In the rugged region of Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands is a culture only recently known to the outside world.
It’s a place of ritual, deep culture and colour, where masculinity is nurtured and revered. Famed for the ornate wigs of its male residents and the bold face paints of tribal gatherings, it’s a unique destination that beckons to be explored.
Here’s a window into the culture of the Huli and the traditions they continue to uphold.
The Huli people
The Huli people have called the mountains and swampy valleys of the Southern Highlands their home for over 1000 years, having eked out an existence based on trade and agriculture.
The culture features a lengthy oral history that tells of individuals and clans in an environment where tribal conflict remains an everyday part of life.
The Huli are considered one of the largest cultural groups in PNG with over 90,000 people. They were first exposed to Europeans in the 1930s when around 50 were killed by adventurers looking for gold.
The Huli Wigmen
Perhaps the most famous and enduring images that many associate with the region is the tradition and ritual of the Huli Wigmen.
This unique element of their culture involves young, unmarried men growing their hair into ornate wigs that are used by tribesman.
For up to 18 months the men grow their hair, while partaking in a special diet and traditions. Ultimately, the hair is preened into a mushroom-like style that comes to appear like a toreador’s hat. During the cultivation, the wigmen sleep on a special neck rest as the volume of their hair increases.
Once complete, it is cut away and then stitched to a light wooden frame before being decorated with shells, iridescent bird feathers and other items. Some of the wigs are used everyday while others are reserved for special occasions.
Combined with the sacred yellow clay used as face print or the red ochre that signifies warriors, the Huli Wigmen are a spectacular sight.
The rituals of masculinity
The Huli Wigmen are among the traditions of a culture with a deep and spiritual approach to masculinity. During their upbringing young boys aged around seven or eight are separated from their mothers. Under the tutelage of their fathers, they learn the rituals of masculinity before embarking on an 18-month to three-year bachelorhood as they enter adulthood.
This process includes no contact with women while they receive instruction on the biological and ritual processes of masculisation.
Air Niugini offers flights to the various provinces of the Southern Highlands, including Tari – the centre of Huli country. Accommodation is also available, with the Ambua Lodge among renowned providers of the region.
Gudmundur (Gummi) Fridriksson, is the CEO of Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Ltd, overseeing the development of Paga Hill Estate, a world-class, master planned estate located in the heart of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Gudmundur first arrived in Papua New Guinea over 20 years ago and is passionate about sharing PNG’s natural beauty and diverse cultures with the world. Find out more about Gummi Fridriksson on his website: http://www.gudmundurfridriksson.com/and about the Paga Hill Estate development at http://www.pagahillestate.com/