Themes: Clothing

Clothing and body decoration in Papua New Guinea

Informal dress

Papua New Guineans live in a warm climate and don’t need to wear multiple layers. They nevertheless are very concerned about their appearance and take care over how they dress. When working indoors or in gardens, men and women often wear simple aprons, perhaps with a bark belt, and generally leave their heads uncovered. 

 

Dressing up for special occasions

Great attention is paid to everyone’s appearance during festivals. Dancers, for example, need to consider how their body decorations fit with the group, although individual variations are also allowed.  Other occasions also merit dressing up. In the past, for example, going to war involved wearing special clothing and items such as feathers and leaves. Courting parties and weddings are also important occasions for special clothing and a good opportunity to show off glitzy accessories.  At funerals, clothing and decorations are usually thought inappropriate. In some places it is common to smear the body with mud, clay or ashes.

 

Face-painting and scarification

Face painting is very popular in Papua New Guinea, and a social rather than private activity. The patterns and colours used do not necessarily have a fixed meaning, but they are often referred to or remembered as the names of animals and plants.  Tattooing is uncommon, but men in the Iatmul area often have decorative crocodile patterning on their skin made by scarification. 

 

Modern dress

Papua New Guineans nowadays usually prefer to wear European clothes, especially if they hold official positions.  Local Government Councillors, for example, are expected to wear clean shirts, shorts and boots or shoes, although they may revert to traditional styles during festivals. Ordinary villagers are also often seen wearing western clothes, which in rural villages tend to look dirty and give the impression of poverty.