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The Bright Faces of the Huli Wigmen of Papua New Guinea

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Red and Yellow clay (locally known as ambua) is considered sacred in Huli culture, and is commonly used as body decoration. The upper part of their face is painted red, and the lower part ochre. This simple painting is the one thing that differentiates the Huli warriors apart from neighboring tribal groups.

The Bright Faces of the Huli People of Papua New Guinea
Image: Afar©Pinterest

The Huli are an indigenous people who live in the Hela Province of Papua New Guinea. They are one of the largest cultural groups in Papua New Guinea, numbering over 300,000 people.

With their striking red and ochre body paint, the traditional attire of the Huli people is one of the most colorful in the region. The upper part of their face is painted red, and the lower part ochre. This simple painting is the one thing that differentiates the Huli warriors apart from those of neighboring tribal groups.

The Bright Faces of the Huli People of Papua New Guinea
Photo © Beth Whitman

The Huli have lived in the central part of Papua New Guinea for thousands of years, they support themselves primarily through hunting and agriculture.

The Bright Faces of the Huli People of Papua New Guinea
©World_discoverer Flickr
The Bright Faces of the Huli People of Papua New Guinea
Media drum world ©Pinterest

Alongside the body paint, another feature of Huli traditional costumes are their wigs. They’re so important in Huli culture that male members of the tribe are also known as “Wigmen.”

The Huli Love for wigs is related to their unique initiation rites: At the age of 14 or 15, Huli boys leave their families and are sent to live in a sort of “bachelor school” to learn their role in society.

Huli wig man
Huli wigmen ©Pinterest

The most important activity during this time is taking care of the boys’ hair, in order to produce ceremonial wigs. Their hair is wet three times a day with holy water, then sprinkled with fern leaves while chanting spells. Boys must refrain from eating fat and spicy foods so that their hair grows strong. As the hair grows, it’s gradually formed into a kind of mushroom shape by using a band of bamboo. The boys must sleep on their back with their head on a brick in order not to ruin the shape.

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After approximately 18 months, the hair is shaved close and the hair is woven into a traditional Huli wig. The wig masters will add ornaments such as colored clay and bird of paradise or parrot feathers. There are wigs for everyday use and for ceremonies, for personal use and for sale.

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The Bright Faces of the Huli People of Papua New Guinea
Huli wig man

After the boys’ first “haircut,” the process starts again. Some young men will produce up to five or six wigs before it’s time to marry. According to Huli beliefs, only the hair of unmarried boys and young men can be used for making wigs.


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The Huli count their wealth in how many pigs they own. The creatures are also used to pay a bride’s dowry.

In the tribe tribe, there are no chiefs, instead leaders are determined by their war-mongering and dispute-solving abilities, as well as by their wealth of pigs and shells.



Talk Africana
Fascinating Cultures and history of peoples of African origin in both Africa and the African diaspora

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