Category Archives: Tribes

Tribal Law

Tribal Law

You find yourself in the unhappy circumstance of being attracted to your second cousin’s wife, Gurtina—and of knowing that she is attracted to you. Now, your second cousin is a fine fellow, and you wouldn’t intentionally hurt him, but these things happen: You and his wife are possessed by the love madness.

It’s really very touching and pathetic. Living in the same camp, you can’t help but see each other daily. You circle each other like binary stars, drawn together by one force, thrust apart by another. What you read in each other’s eyes is plain but untested. You yearn to test it, but . . . you know what the testing will inevitably cost.

No matter. Soon you can endure it no longer. The fire of love is burning you alive. One day in passing at the outskirts of camp, you confront her.She lowers her eyes modestly, as always, but your determination is fixed.

“Tonight,” you whisper, “past the saltbush on the other side of the stream.” She hesitates a moment to consult her own heart, but she too knows that the time has come. “At the setting of the moon?” she asks. “At the setting of the moon.” She nods and hurries away, her heart bursting with joy and dread.

That night you’re there a little beforehand, of course, to prepare your bower of love, your nest of passion. Gurtina comes to you at last.

Your hands touch. You embrace. Ah!

A few hours later, exhausted with delight, you sit by a tiny fire and watch it grow pale in the burgeoning dawn. You exchange a glance, and more is written in that glance than in all your night’s endearments and caresses. You have tested your passion. Now, this glance says, it’s time to test your love. With a sigh, you smother the fire and head back to camp, trying not to let your feet drag. Your faces are a careful display. Exultation would be childish and insolent. Shame would be a denial of your love. Instead, what’s seen there is something like repose, acceptance, fortitude.

You both know what you’re going to see, and without fail you see it. At one side of the camp the men are arrayed, already hopping with fury. At the other side wait the women, smouldering. You and Gurtina exchange another glance—this one briefer than the beat of a gnat’s wing—and then you’re engulfed in a wave of wrath.

The men descend on you, the women on her. Rocks and spears and boomerangs are flying through the air, clubs and digging sticks are being wielded with abandon. But you don’t just stand there and take it—far from it. You both battle back in defense of your love, answering screams with screams, rocks with rocks, spears with spears, blows with blows, until all weapons and combatants are finally exhausted.

Gurtina, bleeding and battered, is returned to her husband, and you’re told to roll your swag and get the hell out if you know what’s good for you. For a while the men’s bodies are exhausted, their fury isn’t, and when they revive, you’ll be fair game again. So you roll your swag, thinking. Thinking very hard. The test of your love isn’t over, it’s just begun. The next few hours will be the true test, and this test will be in your head and heart alone.

You leave camp, knowing that as yet you have a choice. . . .

The question is: Do you really want this woman? Do you want her more than anything you hold dear in the world? If you don’t, if there’s the slightest doubt . . . you will just keep going—go on walkabout for a few weeks. When you come back, the men’s fury will have abated. They’ll jeer at you for a few weeks and then forget all about it. Gurtina . . . ah, Gurtina will know you for what you are, a craven seducer, a hollow man, and she’ll never forget. And of course there’ll be a price to be paid to your cousin. But all these are bearable. The alternative, on the other hand . . . You circle the camp all day, staying out of sight and out of reach, thinking. But by dusk you know that your doubts have vanished. In the gathering darkness, you approach camp stealthily, to the spot where your loved one is being guarded. Lightly guarded.

Lightly guarded—to keep her from running away with you. Ah, the exquisiteness of that guard! Do you see its effect?

Gurtina has her own choice to make, you see—the same terrible choice as yours. And the restraint provided by those guards defines and delimits her choice. For she’s guarded. You’re not. You have to prove your courage by coming for her. She doesn’t need to prove her courage by coming for you. And in fact, she can’t. She’s guarded, you see. So that, should you not come for her, she will not be shamed. Rather it will be you who is shamed.

But this is only half of it. The guards are there to protect you as well, because Gurtina too has her choice to make. Does she really want you?

Does she want you more than anything she holds dear in the world? If not—if there’s the slightest doubt—when your signal comes at dusk, she need only shrug helplessly, as if to say, “See? I can’t get away, my love. I’m being too well guarded.” Thus the presence of the guards enables her to express her choice in a way that does not crush your self-esteem. The presence of the guards makes it possible for her to end the whole episode in a moment, without a single word, as painlessly as possible.

Now note very well that none of this is or was worked our rationally or consciously, of course. Nevertheless, the guard on Gurtina is in fact curiously inefficient. Efficient enough to serve all the purposes I’ve just mentioned—but inefficient enough to allow her to escape at your signal, if that is her will. Because of course the Alawa are sensible enough to know that if she wants you this much, it would be foolish to make escape impossible.

The testing is over now. You and she have made your decision. Now the price must be paid. The price for disrupting the life of the tribe, for cheapening marriage in the eyes of the children. And thai price is, next to death itself, the heaviest that can be paid: detribalization, lifelong exile.

At your signal, Gurtina slips away from her guard and, together at last and forever, the two of you hurry away into the night, never to return. You are journeying into the land of the dead now. Detribalized, you are dead to all you left behind and to all you shall ever meet for the rest of your lives.

Now you are truly homeless, by your own choice, alone and adrift in a vast, empty world. Your home is now each other, which you chose above the tribe. There will be no comradeship for you forever except what you find in each other: no friends, no father and mother, no aunts and uncles, no cousins, no nieces and nephews. You have thrown it all away—to have each other.

And you know that this is truly a price you’ve paid of your own choice, not a punishment. To have each other and go on living with the tribe would be unthinkable, disgraceful, even worse than exile. It would in fact destroy the tribe, because once the children saw that there was no price to be paid for adultery, marriage would become a laughingstock, and the basis of the family and of the tribe itself would disintegrate.

What you see at work here in this example is the stupendous efficacy of tribal law. Nothing like invented law, which just spells out crimes and punishments, tribal law is something that works. It works well for all concerned. A man and woman whose love is as great as this must of course have each other. But for the sake of the tribe, they must be gone—out of sight, out of mind forever. The children of the tribe have seen with their own eyes that marriage and love are not the trifling matters they have become among “advanced” peoples like us. The husband’s dishonor has been avenged—and there will be no snickering among his comrades about it, for they stood side by side with him to lambaste the adulterer.

But perhaps you had a question at this point in the story: Why would the lovers return to the camp at all?

Oh, that’s exactly the crux of the law. It wouldn’t work at all without that. Suppose, after your night of lovemaking, you were to suggest to Gurtina: “Oh, why should we wait another day to be together? Let’s run away now!”

What would she think? She would think, “Uh-oh, what have I gotten myself into here? What kind of a man is this? A coward, obviously, who would have us slink off into the night rather than go back to face the others and say, ‘Well, here we are! Do your worst!’ ”

And if she made the suggestion instead of you, you’d think the same of her. So the two of you must go back. . . .

Every part of this process is the law, and every actor in it is a participant in the law. The law for these people isn’t a separate statute written in a book. It’s the very fabric of their lives—it’s what makes the Alawa the Alawa and what distinguishes them from the Mara and the Malanugganugga—who have their own ways of handling adultery, which are the best for them. It can’t possibly be said too often that there is no one right way for people to live; that’s only the delusion of the most murderous and destructive culture that history has ever produced.

I’m sure it’s all but self-evident to you that this law of adultery could not have been the invention of any committee whatever. It’s not an improvisation or a contrivance, and because it’s not an improvisation or a contrivance, it has weight with the Alawa. It might not occur to any of them to analyze it as I’ve done here tonight, but that doesn’t matter in the least.

They don’t obey the law of the Alawa because it checks out under analysis.

They obey the law of the Alawa because they’re the Alawa, and to give up the law would be to give up their identity—would be to become detribalised.

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Nomadic and colourful horsemen and cowboys have wandered the prairies as early as the 1700s, when wild Cimarron cattle overpopulated the flatlands. In the 18th century, when leather was in high demand, Gauchos arose to clandestinely hunt the huge herds of horses and cattle.

“A Gaucho without a horse is only half a man”

The word ‘Gaucho’ was used to describe the free spirits, inseparable from their horse and knife. Over time, when extensive portions of prairies were settled and commercial cattle began, there was less room for the Gauchos to roam. As their way of living changed, the legend of the Gaucho grew.


November 2011

The Argentinian Pampas – rolling terrains of grasses, flowers and herbs – are the home of the Gauchos. The nomadic and colourful horsemen and cowboys have wandered the prairies since as early as the 1700s, when  the flatlands were overpopulated by wild Cimarron cattle, originally brought to South America by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Mendoza in 1538.


November 2011

Gauchos were loners who were hardy and uncompromising, but famed for their kindness to fellow travellers, always sharing their food or what little shelter they had. Sons of gauchos invariably became gauchos too.

The pastimes of the gauchos included gambling, drinking, playing the guitar and singing about their skills in hunting, fighting and love-making. The gaucho, his horse and his facon were inseparable. Knives could open cows and close discussions.


November 2011

Some presume that the name gaucho is derived from the Mapuche Cauchu, meaning ‘vagabond’. Others consider the Quechua word Huachu, meaning ‘orphan’, to be a better candidate.

Whatever its roots, the word ‘Gaucho’ came into existence for the first time in the late 1800s to describe a roguish individual that would ride alone, sometimes with a woman, whose only baggage was a facon (knife), Boleadoras (three iron or stone balls on leather cords thrown at the legs of an animal to immobilise it) and a reata (lasso), in order to capture running cattle or game.

ARGENTINA + ECUADOR○Go to journey ›
Artprint available

– Jimmy Nelson


November 2011

Duels amongst gauchos were not intended to kill. They just wanted to mark the other, preferably on the face. That mark would make it obvious and forever to all that the bearer of the scar had lost a duel.

If one of the Gauchos unintentionally wounded his opponent fatally, sympathy was felt for the killer who would from then on be considered a man in disgrace in need of protection and help to escape. Little sympathy was felt for Gauchos known to be deliberate killers.


November 2011

The Gauchos spent their days caring for their herds and catching wild cattle. Being nomadic, the gauchos would spend little time at home, which was a mud hut covered with cowhides and containing a few horse skulls to sit on.

Gauchos usually did not marry the woman they lived with. She raised their children (with sons following in their father’s footsteps) and took care of housekeeping.


November 2011

The gauchos were self-sufficient free spirits who were wedded to their horse and the open plain. Not only were the gauchos independent and tough, they knew the pampas intimately and were extremely skilled horsemen, which made them ideal cavalry during the wars of independence (1810-1816) and the civil wars that followed.


November 2011

When on the range, the gaucho diet consisted almost entirely of beef, supplemented by yerba mate, a herbal tea-like drink rich in caffeine and nutrients. Cows were slaughtered for their hides, leaving the meat for the gauchos, who promptly roasted it on an open fire before it spoiled.
Argentina’s national dishes are derived from simple Gaucho cooking (Asado).


November 2011

Gaucho beliefs consisted mainly of age- old superstitions varnished with Roman Catholicism. Setting themselves apart from society and being free spirited allowed gauchos to do whatever they thought necessary to survive, without being worried about fate, destination, sin, guilt, heaven or hell.

“All in the line of duty. Sometimes to get the best shots one has to end up with a mouth full of dust and hopefully not a horses’ hoof!”


November 2011

The life of the gaucho got increasingly difficult during the 19th century, as anti-vagrancy and other laws forced the horsemen further inland. Extensive portions of the prairies were settled, leaving less room for the gauchos to roam with their ponies and the wild herds of cattle they lived on. By then, commercial cattle ranching had begun, and the pampas had been fenced into huge estancias. The ranch and landowners (estancieros) needed managers to control cattle breeding and herding, and none were better qualified for the job than the gauchos.


November 2011

In the 18th century, when leather was in high demand and hides fetched great prices, gauchos arose to clandestinely hunt the huge herds of horses and cattle that had escaped more than a century earlier.

Gauchos were usually of mixed European and indigenous ancestry, but sometimes were of largely African or part-African descent.


November 2011

The typical gaucho outfit would include a poncho (which doubled as a saddle blanket and sleeping gear), a facon, a rebenque (leather whip)
and loose-fitting trousers called bombachas. Nowadays, working gauchos are as likely to be found in overalls and wellington boots as in their traditional dress, the latter usually worn in desfiles (parades) during festivities and celebrations.


November 2011

Over time, the early gauchos gave up their solitary existence to work for the estancieros. They settled down, rounded up cattle, mended fences,
branded animals and tended sheep. As their way of living changed, the legend of the gaucho grew.


Tsaatan (reindeer people) are the last reindeer herders who survived for thousands of years inhabiting the remotest subartic taiga, moving between 5 and 10 times a year. Presently, only 44 families remain, their existence threatened by the dwindling number of their domesticated reindeer.
“If there were no reindeer we would not exist”
The Tsaatan rely on the animal for most, if not all, of their basic needs: milk, which is also used to make cheese; antlers, which they use to make tools; and first and foremost, transport. They do not use the reindeer for meat. This makes the indigenous group  unique among reindeer-herding communities.

“The first few days the Tsaatan weren’t interested in posing for hours on end in the bitter cold for someone they didn’t know.”


February 2011

The Tsaatan (reindeer people) of northern Mongolia are a nomadic tribe who depend on reindeer for nearly all aspects of their survival. Inhabiting the remotest subarctic taiga, where winter temperatures can drop to minus 50°C, the Tsaatan are Mongolia’s last surviving reindeer herders. Originally from Siberia, the Tuvan speaking Tsaatan are a Turkic people. For thousands of years, the Tsaatan have survived the harsh conditions of the forested mountains, moving their families, Ortz (tepees), animals and their few worldly possessions between five and ten times a year.

This tribe of ethnic people has developed a unique culture and tradition in which reindeer play a pivotal role.


February 2011

Shamanism, the traditional spiritual belief system based on nature worship, is still practised among the Tsaatan. To influence and extract meaning from their environment, they perform many mystical holy rituals and use many different magic charms in their daily life, for hunting, calling, preventing the rain etc.


February 2011

The customs and traditions of the Tsaatan people are defined by migration, governed by the needs of their reindeer. The Tsaatan rely on the animal
for most, if not all, of their basic needs: the milk, which is also used to  make cheese; the antlers, which they use to make tools; and first and foremost, transport. Tsaatan ride their reindeer and use them as pack animals.


February 2011

The Tsaatan’s daily life is perhaps best described as bordering on subsistence living, meaning they survive only by virtue of man’s basic needs: air, water, food, clothing and shelter.

The traditional dwelling of the Tsaatan is the Ortz, a conical tent made of animal skin and wooden poles, which is easy to set up and pack. They certainly cannot be said to lead a sedentary life. Reindeer play an integral role in the day-to-day life of the  Tsaatan. They use their milk as a staple in their diet and creatively use shed antlers for a myriad of different purposes.


February 2011

Khovsgol nuur is located in the northwest of Mongolia near the border to Russia, at the foot of the eastern Sayan Mountains. The town of Hatgal is at the southern end of the lake. The lake is surrounded by several mountain ranges. The surface of the lake freezes over completely in winter. The ice cover gets strong enough to carry heavy trucks, so that transport routes were installed on its surface as shortcuts to the normal roads.


February 2011

Urtyn duu (long song) is a means of chronicling local and family history, and is even considered to be a way of communicating with animals.
In an elaborate ritual of song, the Tsaatan compose pleasing melodies to reward individual animals or ‘tell’ the herd of the needs of the young

The yearly Tsaatan reindeer festival highlights the traditions of the tribe and its nomadic lifestyle. It features folk singing, shamanistic rituals, marching reindeer herds, reindeer riding and reindeer polo.


February 2011

Shamanism, the traditional spiritual belief system based on nature worship, is still practised among the Tsaatan. To influence and extract meaning from their environment, they perform many mystical holy rituals and use many different magic charms in their daily life, for hunting, calling, preventing the rain etc.


February 2011

The Tsaatan do not use the reindeer for meat, preferring instead to subsist on elk, moose or boars caught in the wilderness. This makes the tribe unique among reindeer-herding communities. Reindeer milk is a favourite beverage and is also used to make yoghurt,  cream, dried curds and cheeses. The milk is preserved in containers dunked into a stream or river: perfect natural refrigeration.


February 2011

This fantastically beautiful place with some 200 lakes is the lake district of Mongolia at lower altitude than Lake Khovsgol. The lakes are surrounded by steppes, along with deep taiga forests bordering Siberia – Sayan Mountains – and Tuva.


February 2011

Men leave early in the morning to lead their reindeer and forage for moss in the surrounding high mountains. The women go about their daily chores and milk the reindeer when they return, while the men chop wood for cooking and warmth in the brutally cold weather. The reindeer are highly domesticated. They roam freely and even enter the ortz without being chased out (except when their antlers are too large).



The ancient Arctic live on the peninsula of the Chukotka. Unlike other native groups of Siberia, they have never been conquered by Russian troops. Their environment and traditional culture endured destruction under Soviet rule, by weapon testing and pollution.
“The way you treat your dog in this life determines your place in heaven”
Due to the harsh climate and difficulty of life in the tundra, hospitality and generosity are highly prized among the Chukchi. They believe that all natural phenomena are considered to have their own spirits. Traditional lifestyle still survives but is increasingly supplemented.

‘When I saw the vastness of the white landscape, my mind was overwhelmed with clarity’


February 2012

Ancient legends and archaeological evidence suggest that Chukchi takeover of Chukotka was anything but peaceful.

Unlike other native groups of Siberia, they were fiercely militant and have never been conquered by Russian troops. Under Soviet rule, the Chukchi people endured mass imprisonment and destruction of their traditional culture.


February 2012

The Chukchi are an ancient Arctic people who chiefly live on the peninsula of Chukotka. They are unusual among the Northern people in having two distinct cultures: The nomadic reindeer herders (Chauchu) who live in the interior of the peninsula,and the village-based marine  mammal hunters (Ankalyn) who live along the coasts of the Arctic Ocean, the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea.


February 2012

The staple foods eaten by the inland Chukchi are products of reindeer farming: boiled venison, reindeer brains and bone marrow, and reindeerblood soup.

One traditional dish, rilkeil, is made from semi-digested moss from a  slaughtered reindeer’s stomach mixed with blood, fat, and pieces of boiled
reindeer intestine. Coastal Chukchi cuisine is based on boiled walrus, seal,  whale meat/fat and seaweed. Both groups eat frozen fish and edible leaves and roots.
Traditional Chukchi cuisine is now supplemented with canned vegetables and other foodstuffs purchased in stores.


February 2012

Sculpture and carving on bone and walrus tusk are the most highly developed forms of folk art among the Chukchi. Common traditional themes are landscapes and scenes from everyday life: hunting parties, reindeer herding and animals native to Chukotka. In traditional Chukchi society, only men engage in these arts. Chukchi women are skilled at sewing and embroidering.

‘It is considered unseemly for a man to perform work usually done by women’

– Jimmy Nelson


February 2012

Although both sexes share responsibility for running the household, they have different tasks. Chukchi men drive their reindeer in search of  vegetation and travel to the edge of the taiga to hunt sea mammals and gather firewood and fish. The women’s work includes cleaning and repairing the yaranga, cooking food, sewing and repairing clothing and preparing reindeer or walrus hides.


February 2012

The coastal Chukchi, like the neighbouring Eskimo, enjoy tossing each other high into the air on walrusskin blankets. Chukchi of all ages traditionally enjoy singing, dancing, listening to folk tales and reciting tongue twisters.


February 2012

The traditional dress for Chukchi women is a kerker, a knee-length coverall made from reindeer or seal hide and trimmed with fox, wolverine, wolf
or dog fur. On holidays and special occasions, women can be seen wearing robe-like dresses of fawn skins beautifully decorated with beads, embroidery and fur trimmings.

At important traditional events, we see men wearing loose shirts and trousers made of the same material.


February 2012

Pollution, weapons testing, strip mining and overuse of industrial equipment and vehicles have greatly damaged Chukotka’s environment and endangered its ability to support traditional Chukchi activities.


February 2012

For at least a few hundred years, the coneshaped yaranga has been the traditional home of Chukchi reindeer herders. It takes about 80 reindeer skins to build a yaranga. Nowadays, fewer and fewer Chukchi live in yarangas. The coastal Chukchi traditionally used dogsleds and skin
boats for transportation, while inland Chukchi rode in sledges pulled by reindeer. These traditional methods of transportation still survive, but are increasingly supplemented by air travel, motorboats, and snowmobiles.


February 2012

The Chukchi, who call themselves the Lygoravetlat – meaning ‘genuine people’ – presently number slightly over 15,000. Their territory is mostly treeless tundra. The climate is harsh, with winter temperatures sometimes dropping as low as minus 54°C.  The cool summers average around 10°C.


February 2012

Traditional Chukchi sports are reindeer and dog-sled races, wrestling, and foot races. Competitions of these types are often performed following the reindeer sacrifices of the inland Chukchi and the sea-spirit sacrifices of the coastal Chukchi.


February 2012

Chukchi beliefs and practices are best described as a form of shamanism. Animals, plants, heavenly bodies, rivers, forests and other natural phenomena are all considered to have their own spirits. During their rituals, Chukchi shamans fall into trances (sometimes with the aid of
hallucinogenic mushrooms), communicate with the spirits, allow the spirits to speak through them, predict the future, and cast spells of various kinds.

The most important traditional Chukchi holidays were festivals in which sacrifices were made to the spirits that the Chukchi depended upon for their survival.


February 2012

Due to the harsh climate and difficulty of life in the tundra, hospitality and generosity are highly prized among the Chukchi. It is forbidden to refuse anyone, even a stranger, shelter and food.

The community is expected to provide for orphans, widows and the poor. Miserliness is considered the worst character defect a person can have.


The eastern half of New Guinea gained full independence from Australia in 1975, when Papua New Guinea was born. The indigenous population is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Traditionally, the different groups scattered across the highland plateau, live in small agrarian clans.
“Knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle”

The first visitors were impressed to find valleys of carefully planned gardens and irrigation ditches. The women of the indigenous groups are exceptional farmers. The men hunt and fight other tribes over land, pigs and women. Great effort is made to impress the enemy with terrifying masks, wigs and paint.

“We  wouldn’t have acquired a fraction of the extraordinary images had we gone in the measured, sensible way.”



Nested high in the mountains Simbai is a village that is unreachable except by prop plane. It takes days walking through the bush through steep mud slick hills. With no roads, it is easy to get lost.

This has kept the culture strong and rich and from assimilating to the rest of the world. Simbai really is like stepping into another world.



Simbai is the home of the Kalam in the heart of the highlands of Madang. It is one of Papua New Guinea’s most secluded places where  still live a subsistence lifestyle in traditional villages scattered through pristine wilderness territory and untouched by Westernisation.



When it comes to body decorations, their bodies are heavily donned with “Bilas” (body ornaments) such as large Kina shells, Hornbill (Kokomo)
beak necklaces, cuscus fur, wild garden flowers and arm bands.

Pig fat provides the final shine.



The crowns of the head-dresses are decorated with bird feathers comprising those of the cockatoo, parrots, lorikeets and bird of paradise species.

Small round Kina shells are hooked on to and hang suspended from the hole in the nose while others insert King of Saxony bird of paradise feathers.



The eastern half of New Guinea, the world’s second largest island, gained full independence from Australia in 1975, when the nation of Papua New Guinea was born. The indigenous population is one of the most heterogeneous in the world.

It is believed that the first Papua New Guineans migrated to the island over 45,000 years ago. Today, over three million people, approximately half of the total population, live in the highlands.



The highlanders live by hunting, done primarily by men, and by gathering plants and growing crops, done primarily by women. The men help clear
the land, but the rest of the cultivation is the responsibility of the women.
The residents have plenty of good food, close-knit families and a great respect for the wonders of nature.


[—ATOC—] [—TAG:h2—]

The indigenous population of the world’s second largest island is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. The harsh terrain and historic inter-tribal warfare have lead to village isolation and the proliferation of distinct languages. A number of different tribes are scattered across the highland plateau.


The indigenous population of the world’s second largest island is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. The harsh terrain and historic inter-tribal warfare have lead to village isolation and the proliferation of distinct languages. A number of different groups are scattered across the highland plateau.
“Knowledge is only a rumour until it is in the muscle”
Life is simple in the highland villages. The residents have plenty of good food, close-knit families and a great respect for the wonders of nature. They survive by hunting, gathering plants and growing crops. Indigenous warfare is common and men go through great effort to impress the enemy with make-up and ornaments.



Goroka is the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Though only discovered at the beginning of the 20th century it is now host of a major tourist attraction, the Goroka show.  The renowned Goroka Show is a three-day event that takes place annually around the time of the country’s Independence Day (September 16). Dating back to 1957, it is the oldest tribal gathering in Papua New Guinea.  Over 100 tribes from the region show their music, dance and culture.

“I have spent many years in conflict areas, but in Papua New Guinea I was particularly nervous.”



As diverse as the nature of Papua New Guinea is, as diverse are its inhabitants. The indigenous groups have an extraordinary and rich oral tradition, including myths, folk tales, magical sayings and charms. Their material culture is limited to the indispensable things of daily life. However, they do cherish the modest luxury of body ornaments.


2010Hornbills are a family of birds. Hornbills are found in Africa, Asia and Pacific Northwest. The bill, much to those of the unrelated toucans reminiscent, in many species, is brightly coloured. Their impressive size and colour have helped make them a part of local indigenous cultures and rituals.



Eastern Highlanders are considered the friendliest of the highlands with fewer tribal fights than other provinces. Territorial conflicts arise not only with other indigenous groups. Also, western colonialism, mining and the advancing developing world threatens their culture.

The territory of villages and indigenous groups – the land they lived on and that provided them with food and shelter for thousands of years – is something the Highlanders have always defended with their lives. A threat from any foreigner will make them feel forced to fight back.



The indigenous groups from the highlands supply the tribes from the valley with decorative bird feathers, tree kangaroo and cuscus pelts and fine rare woods that have long since disappeared from the valley. The valley people tend to decorate their bodies more than highlanders.



The staging of the Goroka Show started back in 1957 at the Independence Park opposite the Goroka Main Market. It was first introduced and organized by Australian Kiaps (patrol officers). Kiaps from each district built round houses typical of their districts and proudly displayed their cultures. The Kiaps brought in singing groups from their area. It began as an entertainment weekend for everybody in the Province, but it was also a competition to see which was the best organized and administered district.



Mount Hagen in the western highlands also hosts a large-scale cultural event. Various regional, provincial, even national indigenous dance groups gather to celebrate their cultural heritage in the form of sing-sing. It’s near the Baiyer District which hosts the biggest collection of birds and wildlife in Papua New Guinea, the Baiyer River Bird Sanctuary.  Traditional culture and beliefs remain strong in Mount Hagen and its surroundings.



Lufa is a town in the Eastern Highlands at the foot of Mount Michel with a population under 1000. Their tradition and culture have over decades strongly been influenced by Western society from evangelist missionaries to Facebook, but traditions and customs remain strong.



The annually Goroka Show is a display of the traditional dress, dance and music from the diverse indigenous peoples Papua New Guinea inhabits. The biggest and most well-known tribes are the Huli Wigmen and Asaro Mudmen. Indigenous groups smaller in population and lower in rank, but no less creative in body decorations are: Kunana Su Wigmen, Kikuwya Wigmen, Wara Sua Group, Lufar Wigmen, Gahuku wigmen, Finchafen Group, Sobi Lau Waimo Group, Aipos Group, Wombun Group, Kamanibit Group, Arua Group



The Highlanders universe is filled with all kinds of spirits, some more personal in character than others. Particular reverence is paid to ancestral spirits. In times of trouble, domesticated pigs are sacrificed to the spirits of the ancestors.


2010Many indigenous groups of Papua New Guinea in the mountainous interior have little contact with one another, let alone with the outside world, and live within a non-monetarized economy dependent on subsistence agriculture.


2010Indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea are generally contacted in the sense that local authorities know they are there, but many remain pre-literate and out of reach of modern medicine and technology, and at the national or international level, the names of indigenous groups and information about them may be extremely hard to obtain.



A lot of Goroka, families have now taken to supplementing their family’s income by engaging in small agricultural and livestock businesses. The introduction of vanilla, wheat and rice has had a huge impact on agricultural enthusiasts throughout the Province. Rice and wheat are being grown for own consumption and/or selling while the vanilla is sold to the international market. Pigs, rabbits and especially chickens are readily farmed while fresh vegetables are still grown for the local and national markets.


A number of different tribes have lived scattered across the highland plateau for 1000 years, in small agrarian clans, by the harsh terrain and divided by language, custom and tradition. The legendary Asaro Mudmen first met with the Western world in the middle of the 20th century.



Asaro Tribe
A number of different indigenous groups have lived scattered across the highland plateau for 1000 years, in small agrarian clans, isolated by the harsh terrain and divided by language, custom and tradition. The legendary Asaro Mudmen first met with the Western world in the middle of the 20th century.
“Knowledge is only a rumour until it is in the muscle”
Legend has it that the Mudmen were forced to flee from an enemy into the Asaro River where they waited until dusk to escape. The enemy saw them rise from the banks covered in mud and thought they were spirits. The Asaro still apply mud and masks to keep the illusion alive and terrify other indigenous groups.


“The circumstances in the mountain swamps were physically very arduous, but not particularly dangerous.”

Asaro Tribe



The mudmen could not cover their faces with mud because the  of Papua New Guinea thought that the mud from the Asaro river was poisonous. So instead of covering their faces with this alleged poison, they made masks from pebbles that they heated and water from the waterfall, with 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.


Asaro Tribe

“Our naivety got us access to many beautiful pictures.”



The Asaro cover themselves in mud, wear terrifying masks and brandishing spears. Legend has it that the Mudmen were defeated by an enemy
and forced to flee into the Asaro River.

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. Terrified, they ran back to their village. After that episode, all of the neighbouring villages came to believe the Asaro had the spirits of the river on their side. Clever elders of the village saw the advantage of this and kept the illusion alive.


It is believed that the first Papua New Guineans migrated to the island over 45000 years ago. Today, over 3 million , half of the heterogeneous population, live in the highlands. Some of these communities have engaged in low-scale tribal conflict with their neighbours for millennia.


It is believed that the first Papua New Guineans migrated to the island over 45000 years ago. Today, over 3 million people, half of the heterogeneous population, live in the highlands. Some of these communities have engaged in low-scale indigenous conflict with their neighbours for millennia.
The indigenous groups fight over land, pigs and women. Great effort is made to impress the enemy. The largest indigenous group, the Huli wigmen, paint their faces yellow, red and white and are famous for their tradition of making ornamented wigs from their own hair. An axe with a claw completes the intimidating effect.

“We did know Papua New Guinea was a wild place, but not how intense it really was.”



The traditional highland apparel is scant: women wear grass skirts, men wear nothing but a koteka, or penis gourd. However, to impress and scare off the enemy, men go to considerably more effort.

The largest highland are the Huli Wigmen, who paint their faces yellow, red, and white. and are famous for their tradition of making ornamental wigs from their own hair. These look like plumed hats, intricately decorated with feathers of birds of paradise and parrots. Other ornaments include shells, beads, pig tusks, hornbill skulls and foliage.

“For all the remote places I had travelled in my life, with Papua New Guinea I was stepping into the unknown.”



The Huli are traditionally animists who abide by strict ritualised offerings to appease the spirits of their ancestors.

Sickness and misfortune are thought to be the work of witchcraft and sorcery.

“Using long exposures to get a deep focus in low light conditions, our subjects would often have to stand very, very still.”



The Tari Valley, with magnificent views of the valley below and surrounding peaks. High mountain forests with roaring waterfalls.  Life is simple in the highland villages. The residents have plenty of good food, close-knit families and a great respect for the wonders of nature.

The highlanders live by hunting, done primarily by men, and by gathering plants and growing crops, done primarily by women. The men help clear the land, but the rest of the cultivation is the responsibility of the women.

They practice cyclical agriculture, moving to a new location after the soil is exhausted to allow reforestation and recovery. The women are exceptional farmers. The first Westerners to visit the highlands were impressed to find vast valleys of carefully planned gardens and irrigation ditches. Crops grown include sweet potatoes, corn, cabbages and maniocs.

“Getting the light just right demanded a lot of patience from people.”



Tribal warfare is a common among the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea. They fight over three things: land, pigs and women – in that order. To be regarded as important, men need plenty of each: land forfarming, pigs as a measure of wealth and a number of wives to tend to land and livestock.



The Himba are an ancient of tall, slender and statuesque herders. Since the 16th century they have lived in scattered settlements, leading a life that has remained unchanged, surviving war and droughts. The tribal structure helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth.


The Himba are an ancient indigenous group of tall, slender and statuesque herders. Since the 16th century they have lived in scattered settlements, leading a life that has remained unchanged, surviving war and droughts. The tribal structure helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth.
“Don’t start your farming with cattle, start it with people”
Each member belongs to two clans, through the father and the mother. Marriages are arranged with a view to spreading wealth. Looks are vital, it tells everything about one’s place within the group and phase of life. The headman, normally a grandfather, is responsible for the rules of the indigenous group.


December 2011

In rainy years, the Hartmann’s valleys become grassy expanses, but generally their flat topographies are covered by sand broken only by a few tough grasses, shrubs and the mysterious ‘fairy circles’.


December 2011

Though scarcely clad, looks are vital to the Himba. It tells everything about one’s place within the group and phase of life. The characteristic ‘look’ of the Himba comes from intricate hairstyles, traditional clothing, personal adornments in the form of jewellery and the use of a mixture of goat fat, herbs and red ochre. This paste, known as otjize, is not only rubbed on the skin, but also into hair and on traditional clothing.

There has been much speculation about the origins of this practice, with some claiming it is to protect their skin from the sun or repel insects. But the Himba say it is an aesthetic consideration, a sort of traditional make-up that women apply every morning when they wake. Men do not use otjize.


December 2011

The Himba day starts early. Women arise before or at dawn and apply Otjize. They milk the cattle, which are then herded to the grazing areas by the men. If the grazing pasture is poor, the entire village will move to a place with lusher grazing land. Young men often set up separate, temporary villages and move around with the cattle, leaving the women, children and older men at the main homestead.

Women take care of cooking, gardening, milking cattle, looking after children, caring for livestock in the kraal and making clothes, jewellery and otjize. Flour is made from maize and butter is churned. Wood has to be collected, and water has to be carried from wells. The children help with the tasks.


December 2011

The Himba have lived in scattered settlements throughout the region of the Kunene River in north-west Namibia and south-west Angola. The homes of the Himba are simple cone-shaped structures of saplings bound together with palm leaves and plastered with mud and dung. A family may move from one home to another several times a year to seek grazing pastures for their goats and cattle.

Although constantly jeopardised by development, including proposed hydroelectric projects, many Himba lead a traditional lifestyle that has remained unchanged for generations, surviving war and droughts.


December 2011

For centuries, necklaces and bracelets have been made of shells, leather and copper. Married women wear a small crown made of goat skin on
their heads. Girls wear their hair in two braids over their brow.

When reaching puberty, they adopt a hairstyle with a multitude of tiny braids that have been ‘waxed’ with Otjize. Himba boys can be recognised by a small plaited pony tail that runs from crown to forehead. Boys that wish to marry sport the same tail, but wear it tied in a bow. A married man wears his hair in a ‘Turban’.


December 2011

Marriages are arranged with a view to spreading wealth. Once married, the women move to the villages of their husbands where they adopt the rules of the new clan. Himba men are not monogamous and may have a number of wives and children in different homesteads. Women are not monogamous either and may have a number of partners. However, courtship and relationships are bound by strict rules and modes of behaviour.

The best time to visit Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colours are amazing.



The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes in the world. Various arguments are laid out to support this claim, but all miss the point, which is that Sossusvlei is surely one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia.



‘Vlei’ is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water. During exceptional rainy seasons, Sossusvlei may fill with water, causing Namibians to flock there to witness the grand sight, but normally it is bone dry.



The Himba live under a indigenous structure based on bilateral descent that helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth. Every indigenous member belongs to two clans: one through the father (Patriclan or Oruzo), another through the mother (Matriclan or Eanda). The eldest male leads the clan. Sons live in their father’s clan. A son doesn’t inherit his father’s cattle, but that of his mother’s brother instead.

Himba children are cared for by all the members of the family in the homestead. Between the ages of 10 and 12, the bottom four incisor teeth of the child are knocked out in a ceremony that is believed to protect the child from dangerous influences and ensure the protection of the ancestors.



December 2011

Women take care of cooking, gardening, milking cattle, looking after children, caring for livestock in the kraal and making clothes, jewellery and Otjize. Flour is made from maize and butter is churned. Wood has to be collected, and water has to be carried from wells. The children help with the tasks.

Himba believe in omiti, meaning ‘bad medicine’ or ‘witchcraft’


December 2011

The Himba practice monotheism and ancestor worship. Their god is Mukuru, creator of everything, but a remote god.

Communication with Mukuru only takes place through the spirits of the male ancestors. For this reason the ancestral fire, or Okuruwo, is kept burning 24 hours a day. Mukuru created man, woman and cattle from the same tree, although he does not have unlimited power and ancestors can also greatly influence worldly events.

One of the duties of the male leader of the family is to maintain the ancestral fire, where he prays to departed progenitors and asks for their blessings for his family. Whereas Mukuru has power over most physical elements of the earth, such as the land, water and weather, ancestors control more immediate concerns, such as the health of kin or cattle.