On the first full day in Papua New Guinea our tour group visited the little village of Munum, the childhood home of one of the managers of the hotel we stayed at in Mt. Hagen, in PNGs Western Highlands province. When we left our bus, we first chatted with a few locals at a little stand selling betelnut, known as “buai” in the local language. Betelnut is an addictive stimulant that is chewed for its energizing effects, removing feelings of fatigue and hunger. It stains the mouth, causes cancer and the contents are spat out, leaving red marks everywhere.
As we started walking towards the village we were greeted by more and more people, including lots of children. We were also “ambushed” by a few villagers with machetes and bamboo spears, which was part of the entertainment the villagers had planned for us. There were several groups of dancers, both men and women, that had dressed up in various types of colorful, traditional outfits that are native to tribes in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands. One of the more unique variants is the “mud man”, where the performers cover themselves in mud and wear masks made out of hardened mud. Legend has it that the mud man tradition started when a village in the highlands was being attacked by a different tribe. The villagers were outnumbered and decided to cover themselves from head to toe in mud. When the attackers saw the mud men slowly emerging, the attackers assumed the village was haunted and ran away.