DixPix Photographs

     

INDONESIAN ARCHIPELAGO

 
     
  PAPUA NEW GUINEA:  THE HIGHLANDS  

 

The Highlands of Papua New Guinea have to be one of the most varied and colorful territories on this earth.  Virtually unknown to the outside world until the 1920's, the rugged topography has isolated tribal areas, which accounts for many of New Guinea's 850 or so different languages, an amazing 12% of those of the world.  The semi-official capital is the town of Mount Hagen, where the traditional ways are clashing with modern concepts.

Surely one of the most striking and colorful custom is the way in which men take pride in adorning their bodies in seemingly infinite manners.  The wearing of only penis gourds is not much seen in the cities, although most people live in the out-back anyhow.  Also gone are interesting habits such as cannibalism, but the concept of 'payback' for real or perceived wrongs is still alive, and there is a tension below the surface.

 

The clash between traditional and modern starts at the Mount Hagen airport, where market stalls (in part for tourists) rise below an enormous Russian helicopter, used mainly to supply mining companies. Click to see big picture (640x380 pixels; 86 KB)
And then there is the matter of clothing, here a cowboy style vs. the tradicional  Anything goes. Click to see big picture (313x480 pixels; 82 KB)
Feather head pieces, but note the ghetto-blaster.
Here Mr. happy face shows some of the common elements of proper dress.  A huge hair with flowers, spiked hat, and a red-tinged beard.  The majority of men have beards. Click to see big picture (275x480 pixels; 68 KB)
These are not 'costumes' put on for some occasion, it is simply how traditional men dress proudly around town. Click to see big picture (563x480 pixels; 109 KB)
In the major towns, a variety of kilts and loin-cloths has replaced penis gourds.  Click to see big picture (285x480 pixels; 73 KB)
Many men carry a large umbrella, perhaps to shield their body art from the frequent downpours. Click to see big picture (247x480 pixels; 60 KB)
I'm not sure how much of the great variety of self-adornment represents tribal styles, or simply personal taste. Click to see big picture (446x480 pixels; 116 KB)
Festooned in paint and feathers, great festivals known as Sing-sings or Bird Dances are fairly common.  The yellow faces are typical of the Huli tribe, one of the largest and most colorful. Click to see big picture (474x480 pixels; 126 KB)
Those drums are covered in lizard skin, typically with the whole skin attached. Click to see big picture (640x434 pixels; 105 KB)
These festivals are not really for the tourists.  One chap here has just spotted my camera, and none look happy.  Time to move on. Click to see big picture (365x480 pixels; 84 KB)
Women also dress up for the occasion, but do not seem to be involved in the men's performance. Click to see big picture (640x467 pixels; 136 KB)
Traditionally men and women live separately and have different duties.  Things are changing, however.  This pair actually wanted me to take their picture. Click to see big picture (514x480 pixels; 119 KB)
Not everyone is so happy upon spotting a camera. Click to see big picture (406x480 pixels; 106 KB)
Kids are kids, and always inquisitive.  Unlike the adults, they can even be induced to smile-- sort of. Click to see big picture (412x480 pixels; 91 KB)
Culture for hire, a drum band for your entertainment. Click to see big picture (640x399 pixels; 120 KB)
Another feature of the Huli culture are the 'Wigmen'.  Their elaborate wigs are traditionally made from their own hair, grown long and shorn in stages in their youth. Click to see big picture (640x437 pixels; 89 KB)
Much time and effort is spent in maintaining and grooming personal wigs, a source of pride and status. Click to see big picture (586x480 pixels; 138 KB)
Demonstrations by wigmen of stringing their huge hunting bows, and downing the 'sacred drink' (read booze) from a bamboo holder. Click to see big picture (595x480 pixels; 145 KB)
Penis Gourds, known locally as Koteka, and scientifically as Phallocrypts, are still all that many men wear in rural areas. I am told that the one on the left is likely from PNG, while the kinky one on the right with a feather tickler is more typical of western (Indonesian) New Guinea. Click to see big picture (640x450 pixels; 99 KB)
Pigs are very important in the highlands.  They are used as a form of currency in buying items such as wives, and are a status symbol.  In the Indonesian western part of New Guinea, this clashes with the Muslim concept of pigs as unclean animals to be avoided. pigs
Consulting with the local equivalent of a medicine man (cash only).  Following a shot of the 'sacred drink' :- Click to see big picture (640x412 pixels; 118 KB)
He will be glad to show you some of the sacred objects from which spring magical powers. Click to see big picture (616x480 pixels; 132 KB)
Not to mention the cave of skulls where spirits may be consulted. Click to see big picture (376x480 pixels; 83 KB)
And of special interest, the bones which cannot be buried, because they have not been avenged. Click to see big picture (640x436 pixels; 141 KB)
If someone dies by another's actions, or is suspected to have been done in by black magic, their bones must be stored until the score is settled.  This is the rule known as 'payback'. Click to see big picture (640x407 pixels; 88 KB)
In some cases the unburied graves are set along roadsides, naming the person held responsible who should be the target of payback, although some other family member's death may even the score.   "Poisoning" may refer to suspected witchcraft. Click to see big picture (640x404 pixels; 107 KB)
Here an American is targeted, apparently a death due to a traffic accident. Click to see big picture (640x450 pixels; 118 KB)
Sometimes payback can be negotiated with a gift of pigs or other currency, but the threat is real. This is said to be the remains of a house hit by payback. Click to see big picture (640x361 pixels; 116 KB)
The highlands, however, are nowhere near as dangerous as the PNG capital, Port Morseby.  Lacking road connections to the bulk of the nation, it festers on the southeast coast and is considered one of the least livable cities in the world. Click to see big picture (640x392 pixels; 84 KB)