Before They - Photography Project by Jimmy Nelson

Huli

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Huli
It is believed that the first Papua New Guineans migrated to the island over 45000 years ago. Today, over 3 million people, half of the heterogeneous population, live in the highlands. Some of these communities have engaged in low-scale indigenous conflict with their neighbours for millennia.
“Knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle”
The indigenous groups fight over land, pigs and women. Great effort is made to impress the enemy. The largest indigenous group, the Huli wigmen, paint their faces yellow, red and white and are famous for their tradition of making ornamented wigs from their own hair. An axe with a claw completes the intimidating effect.
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Artprint available

"We did know Papua New Guinea was a wild place, but not how intense it really was."

- Jimmy Nelson

Huli Wig Men at Ambua Falls

2010

The traditional highland apparel is scant: women wear grass skirts, men wear nothing but a koteka, or penis gourd. However, to impress and scare off the enemy, men go to considerably more effort.

The largest highland tribe are the Huli Wigmen, who paint their faces yellow, red, and white. and are famous for their tradition of making ornamental wigs from their own hair. These look like plumed hats, intricately decorated with feathers of birds of paradise and parrots. Other ornaments include shells, beads, pig tusks, hornbill skulls and foliage.


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"For all the remote places I had travelled in my life, with Papua New Guinea I was stepping into the unknown."

- Jimmy Nelson

Ambua Falls, Tari Valley

2010

The Huli are traditionally animists who abide by strict ritualised offerings to appease the spirits of their ancestors.

Sickness and misfortune are thought to be the work of witchcraft and sorcery.

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"Using long exposures to get a deep focus in low light conditions, our subjects would often have to stand very, very still."

- Jimmy Nelson

Tari Valley, Western Highlands

2010

The Tari Valley, with magnificent views of the valley below and surrounding peaks. High mountain forests with roaring waterfalls.  Life is simple in the highland villages. The residents have plenty of good food, close-knit families and a great respect for the wonders of nature.

The highlanders live by hunting, done primarily by men, and by gathering plants and growing crops, done primarily by women. The men help clear the land, but the rest of the cultivation is the responsibility of the women.

They practice cyclical agriculture, moving to a new location after the soil is exhausted to allow reforestation and recovery. The women are exceptional farmers. The first Westerners to visit the highlands were impressed to find vast valleys of carefully planned gardens and irrigation ditches. Crops grown include sweet potatoes, corn, cabbages and maniocs.

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Artprint available

"Getting the light just right demanded a lot of patience from people."

- Jimmy Nelson

Ambua Falls, Tari Valley

2010

Tribal warfare is a common among the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea. They fight over three things: land, pigs and women - in that order. To be regarded as important, men need plenty of each: land forfarming, pigs as a measure of wealth and a number of wives to tend to land and livestock.

Indonesia + Papua New GuineaGo to journey ›
Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Huli Wig Men


2010

The wigmen of the Huli people aren’t like Western toupee manufacturers. They are wizards who only work with people who have fine heads of hair. What a traditional wigman does is use ancient magic to make hair grow faster than normal so it can be cut off and turned into a wig. Evidently, magic – like hair restorer – doesn’t work if the hair is long gone.