The Huli clan calls Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands and Hela Province home. They consider themselves one people, descendants of a male ancestor named Huli. According to legend, he was the first man to garden on Huli territory. The Huli’s most important exchange commodity is pigs. They are used to pay the bride price, death indemnities, and ritual payments.
Huli men who are unmarried prepare for adulthood in an unusual way. For a period of 18 months to three years, they attend a school for bachelors where they are taught about the ritual and biological process of masculinization. For a large portion of their time, the young males are kept away from their mothers and other women. They are forbidden to have any physical contact with females and are often separated from their parents. Particularly, sexual contact would cause them to lose their male essence.
Huli Wigmen are a local specialty of the Hela Province. A restricted diet and special magic help transform a boy into an adult and speed up his hair growth. The cult expert guides the boy to pick out his hair and then splash it with ritual water until the hair grows long enough for a circular bamboo band to shape into what looks like a mushroom. This is eventually replaced with an oblong band, creating an effect similar to a toreador’s cap. The boy is kept from his hair getting squashed by a headrest throughout this time. The entire coif is cut close to the scalp after 18 months. This allows for the creation of the Huli ceremonial hair wig. The wig is then encased with red ochre and superb bird of paradise feathers.
The Tari Basin floor is crisscrossed by great trenches up to five meters deep. These interconnected channels are created by digging sticks and hand. They serve to define family boundaries, control their animals, and protect them from enemy intruders. Huli clearly don’t live in peace.
Huli “chiefs”, in the hereditary sense of the word, are not Huli. All leaders rise to power through their skill at war, ability in mediation and wealth in pigs or shells. Huli culture is a war zone. In Huli culture, revenge is more important than any peaceful settlement. When a person injures another, he will usually seek counter-vengeance. Huli wars are rooted in personal disputes between individuals. Alliances focus on the issue and its key players. The Tari Valley, in the Southern highlands Papua New Guinea, still has a frontier atmosphere.