Papua New Guinea is a land of rugged nature and diverse cultures. Among these myriad ethnic groups the Huli people are one of the largest in terms of number though their existence was discovered only in the recent decades. The Huli have a deep rooted culture where masculinity plays an important role and it is the colourful representation of manhood that has caught the fancy of the world. They live in the mountains and valleys of the southern highlands of the country and their first interaction was with Europeans in 1934, who came in search of gold. More than 50 members of the tribe were slayed in that encounter.
The Huli tribe is known for its aggressive nature and the colourful body decorations that they put on. Bright colours like yellow and red, which also have an intimidating touch, are their favourite for face and body painting. Some researchers suggested that the use of these colours not only intimidate the opponent but also have the right mental effect on the warrior who sheds his fears for the sake of the tribe. The Huli have a tradition of oral transmission of their knowledge form one generation to the next.
The inclination towards bright colours and decorations is shared by the men as well as the women, who dress up in a colourful manner during the festivals. But the speciality of the tribe is their expressly designed and ornamented wigs that are worn as a symbol of masculinity and sets them apart from other tribes. The process of creating a wig is a traditional method that is approached very seriously. The young and unmarried men of the tribe grow their hair for up to 18 months to have the right amount of volume. They also adopt a special diet and sleep over special neck-rests during the growing phase of the hair. The hair is also sprinkled with sacred water as a daily ritual during this period, to make the quality superior.
Once the hair has grown to the right volume, it is cut away by a bamboo knife and fixed with a wooden frame. It is then decorated with various items like shells and bird feathers. A tribesman can design a number of wigs, each designated for some special occasion. Combined with their painted faces and lofty wigs, the Huli warriors present an imposing sight. The warriors also carry a specially designed axe with claws to complete their war attire. The children of the tribe are separated from their mothers at the young age of seven or eight as the first steps towards masculinity. Guided by their fathers they prepare for a specific period with no contact with women. They are then initiated into masculinity with the right ritualistic processes.
The Huli apply facial makeup not only to prepare for war but also during seasonal celebrations and other ritualistic events. The base colour is formed by a form of sacred yellow clay which is called ambua. Over this base, various patterns are drawn using items like red and while clay, black charcoal and vermillion. In some cases they use a white background along with a tree oil when the impact of bright colours is not needed. In recent years, many from the tribe has started using cheap materials like acrylic paint to create a show for the tourists. The right level of preservation of the traditional values of the tribe is necessary to prevent them from getting lost in time.
The Huli are a tribe that are not comfortable with the idea of peace and vengeance is a natural way of their lives. The leaders of the tribe are crafted from battle, and are men who fight well and amassed wealth mainly in terms of pigs. A trip to the land of this tribe is a special experience and today you can even buy a wig as a souvenir. Head for a specially guided tour into the land of the Huli to experience the wilderness that prevails at all fronts.