New Guinea

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New Guinea Face and Body Paint


 (Birnbaum, 125)


     The men pictured above are from the Mt. Hagen area of New Guinea located in the Western Province. The two men are part of a larger group taking part in a Moka. A Moka is an exchange festival and the most important occasion of inter tribal relations. These men are distinguished as belonging to donor tribe(the tribe giving gifts) by the style of wig worn called the koi wal. The Men's bodies are oiled to create a glossy appearance which demonstrates health, strength, and sexual attractiveness. Their faces are painted in a style appropriate in combination with the koi wal. The materials most likely used for face paint are charcol, white clay and red and yellow store bought paint. For some important festivals the Big Man will dictate a certain way of painting the face, but within that frame work variation is allowed. As can be seen in the photo, the two men's painted faces are similar, but not the same; the man on the right having additional markings on his cheeks and forehead. The most important part of the face paint worn in combination with the koi wal is the black painted across the face as a base color. Black is assocsiated with men. It is thought to make a dancer look more imposing during a festival and overall darkness in appearance is thought to be a sign that acestrial spirits have come to support the male dancer. When wearing the koi wal other face paint worn with the black is meant to be subtle and enhance through contrast the blackness of the face. These men also painted their beards with white clay and in combination with the white band of beading on the forehead, it helps to frame their faces in a way that contrasts well with the paint. In the back ground behind the two men can be seen some women dancers. Their faces are painted with a base of red. White encircles their eyes and two white streaks come from these circles across the cheeks on both sides of their faces. The white markings are outlined in blue. The face paint worn by women in the Mt. Hagen area is much brighter than that worn by men. In this photo the contrast between female and male face painting is quite striking.



     New Guinea is home to a incredably diverse population of small tribes. Despite differences in language, subsistence practices and ceremonies, these tribes are all linked by a strong tradition of self adornment. Self adornment in New Guinea is often connected to various types of public display. Many of the tribes of New Guinea practice the art of face and body paint, using designs distinctive to their area or tribe. New Guinea tribes attach meanings unique to their culture to face and body paint. Some groups use face paint as a way of distinguishing an individuals role or identity, while others use it primarily to enhance attractiveness. Although there are regional and tribal differences in body paint style and symbolism, there are also commonalities to be found. For example, across the contanent New Guineans use pig grease or tree oil to give their skin an attractive sheen. This paper examines some of the differences and commonalities found in the varying styles of face and body paint worn across New Guinea.



A good resource for pictures of New Guinea body adornment:

     Birnbaum, Phil. Faces of Paupua New Guinea. Australia: Emperor Publishing, 1990.

A good resource for information on the body adornment practices used by people in the Mt. Hagen area of New Guinea:

     Strathern, Andrew and Marilyn. Self-decoration in Mount Hagen. London: Geral Duckworth & Co. 1971.


Comments (3)

tealeavz@u.washington.edu said

at 6:35 pm on May 18, 2009

Wow, the photo really grabbed my attention. The colors are amazing, I wish there was a close-up of the womens faces. I also really like the headdresses. Do you know what birds those feathers are from? I would love to see more photos.

Mariya Kochubey

ajones39@... said

at 6:17 pm on Jun 1, 2009

It is so interesting how elaborate the body adornment is! You mention that the New Guinea men use face and body paint and wigs for tribal ceremonies, but do they have a similar style of adornment for everyday life?

Hui said

at 11:26 pm on Jun 3, 2009

As you mentioned in class the red are used mostly on female. But guys also painted red on their face to attract females. Red in Taiwan is used most frequently in weddings and our New Year Festival to represent the fortune and joyful feeling. On the other hand, some places associate red with violent and blood. The symbolization is so varied and diverse in different culture that it really fascinates me.

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