When it comes to the tribes of Papua New Guinea and indeed the Mount Hagen festival, probably no image stands out more than the Mudmen of Goroka, but who are they, what are their story and why do they wear those masks? No worries, YPT got you covered.
To read about the Mount Hagen Festival click here.
The Mudmen of Goroka
Officially the Asaro Mudmen of the Asora tribe in the Papua New Guinean city of Goroka, a place recently rocked by a terrible earthquake, these mudmen are famous for their warrior like mud made helmets.
To read about Asaro River click here
Because of this and just how unique they are they are probably the most popular site at the numerous festivals held in Papua Ne Guinea, as well as sporting lots of copy cat imposters, as well as impairing literally the whole tourist industry of Goroka.
Their story though is a relative simple one.
Why are the Asora Mudmen called Mudmen?
Stories of what led to the Goroka Mudmen are numerous and often disputed by anthropologists, so I will go by the story as told to me by a member of the tribe. Long ago and after losing a battle the tribe were forced to flee into the Asaro River.
From here they camouflaged themselves with clay from the river. When leaving the river after nightfall their enemies saw them decked out ib clay and thought they were spirits and were scared of them. The Asaro managed to escape and thus their new war paint was born.
To protect themselves these clay faces slowly turned into clay made masks that were two fold, they would camouflage, but also more importantly also act as helmet protecting the most vital organ of all, the head. The Mudmen of Goroka would duly get kitted out and make use of an array of tunnels that they had created, using them to sneak up on enemies from behind and thus giving them a fearsome reputation as warriors.
What’s with the design of the Mudmen of Gorokas helmets?
When you see the Midmen in action you will notice the elaborate designs on their helmets, usually depicting animals. We asked the tribal leader what these meant, to which he explained “Each Asora would design their own helmet, different tribes would take inspiration from the animals around them in order to scare enemies”, although he also consdcdeeded that nowadays it was often more about what might look best for tourists.
And that also being answers the question of why the helmets are so heavy and impractical these days, with many wears seeing through the mouth breather than the eyes. Again this was down to tourism, with the tribal leader adding “Nowadays the helmets are not practical, but done to keep our culture alive. In the old days they were built for battle and were much more practical”.
Where can you see the REAL Mudmen of Goroka
Go to any festival in Papua New Guinea and you will see people purporting to be Mudmen. In reality they are probably not the real McCoy. On our YPT trips to Papua New Guinea we go to village in Goroka along the Asora river for what is the most authentic Goroka Mudmen show, BUT while authentic it is still show.
When visiting these tribes it is important to manage your expectations and realise that you are not in a zoo. These people have managed to preserve their culture, their dances and the like, but they have real lives too. Therefore don’t be sad when the Mudman sparks a cigarette, or that the kids are wearing diapers and that they have electricity…..
This might seem absurd, but so are people. Want to see this for yourself? Join our next tour to Papua New Guinea.