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25 November 2014 / leggypeggy

Asaro mudmen do their best to scare the begeezus out of us

Asaro mudman in the smoke

A mudman emerges through the smoke

Once our hosts made it completely clear that we were most welcome in their Asaro tourist village, they brought out their mudmen to scare the begeezus out of us.

Of course, having seen the mudmen at Papua New Guinea’s Goroka Show and knowing a bit about their background, we all felt reasonably unthreatened.

Most of the history of mudmen is based on legend. The story goes that Asaro villagers were defeated by an enemy tribe and forced to flee and hide in the Asaro River until nightfall when they could attempt an escape.

By chance, when the villagers rose from the riverbanks in the evening mist, their bodies were so covered in mud that the enemy mistook them for spirits. Most tribes in Papua New Guinea are terrified of spirits, so the enemies ran off, and the Asaro escaped to their own village.

Some of the enemy tribesmen were still lurking in the Asaro village, and when the ‘spirits’ returned ‘home’ the invaders assumed they were being counter-invaded, so fled back to their own village.

Mudmen getting ready

Mudmen getting ready

Mudmen circling

The mudmen circle

Ever since the Asaro have continued to use this dusky illusion to ward off their enemies (or entertain visitors).

The big difference is the addition of masks. Legend says the mud of the Asaro River is poisonous, so instead of covering their faces with the mud, the Asaro make fearsome masks using homemade clay.

So all this background leads us to the mudmen ‘dance’ put on for our group.

Traditional firebuilding

Traditional firebuilding not working

Using a cigarette lighter

The cigarette lighter works

Because our mudman performance took place in the middle of the day, our hosts decided to light a fire to create a bit of mystery and artificial mist.

The actual fire-making process was rather embarrassing for our hosts and totally hilarious for us. They tried and tried and tried to get the dry grass going using traditional fire-making techniques, but nothing worked. In the end, everyone was laughing and the fire builders accepted the offer of a cigarette lighter to do the job.

Then enter the mudmen. They weren’t hugely scary, but when they lunge at you with a spear, you do jump a bit. Ask Poor John who was one of their first ‘targets’.

I was lucky enough to see them getting ready down near Poor John’s and my hut, so noticed the good humour and enthusiasm they showed before employing their ‘scare’ tactics.

After the performance the main, and supposedly scariest, mudman removed his mask so we could see his soot-striped face, and feel and hold his homemade mask. Those darn things weigh almost 10 kilos (22 pounds). Can you imagine jumping around in one of those?



Leave a Comment
  1. weggieboy / Nov 26 2014 1:09 am

    What an experience!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. BikeHikeSafari / Nov 26 2014 2:05 am

    New Guinea is definitely on my must visit list now, the photos and stories from there are amazing.


  3. / Nov 28 2014 2:18 am

    From what I’ve read about the PNG tribes, their spiritual beliefs were, and still are, a big part of their daily lives. Did you find this to be true? ~James


    • leggypeggy / Nov 28 2014 6:07 am

      Spiritual beliefs are indeed a big thing in PNG. Several villages gave us demonstrations of customs, and it was quite easy to see the spiritual undercurrent.


  4. weggieboy / Nov 29 2014 7:31 am Icouldn’t remember the name of your cooking blog, so I’ll ask you the question here: Have you seen this blog or this listing of Japanese cookbooks?


    • leggypeggy / Nov 29 2014 8:09 pm

      Thanks so much. I don’t own any of those but I may soon. 🙂 And here’s a link to the cooking blog.


  5. nuriafjorden / Dec 3 2014 5:33 am

    WOW that’s stunning!! Few months ago I started learning new things about papua and since then I can’t wait to travel there. I recommend you this doc, it is interesting and sometimes fun.



  6. Vallerie Zauya / Apr 8 2016 1:04 pm


    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Apr 11 2016 12:02 pm

      Thanks so much. The mudmen really have amazing moves.


  7. Brian Lageose / Sep 30 2016 12:08 am

    And, once again, I have the eerie sensation that you have somehow managed to stumble upon one of my family reunions. Lots of smoke, everyone is masking their true selves, and eventually people start reaching for weapons… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Sep 30 2016 12:23 am

      Oh wait, hang on! Is this one of your family reunions, or one of mine? Or are we related? Oh wait, I probably already know the answer—you lucky duck!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. MichaelStephenWills / Oct 17 2020 10:34 pm

    Imagine how frightening a meeting with a troupe outfitted in this regalia would be “out in the wild.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Oct 17 2020 11:15 pm

      I’d be frightened too. The first time they appeared this way was a bit of gamble, but it scared off their rivals and has been used ever since.

      Liked by 1 person

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