Visiting the Asaro Mudmen

Towards the end of our time living in Papua New Guinea, it became evident that we could not leave without having made a visit to the notorious Asaro Mudmen. A small tribe from a village just outside Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, they rose to fame by defeating other tribes by scare tactics, which involved smearing their bodies in mud and wearing terrifying clay masks. The story goes that they were once attacked by another tribe and hid by the Asaro River until evening. At dusk they decided to make a run for it and hope for survival. But when the other tribe saw them rising from the river banks glowing pale from the white mud they'd come in contact with, they fled in terror believing the Asaro tribe to be spirits. They decided - with great success - to play up this image. The world was first introduced to the Asaro Mudmen via a black and white spread in National Geographic, which my uncle remembers looking at with fascination as a child. And so we made arrangements through local friends to drive to their village and spend the night. Evening found us making the drive up a windy red clay hill to a cluster of bamboo huts along a narrow ridge. In the center of the huts was a grassy square in which a line of chairs was set. At the end of the square where the hill dipped off, a large smoky fire was being stoked. We were invited to have a seat, and as night approached eerie white figures began to creep up over the hill and emerge from the screen of smoke. Covered head to toe in the white clay of the Asaro River with fearsome masks shielding their faces, they surrounded us with bows pulled taut whispering "moko... moko...moko..." which they latter notified us meant in their local tongue, "If we see you, we will kill you". The whole thing was quite sinister and thrilling. Afterwards, we shared a mumu with the village - a feast of sweet potatoes, squash, taro, and greens cooked in a traditional manner in shallow pits lined with hot rocks and covered by piles of leaves. We slept that night on a woven platform in one of the little thatched huts at the edge of the square. Upon awakening all we had to do was step out the door to have a commanding view of the sun rising over the entire Goroka valley. The whole thing was quite unforgettable and I'm so grateful that we went while we had the chance, as I think it will be quite some time before I visit Papua New Guinea again. If you're headed to Papua New Guinea and are interested in an encounter with the Asaro Mudmen, then I recommend visiting asaromudmen.blogspot.com as it is the only site I currently know of that you can arrange this through. I sent my photographs of our experience with the Mudmen to the people who run the blog, and they posted most of them on the site. I only mention this incase the reader should think that the pictures in this article were taken from that blog and posted here without adding photo credits. 

  My mum and I with the Mudmen

My mum and I with the Mudmen

  In front of the hut where we slept that night

In front of the hut where we slept that night