THE MUDMEN OF THE WESTERN HIGHLANDS
PAPUA NEW GUINEA is a land of Wig-Schools, Wig-Teachers and WigMen, impenetrable rain-forests, sweet potatoes and pigs. A land of the Cus-Cus, the Cassowary and thirty-eight species of Birds of Paradise.
A land without sheep, goats, cows or milk. A land where there are no donkeys, horses or mules. No bicycles, mopeds and few cars; virtually no restaurants, bars, shops, electricity or roads. It is a land where there is no recreational sex, where a new-born girl is called a Shovel, a boy an Axe and where many adults have no birth certificates. It is perhaps one of the most untouched lands on earth.
This bizarre way of life is found in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, a country comprising more than 2000 indigeneous clans, including the Mudmen of the Waghi Valley. To find this clan, you need to travel to the Highlands town of Mt Hagen. Although it’s the third largest town in the country it has a reputation of being “the wild frontier’ of the Highlands and more often is referred to as simply Hagen, a German name that acknowledges the presence of Lutheran missionaries who settled in the area almost a century ago. Compared with the intense heat and humidity of the coastal region, Hagen has a comfortable alpine climate and though it rains an average of 3800mm a year, there are few mosquitoes and consequently no malaria. Throughout Papua New Guinea, language is an issue. More than 800 different languages are spoken, 12% of the world’s indigeneous languages, and very often adjoining clans are unable to understand the language spoken by their neighbours just a few kilometres away. Some of these languages are spoken by just 5000.
For centuries the Highlands peoples of Papua New Guinea fought over land, women and pigs. Sorcery and battle skills could elevate a clan to Bigmanship, where the bigger the ‘presentation’, the bigger the man. Clans therefore would paint their bodies and create fearsome masks as part of their psy