The Huli Wigmen

By Christina Samuel

The Huli Wigmen from the Hela province is one of the most colourful and fascinating tribes in Papua New Guinea today. Like many tribes in PNG, their costumes, dances and rituals pay homage to the environment, especially to the amazing Bird of Paradise. Huli unlike other cultural tribes, their patrilineal lines decree chiefdom. The Huli leaders are selected for their wealth and process in battle and resolving conflicts. The Huli people believe they descended from a man called Huli and even though modern influences have begun to impact the culture but the tribe continues to live a traditional life for the most part.

Man and woman usually do not live together. As a result, boys lived with their mothers up until the age of eight and then reside with their fathers who taught them how to build fence, house and hunt for food. Young men are reared to be self-sufficient braving the surrounding jungle along for extended periods as a rite of passage to manhood. At around 14, teenage boys attend wig school. Only virgins are accepted into wig school as their purity is said to be more amenable to magic. Each placement is the cost of a pig.

At wig school, a wig master overseas the grooming of hair to ensure that each boy creates a strong foundation for the Huli wig, a unique design of woven hair. The boys are inaugurated into the school with a ritual to cleanse the body and soul. They are then placed on a diet, which typically omits spicy foods and pork fat, to promote healthy hair growth. In addition, the wig master casts magic spells to spur growth along. For the next eighteen months, the boys sleep with a headrest to prevent their hair from being flattened. It’s then cut off and wig specialist weaves it into the shape that form the basic structure of the much lauded Huli wigmen headdress. Finally, the wigs are adorned with feathers from the Bird of Paradise, yellow everlasting daisies and possum fur among other items.

It’s not uncommon for Huli wigmen to grow multiple wigs over many years as long as they’re crafted before marriage. Some are used in everyday life while others are saved for special ceremonial events. Ceremonial wigs usually have speaks at the side reininiscent of the Bird of Paradise wing span.

When it comes for celebration, the Huli wigmen dedicate much time and effort preparing their sacred spectacular costumes. Ambua, the yellow clay they paint their faces with, is sacred and sets the Huli wigmen apart from other tribes. When students finally graduate from wig school, they paint faces with ambua and go in search for a wife.

photo chief Muduya in New York city
  • Christina is from Jiwaka province and she’s in grade 8 (purple).

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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