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Dance with the Papua New Guinea Wigmen

From Stephanie Oswald
CNN Travel Now

PAPUA NEW GUINEA (CNN) -- Deep in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, the Wigmen are among the most famous symbols of the native Huli culture.

As part of an ancient family tradition in this remote Pacific nation, they wear spectacular wigs made of real hair, decorated with natural elements such as feathers, grass and flowers.

"Everything that's attractive, beautiful, shiny, bright... we put it on ourselves," says Howard Willia of Trans Niugini Tours. "It can be passed on to generations. When the wig wears out we can mend it, we can add more, and it can be passed on from father to son."

Watch a ritual welcome dance by Huli Wigmen

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In a land where no native written word exists and there are more than 700 spoken languages, one of the most popular forms of education is song and dance, known as the sing-sing.

Each sing-sing dance has a special meaning. Sometimes it's the authentic way to say "hello" and "welcome." At other times, the ceremonial dance signals a war victory.

"When they go out for tribal fighting and they fight and kill a man... they come back to the tribe and organize a sing-sing like that because they are happy they have killed the enemy," Willia says.

Hair's the story

Young males in the tribe learn customs and traditions at an early age, as evidenced by a visit to a boys' camp.

"Everything that men do, the teacher teaches them here," Willia says.

"Village boys had to come to this school to learn how to fight, to learn how to make bows and arrows, how to look after (the) community village."

They also learn how to grow and nurture the famous wigs, a process that takes 18 months.

Huli wigmen
The Huli boys sleep with their heads propped up so their hair won't be crushed  

Visitors watch as magic words are chanted, and their hair is nurtured with water.

"That water makes their hair grow. They say the magic word and they want the boy's hair or man's hair to grow packed together, bright, shiny and good," Willia says.

The Huli boys must even sleep with their heads propped up so the hair won't be crushed.

"The first few weeks it will be painful for even the villagers, but as they get along they get used to it," he says.


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