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Luxury Travel Blog | Travcoa

The River Tribes of Papua New Guinea

Traditional societies offer authenticity and cultural immersion

Out of the fog and the mist of the early morning there is a slight rustle in the trees. Slowly, one by one, the muddy warriors appear. Shrouded in an eerie suit of white body paint, they are an unearthly sight with their pumpkin-sized masks and their menacing expressions. The ceremony they perform tells the origins of this small tribe living in Papua New Guinea. It is the ancient legend of the people known as the “mudmen.”


 Image: A Huli Wigman applies traditional paint as his understudy looks on

Years ago in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea a large tribe raided the small village of the Mat people. When the Mat men returned from hunting, they found their women had been captured and carted off to the village of their fierce captors. In retaliation, the small band of warriors set out to cross the muddy Asaro River. In the darkness, they became confused, lost their weapons and were covered in the thick grey river mud.

As they clamored ashore in the early hours of dawn, the women of the raiding village beheld the strange eerie “mud” warriors and began screaming. The sleeping enemy warriors awoke in a panic and fled in fear of these “evil spirits of the water.”

The Mudmen are just one of the tribal groups along the shores and tributaries of the Sepik River. Not far away, in the central Highlands, is the Huli tribe, better known as the Wigmen. These indigenous tribesmen lead a monastic life for around 18 months, during which time their main focus is growing their hair. Once grown, the Wigmen weave their long locks over a frame that becomes the base for an elaborate headpiece. Flowers, leaves and bird feathers are woven into the wigs which are worn at a tribal ceremony.

There’s also a river tribe known as the Chambri that marks the coming of age of its boys by cutting their bodies to resemble the markings of a crocodile. After the young men heal from their wounds inside a haus tambaran (spirit house), they emerge with welts all over their bodies that truly look like crocodile hides.

These tribes are among the many that have long fascinated anthropologists like Margaret Mead. Unknown to the rest of the world for eons, their remote enclaves have changed little for thousands of years--making this slice of the South Pacific a place of authentic experiences and true cultural immersion.

For information on Travcoa's journeys to Papua New Guinea, call your Travel Agent or a Travcoa Journey Consultant at 1-800-992-2003, email and be sure to check out our private itineraries and small group tours to Papua New Guinea.

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