Photo by @jodicobbphoto.
Asaro Mudman, Papua New Guinea, 1998.
In advance of Earth Day, the mudmen of Papua New Guinea remind us of how far from the natural world so much of the globe has drifted. They traditionally dug up clay from creeks near their villages to coat their bodies and make these ferocious masks, embedded with pigs’ teeth, to scare their enemies. But now the masks are used mostly in performances at the “sing sings” in the highlands, where tribes gather to perform their traditional dances. There are over 800 distinct language groups on the island, and these communities have lived for hundreds of years with their unique history, knowledge and cultural practices. But they were often at war with each other, and the sing sings were organized by the government in 1957 in an attempt at pacification—with mixed results. The mudmen dance in slow motion with no music or sound at all—creating a ghostly and ghastly sight. But I was enchanted by their courtliness and graciousness to the strangers in their midst. From my archives, photographed for a National Geographic article on beauty and what it means in various cultures around the world. For more photographs of world cultures please follow me @jodicobbphoto.