October 5, 2012
They dwell in the cold, misty mountains of the Papua New Guinea highlands and rarely show themselves.
They are the Asaro mud men.
When they do make an appearance, it is usually to fend off fierce enemies in tribal warfare.
It is not often that the mud men appear in public, and such outings are guided by strict traditional rules.
They recently emerged near Perth’s Swan River at Garvey Park – to the amazement of witnesses there.
This rare Perth appearance was to commemorate PNG’s 37 years of independence from Australia.
Quinns Rocks resident Whitlam Moses, originally from Asaro, told InkWire that the story of the mud men was normally conveyed by elders.
“It’s a story about two warring tribes in the Asaro area in the Highlands of PNG,” Mr Moses said.
“One tribe realised they would not win in the fight so they came up with the idea of enlisting the help of spirits.
“They got special clay along streams and river beds and started making different masks that resembled spirits.”
Mr Moses said that the tribe wore their masks when facing their seemingly invincible enemies.
“The plan worked and the enemies retreated never to come back again,” he said.
“This is the story passed on for many generations.”
Mr Moses said it was important that the mud men story, and many other PNG traditions, were passed on to children who now called Australia home due to work and study migrations by their families.
He said the art of making the mud men masks was kept within the Asaro people.
Although it was impossible to get the special clay from home, he was happy with buying clay at The Potters Market shop in Fremantle to come up with his masks.
Along with his two sons Alfred, 9, and Zazo, 7, Mr Moses made a total of seven mud men masks for the independence celebrations.
Two of the masks were were for Alfred and Zazo.
“I liked wearing my mask and didn’t want to take it off,” said Alfred, who attends Quinns Beach Primary School.
This year’s PNG independence celebrations in Perth saw a blaze of traditional costumes and cultural performances organised by the PNG Western Australia Association.
Close to 300 participants comprising PNG citizens, friends and former PNG residents, came from Port Hedland, Newman, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Hopetoun and Bunbury for the event.
President of PNGWA, Alex Ihanimo, said that children often found themselves caught between two cultures – one they grew up with and one of their adopted country.
Mr Ihanimo said it was important to teach children about their roots and where they come from.
“From the different cultural performances at the independence celebration this year, I was proud and pleased to see so many young people – from kindergarten up to university students taking part and proudly embracing their own customs and traditional dances,” he said.
“That is very encouraging and we look forward to doing bigger and better things next year here in Perth.”