Gone today, hair tomorrow, a Huli wig story
Pakaya, at the age of 19, had to go back to school. Hair school.
First he said a formal goodbye to the mother and sister that he
wouldn't see for more than four years. Tears streaked his mother's
red and yellow clan face paint as she gave him a new bark string
Bilum bag in which to carry his spare kilt, his small collection
of parrot feathers and possum fur, and his two precious shell leg
then walked over to the hut his father shared with the other clan
males, an arrow shot away. Like most Papua New Guinea highlander
couples, Adibe's parents avoid contact wherever possible, leading
separate lives sleeping, cooking, eating and working apart
except for the occasional reproductively necessary act of
sex in their garden. Women are the cause of sickness and debility,
the Highlanders believe. The deadliest poison for the Huli man is
spite of the risks involved in being close to a woman, Adibe wanted
to get married. He needed help in his garden, and anyway, he was
ready for a new experience. His parents didn't mind, since the intended
bride was fat and hard working, and they could afford to pay the
bride price of 200 Kina ($200) and 25 Pigs by trading part of their
shell collection. But the Pakayas, traditionalists to the core,
demanded a traditional wedding ceremony and that required
hair, lots of hair. Two personally grown wigs that needed four and
a half years of strenuous hair treatment, to be exact.
inconvenient and expensive, huge, feather and flower-decked wigs
are still worn by about half the 50,000 Huli warriors in the Southern
Highlands of Papua New Guinea often with faces painted in
yellow, red,blue, white and black.
Daily Wig is brown and mushroom shaped, while the Ceremonial Wig
is red or black, with raised sides, and uses compacted hair, thus
needing twice as much hair as the Daily wig. Both wigs are supported
by bamboo frames and decorated with feathers from birds of paradise,
eagles, parrots, and cassowaries, as well as daisies, hibiscus,
possum, cat fur or colourful candy papers, according to the owner's
taste and wallet.
wigs are made from the wearer's own hair preferably, but using a
relative's hair or buying a complete wig on the open market is possible
though spiritually unsound, not to mention expensive. A Daily wig,
unadorned, costs $200 about four times the average monthly
wage for the few Hulis in employment. Since most Hulis are subsistence
farmers spare cash for wigs is hard to come by, yet without the
magic and instruction of a professional Hair Trainer, men cannot
grow sufficient hair, of sufficient quality, in the right shape,
to satisfy traditional wig requirements.
Senior, eyes circled with red and black paints from the trade store,
wig drooping with age and slightly disheveled, but sporting a couple
of stunning flattened parrots set off perfectly by tightly packed
yellow daisies, offered Adibe his first official taste of betel
nut. Adibe was grateful for this recognition of his maturity, and
feigning inexperience of the Green Bullet, chewed and spat with
studied amateurism. His father then presented him with a polished
cassowary thigh bone dagger that served both as a weapon and as
a tool to poke the powdered lime catalyst into Adibe's betel stuffed
His generosity did not end there. He dug into his Bilum bag and
pulled out more cassowary remnants, black wing bones that, worn
as a necklace, endow the wearer with all the power, aggression and
ferocity of the bird from which it came. Adibe was moved. He could
hardly contain himself as he shook hands with his father, took the
leash of his tuition fee a large black pig and set
off barefoot down the stony road to school and manhood.
had a long way to go, but with betel juice pumping up his system
and the excitement of his new possessions, not to mention a lucky
two Kina ride on a passing truck, he soon got to the outer ditches
demarking the school grounds.
do not live in villages, but in small, scattered clans, each with
its own plot of land on which to grow the staples such as sweet
potatoes, taro and greens. These 'gardens' are surrounded by high
mud walls and deep trenches that not only delineate clan territory
and keep marauding pigs out, but also function as concealed warpaths,
giving the area a kind of sunny, green, World War 1 trench ambience.
Spiked fences with small access ports function as gates and ensure
that any visitor is physically disadvantaged when coming or going
especially in haste; for example with an enraged axeman
ten minute walk along the school's labyrinthine trench system,
ducking through a number of gates, brought Adibe to the muddy
inner compound, the living area of the College of Certain Hair
Growth. He saluted the other three students, and handed his tuition
fee's leash over to the Principal, Pirigo Piribu, who greeted
Adibe formally and read him the School Rules:
Do not sit near the fire in the sleeping hut.
2) Do not look at, speak to, or touch any woman.
3) Water your hair 12 times a day directly from the stream.
4) Hunt possums and Birds of Paradise for wig decoration.
5) Drink magic water from bamboo pipes prepared by the Principal.
6) Memorise Huli lore, as taught by the Principal.
7) Practice painting your face.
8) Wear the bamboo hair frame at all times.
9) Work every day cultivating the school garden.
10) Make sure the pigs don't get sun stroke.
rules were tough, but this was the PNG way, and Adibe knew that
he would eventually leave this Institute of Higher Hair Development
with a wider knowledge of a man's role in life and two spectacular
wigs of colour-bedecked hair as graduation certificates. He would
soon dance, like a Bird of Paradise mating ritual, in nearby villages,
and be a big man and a Huli warrior.
New Guinea Travel story 'Money!'