Before They - Photography Project by Jimmy Nelson

II. Indonesia + Papua New Guinea

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Indonesia + Papua New Guinea
Papua is where we started our two-month trip in Oceania. As a region it’s a lot easier to travel through than New Guinea, because it’s part of Indonesia and therefore a lot safer. In total, we went to three different areas and out of all three, Papua has to be one of the only parts of the world where there’s so much variety. It’s an ethnographic goldmine, and we have only scratched the surface. 
"Most of the other places we had knowledge of, but in this case we had zero. We went there on a wing and a prayer"
While the trip over mountains and through swamps was physically very arduous, it wasn’t very dangerous. So we decided to travel over land into Papua New Guinea as opposed to via the capitals. Thinking we’d continue to have the wind in our backs, we then got stopped at the border and ended up waiting for ten days before we finally got cleared by customs. 

Huli

Papua New Guinea

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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.

Asaro

Papua New Guinea

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A number of different indigenous groups 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 indigenous groups.

Kalam

Papua New Guinea

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The eastern half of New Guinea gained full independence from Australia in 1975, when Papua New Guinea was born. The indigenous population is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Traditionally, the different groups scattered across the highland plateau, live in small agrarian clans.
“Knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle”
The first visitors were impressed to find valleys of carefully planned gardens and irrigation ditches. The women of the indigenous groups are exceptional farmers. The men hunt and fight other tribes over land, pigs and women. Great effort is made to impress the enemy with terrifying masks, wigs and paint.

Goroka

Papua New Guinea

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The indigenous population of the world’s second largest island is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. The harsh terrain and historic inter-tribal warfare has lead to village isolation and the proliferation of distinct languages. A number of different groups are scattered across the highland plateau.
“Knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle”
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. They survive by hunting, gathering plants and growing crops. Indigenous warfare is common and men go through great effort to impress the enemy with make-up and ornaments.

Dani

Indonesia

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Baliem Valley is situated 1600 metres above sea level in the midst of the Jayawijaya mountain range of Papua Indonesia. The Dani live in the actual valley. They are farmers and use an efficient irrigation system. Archaeological finds prove that the valley has been farmed for 9,000 years.
“If the hand does nothing, the mouth does not chew”
The Dani often had to fight for their territory against different villages or other indigenous peoples. 

Yali

Indonesia

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One of the indigenous groups inhabiting the Baliem Valley region, in the midst of the Jayawijaya mountain range of Papua Indonesia, is the Yali ‘Lords of the Earth’. They live in the virgin forests of the highlands. The Yali are officially recognised as pygmies, with men standing at just 150 cm tall. 
“If the hand does nothing, the mouth does not chew”
Papuan indigenous groups, different in appearance and language, have a similar way of life. They are all polygamist and conduct rituals for important occasions at which reciprocal exchange of gifts is obligated. The Koteka, penis gourd, is a piece of traditional clothing used to distinguish indigenous identity. 

Korowai

Indonesia

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South of the Jayawijaya mountain range of Papua Indonesia lies a large area of lowland. The area accommodates a myriad of rivers forming swamps, wetlands and mangrove forests. It’s the habitat of the Korowai, an indigenous culture that until the early 1970s, believed that they were the only humans on earth.
“If the hand does nothing, the mouth does not chew”
The Korowai are one of the few Papuan indigenous peoples that do not wear the Koteka, a penis gourd. Instead, the men ‘hide’ their penises in their scrotums, to which a leaf is then tightly tied. They are hunter-gatherers, living in tree houses. They adhere to strict separatism between men and women.