Rival tribes battle to outdo each other's terrifying appearance

Mudmen v Skeletons: Forty rival tribes battle to outdo each other’s terrifying appearance at Papua New Guinea festival

  • Incredible images capture the Chimbu tribesmen covered in black and white skeleton paint ready to strike
  • Other photos depict the peculiar fashions of the Asaro tribe, also known as Mudmen, who dress up in mud
  • The fascinating images were taken by travel photographer, Trevor Cole, when he visited the Paiya village

Incredible photographs have captured forty rival tribes battling to outdo each other’s terrifying appearance at a festival in Papua New Guinea. 

The images show the Chimbu tribesmen covered in black and white skeleton paint ready to strike fear into the opposing tribes.

Other photos depict the peculiar fashions of the Asaro tribe, also known as Mudmen, who dress up in mud and wear mud masks.

The fascinating images were taken by travel photographer, Trevor Cole who lives in Donegal, Ireland, when he visited the Paiya village. The tribes were at a festival called Sing Sing, where they danced and sang together.

Incredible images capture the Chimbu tribesmen covered in black and white skeleton paint ready to strike fear into the opposing tribes

Other photos depict the peculiar fashions of the Asaro tribe, also known as Mudmen, who dress up in mud and wear mud masks


The Chimbu (skeleton) tribe (left and right) have this tradition of painting themselves this way as a mode of psychological intimidation

‘Mudmen and Skeleton men allowed us to photograph them whilst they adorned themselves with their traditional ‘festival’ attire,’ Trevor said.

‘The clay covered mud men with their ceramic heads and the stark black and white paint of the skeleton men.

‘We watched the distinctive groups of Papuan tribes ready themselves with extraordinary feathers, woven loin cloths and hornbill beaks.

‘They took it in turns to perform at the Sing Sing and photo opportunities abounded. We went early to watch some of the groups prepare themselves for the Sing Sing.

The fascinating images were taken by travel photographer, Trevor Cole who lives in Donegal, Ireland, when he visited the Paiya village

The tribes were at a festival called Sing Sing, where they danced and sang together. Pictured are a group of women playing instruments 

‘Mudmen and Skeleton (pictured) men allowed us to photograph them whilst they adorned themselves with their traditional ‘festival’ attire,’ the photographer said 


Left: one man at the festival had unusual markings on his back. Right: the masks have unusual designs like long or short ears going down to the chin of the masks or sticking up at the top, long joined eyebrows attached to the top of the ears, horns and mouth

One Wabag tribeswoman wore deep black eye makeup, a headdress, beads and foliage around her face for the famous festival event 

‘Watching them dress, apply body and facial paint, add feathers, animal skins, body oils and much more, was entrancing.

‘The Mt Hagen Highland Show event itself is huge; over forty tribes parade, sing and dance in front of visitors. Tourism is small in Papua New Guinea, but it has immense value in keeping cultural traditions alive.

‘The people are very amicable and welcoming. Possibly the easiest place I have been to take photos. They love to talk and relish attention.’

The Chimbu (skeleton) tribe have a tradition of painting themselves this way as a mode of psychological intimidation.

The Mudmen, also known as the Holosa, live nearby the village of Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Legend has it that they were defeated by an enemy tribe and were forced to flee into the Asaro River.

‘The people are very amicable and welcoming. Possibly the easiest place I have been to take photos. They love to talk and relish attention,’ the photographer said. Pictured: a Papua New Guinea tribesman donning a hat

One Wigman tribesman donned a huge hat for the event. In the parade ground they sing, dance and drum; each tribal clan doing what they love

An intense shot of another Papua New Guinea tribesman with a cigarette in his mouth. The different tribes try to create the scariest costumes

They waited until dusk before they tried to escape, and the enemy tribe saw them rising from the banks covered in mud and thought that they were spirits. Most of the tribes in Papua New Guinea are scared of spirits, so the enemy fled in fear, which helped the Asaro escape.

The masks have unusual designs like long or short ears going down to the chin of the masks or sticking up at the top, long joined eyebrows attached to the top of the ears, horns and mouth.

‘Photography has to capture moments where there is interaction,’ Trevor said.

‘I want to know my subjects and the photograph to portray an emotion which suggests that it was a meaningful capture.

‘On the second day of the show, this was a morning event and again we had the good fortune to see them preparing and adorning themselves.

‘I don’t think I have ever experienced people who are so willing to have their photographs taken. They are so amenable and easy to interact with, hopefully the images taken will reflect these characteristics.

‘In the parade ground they sing, dance and drum; each tribal clan doing what they love. I walked freely from group to group relishing the opportunity to see one of the best tribal shows on earth.’

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