liquid, type of mud. They also decorate their waists with ferns which, spread with mud, take on an ethereal appearance, making the ghostly figures look even more convincing. Their mouths, noses and ears are incrusted with pigs’ teeth, giving their fantastic creations an even more ferocious appearance. According to the legend, these methods of invoking the gods began a long time in the past. The Asaro were being hunted by the most numerous of their enemies, many people had died, and they were awaiting the final attack. Then, one of the ancients, a man called Pukiro Pode, had a dream in which he saw the image of grey, terrifying spirits. That same night they made the first masks of mud. The men attached bamboo canes to their fingers, like long fingernails, and daubed their bodies with clay. Shortly before sunrise, in the shadows of the forest, the mud ghosts approached the enemy lines, with slow, sinuous movements. When they saw them, their enemies fled, terrified, and the Asaro were saved.


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