The Asaro “mud men” from Papua New Guinea’s eastern highlands are known for their strange masks made with clay, and adorned with pigs’ teeth and shells.
The Asaro live in the nearby village of Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea and they are well known for their ghoulish masks.
With no written history, there is no way of pinpointing when the Asaro began making masks, though it is believed the practice has been in existence for four generations.
Legend has it that they were defeated by an enemy tribe and forced to flee into the Asaro River. There they waited until dusk before attempting to escape. The enemy saw them rise from the muddy banks covered in mud and thought they were spirits, so the enemy fled in fear, and the Asaro tribes people escaped.
They then went into the village to see what had happened, not knowing the enemy tribesmen were still there. On seeing them, the enemy were so terrified they ran back to their village and held a special ceremony to ward off the spirits.
Another legend has it that a man who wanted to attend a wedding ceremony four generations ago did not have suitable clothes. So he improvised by boring two holes in a string bag, covered it with mud and applied mud on his skin. When he wore it to the wedding, the guests fled the party. Their reaction made him realise it could be used to wade off their longtime enemy. Expectedly, their enemies ran for their dear lives. As time went on , they incorporated fingers made with bamboo to have the overall ghostly effect. This new strategy proved successful in different attacks.
The masks have unusual designs, such as long or very short ears either going down to the chin or sticking up at the top, long joined eyebrows attached to the top of the ears, horns and sideways mouths.
According to research in September 1996 already by Danish anthropologist Ton Otto from Aarhus University the ‘Asaro Mudmen Tribe’, the ghostly masks and body paint, and the corresponding origin story about it are an elaborate mythology created by native Asaro Valley villagers in the 1950s to be performed for tourists.
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