When I told friends I was going to Papua New Guinea eyebrows were raised; when I mentioned I was staying with a Highlands tribe, jaws dropped. I flew into Tari, a small dusty town with a small dusty airstrip and there I got my first sight of the Huli wigmen. The tribe’s Fortune Teller, traditionally dressed with “arse grass” covering his behind, an ornamental wig made of his own hair, and a cassowary quill through his nose, was in complete contrast to the plane that he’d come to meet.
The following day I began my time with the tribe itself and was lucky enough to meet this Wigman preparing for a sing sing – a traditional celebratory dance. I sat down beside him as he prepared his face: an ‘undercoat’ of oily white, then a clay ochre base and finally earthly red highlights. Using hand signals he demonstrated what he was going to do next, before picking up a broken mirror and carefully applying the final strokes. He may not have fully realised how brilliant he looked in the afternoon Sun, but for me, watching him go through this ritual was more inspiring than the dance itself.