LIKE GHOSTS IN THE FOREST
Papua New Guinea
*Displayed in First World Exhibition*
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For centuries the hill tribes of the Owen Ranmge in Papua, New Guinea have lived in isolation to avoid war. In a landscape of dense tropical rainforests each tribe stays within a well established territory. This explains why some of them have survived into the new millennium without any contact with the outside world.
Others previously known have left their villages to move deeper in the forest to escape conflicts or the religious zeal of evangelical preachers only to be rediscovered and labeled as lost tribes. European explorers first encountered the Toulambi in 1993.
They were almost entirely decimated by malaria. Modern medicine helped to stop the ravages of the disease. They didn't believe white men existed but if they did, they must be the 'living dead.'
Taking a lot of care with their appearance, the Toulambi men wear a bird from the Cassowary bird through the nose, large necklaces of river shells and bird of paradise feathers in their hair. They must look their best to attract a mate and reproduce. They are hunters and gatherers. The entire tribe moves in uncanny silence for fear of alerting the game. They know the migration trails of animals and the best time of year to find fish, the growing cycles of the palms, bamboo, wild fruits and the roots they rely on. Always on the move. The rhythm of their lives is that of the jungle. It gives them no time to create complex art, to develop science or conceive profound metaphysical philosophies.
The Toulambi consume wild tobacco heavily. The first transatlantic tribes found by Europeans said the white man gave them alcohol but they got their revenge by giving him tobacco.
The Toulambi are among the very last witnesses of our distant past. When the last tribe is contacted and moved from the Stone Age into the modern world, from being free and masters of their own destiny to being poor and at the lowest level of our western society, it is a part of ourselves that will vanish forever.