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Tribal Papua New Guinea

Words and Photography by Olga Fontanellaz

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Papua New Guinea is home to hundreds of tribes, each having its own unique, distinctive and highly original attire, ornamentation, songs and dances. Here, it is captured as never before, through the lens of photographer Olga Fontanellaz who is deeply passionate about the country and its people.

Skeleton Spirit Dancers from Chimbu (also spelt Simbu) province. The Chimbu tribes’ impressive bilas, or body ornamentation, originated as a way to intimidate their enemies. Here a group of young men, painted in black and white to simulate skeletons, leap forward and mock-threaten onlookers with bows, arrows, war-like cries and whooping sounds.
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Skeleton Spirit Dancers from Chimbu (also spelt Simbu) province. The Chimbu tribes’ impressive bilas, or body ornamentation, originated as a way to intimidate their enemies. Here a group of young men, painted in black and white to simulate skeletons, leap forward and mock-threaten onlookers with bows, arrows, war-like cries and whooping sounds.

Kalam tribesman from remote Simbai, situated high in the mountains and in the heart of the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea. Kalam men are renowned for their giant headdresses made from thousands of heads of emerald green beetles. For special events, the Kalam men decorate their bodies with necklaces made of yellow orchid stalks, hornbill beaks, sugarcane armbands, and round kina shells and bird of paradise feathers threaded through the nose.
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Kalam tribesman from remote Simbai, situated high in the mountains and in the heart of the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea. Kalam men are renowned for their giant headdresses made from thousands of heads of emerald green beetles. For special events, the Kalam men decorate their bodies with necklaces made of yellow orchid stalks, hornbill beaks, sugarcane armbands, and round kina shells and bird of paradise feathers threaded through the nose.

Men from Chimbu (Simbu), another province located in the Highlands region. The Chimbu tribes’ impressive bilas, or body ornamentation, originated as a way to intimidate their enemies. The Chimbu people are renowned for their huge headdresses made from feathers of the bird of paradise, some up to one metre long.
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Men from Chimbu (Simbu), another province located in the Highlands region. The Chimbu tribes’ impressive bilas, or body ornamentation, originated as a way to intimidate their enemies. The Chimbu people are renowned for their huge headdresses made from feathers of the bird of paradise, some up to one metre long.

Foi tribesman from the Southern Highlands province located in the centre of Papua New Guinea. For special occasions, the Foi men paint their faces with Digaso oil produced by the kara’o tree. This viscous black oil is mixed with charcoal and plant dyes and used as body paint for ceremonies and rituals. The colour black is traditionally reserved for warriors, red for mature men and yellow for initiates.
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Foi tribesman from the Southern Highlands province located in the centre of Papua New Guinea. For special occasions, the Foi men paint their faces with Digaso oil produced by the kara’o tree. This viscous black oil is mixed with charcoal and plant dyes and used as body paint for ceremonies and rituals. The colour black is traditionally reserved for warriors, red for mature men and yellow for initiates.

Men from the Sepik region performing at a local festival. Sepik is the most well known and one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse regions of Papua New Guinea. The traditional attire of the Sepik people, with its intricate detail and variety, is found nowhere else in the country. It includes sea shells, feathers of cassowary and bird of paradise, cuscus fur, crocodile teeth necklaces, and grass skirts. (Try and spot the eyes and faces — Ed.)
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Men from the Sepik region performing at a local festival. Sepik is the most well known and one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse regions of Papua New Guinea. The traditional attire of the Sepik people, with its intricate detail and variety, is found nowhere else in the country. It includes sea shells, feathers of cassowary and bird of paradise, cuscus fur, crocodile teeth necklaces, and grass skirts. (Try and spot the eyes and faces — Ed.)

Tambul man in full traditional bilas, or body ornament. The Tambul tribe live at the foot of the second highest mountain in Papua New Guinea, Mt. Giluwe. For special occasions, the men wear elaborate and brightly-coloured headdresses decorated with birds’ feathers, and paint their faces in red and yellow stripes making them look frightening. Despite some cultural similarities from sharing the borders of Western Highlands, Enga and Southern Highland Provinces, Tambul traditional attire and body paint are very unique.
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Tambul man in full traditional bilas, or body ornament. The Tambul tribe live at the foot of the second highest mountain in Papua New Guinea, Mt. Giluwe. For special occasions, the men wear elaborate and brightly-coloured headdresses decorated with birds’ feathers, and paint their faces in red and yellow stripes making them look frightening. Despite some cultural similarities from sharing the borders of Western Highlands, Enga and Southern Highland Provinces, Tambul traditional attire and body paint are very unique.

Women's sing sing group from Western Highlands province at the Mt Hagen Festival, the world-famous annual show of Papua New Guinea attracting hundreds of different tribes. The Western Highlanders are renowned for their impressive headdresses decorated with huge feathers and shells, and bright face and body paint made from local dyes mixed with oil.
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Women's sing sing group from Western Highlands province at the Mt Hagen Festival, the world-famous annual show of Papua New Guinea attracting hundreds of different tribes. The Western Highlanders are renowned for their impressive headdresses decorated with huge feathers and shells, and bright face and body paint made from local dyes mixed with oil.

Young man from Kaluli tribe. The Kaluli people live in the midst of virgin rainforest covering the slopes of Mt Bosavi, the collapsed cone of an extinct volcano. Located in one of the most remote places in the country, their villages are only accessible by small aircraft.
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Young man from Kaluli tribe. The Kaluli people live in the midst of virgin rainforest covering the slopes of Mt Bosavi, the collapsed cone of an extinct volcano. Located in one of the most remote places in the country, their villages are only accessible by small aircraft.

A group of Abelam men from Maprik region wearing yam masks, boar tusks, large kina shells and chest ornaments. The Abelam are renowned for their spectacular spirit houses, korambo, reserved only for men, and their yam cult. A man’s status and prestige in the community were traditionally judged by his ability to grow ceremonial yams, and men used to compete among themselves for the longest yam.
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A group of Abelam men from Maprik region wearing yam masks, boar tusks, large kina shells and chest ornaments. The Abelam are renowned for their spectacular spirit houses, korambo, reserved only for men, and their yam cult. A man’s status and prestige in the community were traditionally judged by his ability to grow ceremonial yams, and men used to compete among themselves for the longest yam.

Child dancer from Bougainville region wearing a traditional grass skirt on the occasion of the Reeds Festival. The charcoal-faced people of this remote region of Papua New Guinea look very different from the natives of other provinces. Their culture and traditions have more in common with close neighbour Solomon Islands.
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Child dancer from Bougainville region wearing a traditional grass skirt on the occasion of the Reeds Festival. The charcoal-faced people of this remote region of Papua New Guinea look very different from the natives of other provinces. Their culture and traditions have more in common with close neighbour Solomon Islands.

Men from the remote Gulf province of Papua New Guinea wearing large and intricately decorated headgear and masks, the trademark of the Gulf people. The masks come in different styles, shapes and colours. They are made out of a cane framework covered with bark cloth known as tapa.
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Men from the remote Gulf province of Papua New Guinea wearing large and intricately decorated headgear and masks, the trademark of the Gulf people. The masks come in different styles, shapes and colours. They are made out of a cane framework covered with bark cloth known as tapa.

Famous Suli Muli dancers with clay-painted bodies and giant round hats, the trademark of Enga province. Their dances are unique in the country. Forming an aesthetic spear line, they rhythmically jump up and down in unison to the beat of the kundu — traditional PNG drums.
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Famous Suli Muli dancers with clay-painted bodies and giant round hats, the trademark of Enga province. Their dances are unique in the country. Forming an aesthetic spear line, they rhythmically jump up and down in unison to the beat of the kundu — traditional PNG drums.

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Published on November 21, 2018
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