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Asaro

Asaro
A number of different tribes have lived scattered across the highland plateau for 1000 years, in small agrarian clans, isolated by the harsh terrain and divided by language, custom and tradition. The legendary Asaro Mudmen first met with the Western world in the middle of the 20th century.
“Knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle"
Legend has it that the Mudmen were forced to flee from an enemy into the Asaro River where they waited until dusk to escape. The enemy saw them rise from the banks covered in mud and thought they were spirits. The Asaro still apply mud and masks to keep the illusion alive and terrify other tribes.
Indonesia + Papua New GuineaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

"The circumstances in the mountain swamps were physically very arduous, but not particularly dangerous."

- Jimmy Nelson

Asaro from the Eastern Highlands

2010

The mudmen could not cover their faces with mud because the
people of Papua New Guinea thought that the mud from the Asaro
river was poisonous. So instead of covering their faces with this alleged
poison, they made masks from pebbles that they heated and water
from the waterfall, with unusual designs such as long or very short
ears either going down to the chin or sticking up at the top,
long joined eyebrows attached to the top of the ears, horns and
sideways mouths.
Indonesia + Papua New GuineaGo to journey ›

"Our naivety got us access to many beautful pictures."

- Jimmy Nelson

Mud men

2010

The Asaro cover themselves in mud, wear terrifying masks and brandish
spears. Legend has it that the Mudmen were defeated by an enemy tribe
and forced to flee into the Asaro River.

They waited until dusk before attempting to escape. The enemy saw them
rise from the muddy banks covered in mud and thought they were spirits.
Terrified, they ran back to their village. After that episode, all of the
neighbouring villages came to believe the Asaro had the spirits of the
river on their side. Clever elders of the village saw the advantage of this
and kept the illusion alive.
Indonesia + Papua New GuineaGo to journey ›

"Individually the people are all very sweet, but as their culture is being threatened they're forced to stand up for themselves."

- Jimmy Nelson

Tribal warfare is a common among the highland tribes

2010

For countless years, the Asaro would frequently apply their mud and masks and terrorise other villages with occasional early- morning visits.