The Chief and Me: Papua New Guinea

Painting 3I’ve traveled to 64 countries.  The most interesting trip Bill and I took was a visit to a hunter-gatherer village on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea in the year 2,000.  Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea located in the Pacific north of Australia.  Its capital is Port Moresby.  Headhunting was long a cultural practice in this area.  In order to come of age, young men had to take a head.  Michael Rockefeller, son of the late vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared in this area in 1961 and was rumored to have been the victim of headhunters.  While not all headhunters were cannibals, it was popular because villagers believed that eating enemies’ brains empowered warriors.  Scarification is still practiced in coming-of-age ceremonies.

We traveled with a guided group on small planes from Port Moresby.  We landed on a grass strip.  The people were mostly unclothed and small in stature, probably the result of poor nutrition. Their diet is mostly fish and the interior of sego palms which have no nutritional value.  They grew no crops and hunted with bows and arrows.  Children had distended bellies which our guide said were the result of river worm infestation.  It was hot and humid.   I had someone take a photo of me and the chief which I recently painted.  We were told the villagers no longer practiced headhunting.

The chief was very proud of a necklace given to him by his father who was the previous chief.   It was made up of small brownish beads:  human teeth.

The painting will be part of my one-person show “World Travel Images” in the Loft Gallery at the Columbus Cultural Arts Center the month of March, 2016.

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