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Ton Otto

The Asaro Mudmen: Local property, public culture?

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The mudmen tradition of the Asaro people in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea has become an internationally recognized symbol of that country and also an evocative image of "primitive man" in general. This symbol has been appropriated in various international advertisements for products ranging from music to perfume. It is also used in campaigns to promote tourism in Papua New Guinea and has entered almost every popular book and travel guide as an appealing symbol of the area. As a local sign of identity the history of the mudmen is relatively short. Based on transformations of some older - and of course contested - traditions, the phenomenon of the mudmen began its existence during the first Goroka agricultural show in 1957. In this paper we trace the history of the mudmen to show how it developed in continuous interaction between local and foreign (tourist) needs and expectations. Appearing in diverse and only partly interacting discourses, the mudmen function as a local commodity-cum-marker-of-identity, as a symbol of Papua New Guinea national culture, and as a sign of primitiveness in western (commercial) discourses on self and other.

TidsskriftContemporary Pacific
Sider (fra-til)349-386
Antal sider38
StatusUdgivet - 1 sep. 1996

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