Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Papuan man from the Sepik River region


On the islands of Papua New Guinea off the north-west coast of Australia, dress or the lack of it is a distinguishing factor.  In the Highlands attire is often a bunch of leaves hanging from a bark belt to cover the buttocks and a lap lap (a small piece of cloth) in the front covering the genitalia.  A bow with accompanying arrows slung over one shoulder is not just a fashion accessory.  It completes the outfit of a modern day warrior.

But it's during ceremonies and festivals that Papuan males in particular take on a whole new persona.  For them, self-decoration is an art form, an exhibition of culture and a celebration that identifies them with a specific clan.

Huli men wear elaborate crescent shaped wigs similar to a toreador's hat.  Made from their own hair, their wigs are trimmed with yellow daisies and crowned with sprays of long silky Bird of Paradise feathers, yellow cockatoo feathers and red and yellow parrot feathers.  Faces are painted canary yellow with red accents.  Earrings fashioned from toolbox oddments, shell necklaces and a slender twig, or a two-foot long feather through a pierced nose add to their adornments.  Like the male bird when out to attract a mate, Papuan men - handsome at best - are most glorious when dressed for a sing sing.

A warrior elder from PNG's Sepik River region
 The men of the Sepik River area are equally striking. Teeth are often stained a fearsome red from a habit of chewing beetle nut. A mixture of lime and beetle nut produces a red juice that stains everything it touches and spitting streams of juice after a period of mastication is a common habit on the islands. Not quite so colourful but equally splendid with their earthy-toned head dresses decorated with feathers, pig's teeth and shells,  men of the Sepik are the epitome of the noble warrior at traditional sing sings.

Mud men from Komunwe village in the Goroka area in the Eastern Highlands are more intimidating.  They wear grotesque mud masks and sharpened bamboo claws on their fingers.  With bodies covered with a whitish clay they could be creatures from the underworld.  Their aggressive dance and shaking of clubs and spears conjures up images of imminent war.

Attending the Mount Hagen festival in August is to see Papuans at their most magnificent.  Thousands of clansmen from all of Papua New Guinea's islands gather in this small Highland town to enjoy three days of competition and fun.

For more on Papua New Guinea, its beauty and fascinating culture, watch my blog....

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on 18th August, 2010.


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