Irvin Penn, Three Asaro Mudmen, New Guinea, 1970      Irvin Penn, Two Asaro Mudmen (B), New Guinea, 1970

Asaro Mudmen Ghostly       Asaro Mudmen Colour      



Ghoulish and ghostly

Disguised in oversized clay masks, skin painted white and decorated with pigs’ teeth, shells, and claw-like bamboo fingers; the Asaro mud men bear an uncanny resemblance to unearthly spirits as they stalk the lush green forests of Papua New Guinea.

Creating the perfect illusion of shadowy revenants, this eerie masquerade occurs to ward off enemy tribes.

The Legend

Legend has it that the Asaro were forced to flee into the Asaro River after being defeated by a rival tribe. They anxiously waited until dusk before attempting to escape when the attackers saw them rise from the water covered in mud. Afraid that the Asaro were, in fact, evil spirits, the enemy tribe fled in fear and the Asaro were able to escape.

However, the enemy tribe still occupied the Asaro village and upon returning home, unaware of their frightening appearance or that the intruders were still there, the Asaro startled the intruders, sending them running back to their own village where they held a special ceremony to ward off the evil ‘spirits’.

The Asaro chose not to conceal their faces as the people of Papua New Guinea believed that the mud from the Asaro River was poisonous; thus, they resorted to making masks out of heated pebbles and water from the waterfall to form clay.



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