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Humans of Papua New Guinea

Explore Product Manager and amateur photographer Polly Rusyn recently came back from a trip to Papua New Guinea. She was struck by the beauty of the country but it was the people she met that really stuck in her mind. Read on to find more about her visit. 

Please note, we no longer run trips to Papua New Guinea. However we do have trips on offer to Indonesia and the Philippines

“Papua New Guinea (otherwise known as PNG), is a diverse destination full of contrasts and idiosyncrasies. It looks like a hyper-tropical version of Asia but is slower and much more laid-back, lacking the entrepreneurial energy that infuses the Asian continent.

Friendly highland tribal people live in perfectly manicured jungle villages, where litter seems non-existent and where villagers gather weekly to trim lawns with machetes and tend to flowers. Yet the towns feel like Wild West frontier posts and are filled with rubbish and broken down buildings. The area surrounding Port Moresby (the capital) looks as though it only just survived the apocalypse, yet the city houses some very wealthy foreign investors in some very expensive homes, thanks to mining being big business in this gold and copper rich country. Villagers by contrast are financially poor, and self-subsist, with some tribes only a few generations older than their cannibalistic ancestors!

There are few roads and those that exist tend not to lead anywhere; instead they peter out into dirt tracks that disintegrate into nothing. Road signs and maps are pretty much non-existent, so local knowledge is depended upon to get around. Flights are a necessity and in some cases a charter is the only way to reach a remote spot.

Papua New Guinea’s landscapes are as diverse as its people, with thick jungle highlands, rugged coastlines, beautiful sandy beaches where the only footprints are yours, reefs teeming with life and picture-perfect South Pacific waters. The country is also rich in wildlife such as the flamboyant bird of paradise, cassowary, tree kangaroo, crocodile, Victoria crowned pigeon (a bird the size of a cocker spaniel!), along with many corals and underwater creatures to name but a few. The most outstanding thing for me though is the wonderful, colourful and fascinating people of Papua New Guinea. Here are a few I was most privileged to meet...

Who can resist the smiling faces of these two boys against the lush tropical backdrop of those huge leaves? The foliage in Papua New Guinea is some of the greenest I’ve seen… big leaves, perfectly arranged colourful flowers… as though nature took a bit of extra time to do the gardening!

This is a member of one of the Mudman villages in the Highlands. Feathers and leaves are a popular decoration for tribespeople. When going into battle with another tribe, the Mudmen would traditionally cover their skin in mud and wear grotesque masks made of mud. Keep scrolling and you will see one…


Meet Chief Asrox. Yes, his name is as eccentric as he is. Chief Asrox isn’t as young as he used to be and uses a golf club as a walking stick! He was very happy to pose for pictures and was delighted to welcome us to his village.

The ladies of this village wear beautiful bird of paradise feathers on their headdresses and painted tribal markings on their faces. The red stains on the teeth are thanks to the ever present betelnut – the country’s most popular high.

There is always something interesting about an old person’s face. This old girl is no exception, especially as she wasn’t too worried about a bit of facial hair…

Markets are busy and colourful places everywhere you go in the world; Papua New Guinea is no exception. Sellers are more than happy to have their pictures taken; many give the thumbs up or wave as well as ask to be photographed. It became quite a challenge to take a shot without a thumb in it - though I managed to snap this one!

These huge Mudman masks cover the whole head and weigh over 10kg. I tried one on and was too afraid to let go of it with my hands for fear of it crushing my skull. Yet these warrior tribesmen would traditionally wear the masks in order to scare off invading enemy tribes.

This musician demonstrated how to play this unusual instrument for us. It is made of split bamboo, with a piece of string attached. The idea is to pass air over the split end and at the same time bounce the other end attached by the string on your thumb. Easy!

I love this man’s face. His expression is that of a noble warrior! His headdress is decorated with bird of paradise feathers. Believe it or not, his name is Paul!

We were fortunate enough to arrive at this village in time to see the tribespeople getting ready for their ‘sing-sing’- a traditional performance in full tribal regalia - so I was able to get up close to take shots of the wonderful shell necklaces and headdress of this young tribesman.

Meet Katie, a lovely old lady we met in a village on the coast. She was suffering from laryngitis the day we were there, nevertheless greeted us as all the locals had during our trip in Papua New Guinea – as very welcome friends.

When tribes get together for village ‘sing-sings’ all generations are involved and all tribes; Papua New Guinea has over 800 and each has their own unique style and culture. I love this young boy’s face paint as well as the leaves tied to his arms and the shells around his neck.

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