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Papua New Guinea Tribal Art




The Tribal Art of Papua New Guinea is ancient, rare, vibrant and among the most beautiful in Oceania. 

Woman with traditional tattoos.

The European interaction with Papua New Guinea was a gradual process and even today there are isolated communities where contact remains minimal. Under these circumstances the way of life of the Papua New Guinea people had been hardly touched by the ways of the Europeans and their mythology continued to reinforce the intricate bond between themselves and nature upon which their survival depended. The representation of the mythology in the form of tribal art consequently maintained the rich fabric that had been built up over many thousands of years resulting in the tribal art of Papua New Guinea having a unique and lasting inter-relationship with the mythology of the different groups that go to make up the Melanesian society of Papua New Guinea.

Carvings featuring crocodiles are prominent
in much of the tribal art of Papua New Guinea.

The crocodile plays a prominent part in many of the myths of creation of Papua New Guinea. For example, some Kiwaians believe that their "father" was a crocodile. The myth tells how a being called Ipila carved a human figure out of wood and brought it to life by painting the face with sago milk. First the eyes opened, then the nostrils quivered and the "man" made a noise like a crocodile. His name was Nugu and he was not satisfied until Ipila made three more men as companions for him. These men refused to learn the things Ipila wanted to teach them and after a while two of them became tired of only eating sago and started to kill animals for food. Almost at once they turned into half-crocodiles. They then tried to make some of their own kind but they found that they could only make men because Ipila secretly altered their work. It is from these new men that their descendants claim the crocodile as their father. 

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(E-mail: -- Rev. 14th April 2003)