The majestic headdresses of the Kalam Tribe
The Kalam, a tribe living in the remote hinterlands of Papua. Let's dive into the heart of their enigmatic culture, with ancient traditions, profound spiritual beliefs, majestic headdresses, and exquisite body art.
A Primitive and Isolated Way of Life
The Kalam maintained limited contact with the outside world until the 1960s. They live in one of the most remote and isolated places in Papua, in traditional huts made from pandanus leaves (karuka) scattered in the valleys. Their land is accessible only by small single-engine planes landing on grassy airstrips or through challenging hikes. This isolation has preserved them from external influences, thus safeguarding their authentic and rich culture.
Kalam men are renowned for their unique and impressive hairstyles. These are among the tallest in Papua New Guinea, sometimes reaching over a meter in height. Crafted from thousands of emerald green beetle heads, known as "mimor," these crowns are adorned with couscous fur, flowers, and feathers from birds of paradise, parrots, cockatoos, and lorikeets.
Elaborate Body Ornaments
Kalam men adorn their bodies with "bilas" (body ornaments), including necklaces made from coiled yellow orchid stems, large kina shells, locally called "kokomo," traditional loincloths, leaves tied to a belt, sugar cane armbands, and small circular kina with feathers from birds of paradise threaded through their pierced noses.
Initiation of the Youth
Kalam culture is deeply rooted, and while less frequently practiced today, the initiation of young boys is still a reality. Between the ages of 10 and 17, young boys enter the special house for young men, the "hausboi," to learn Kalam values and culture from the elders. They also undergo nose piercing, a ritual known as "sutim nus," performed with a bamboo stick or a cassowary bone. This ceremony involves the sacrifice of numerous pigs, a precious resource for the Kalam, and initiation may occur at a later age once the required wealth is amassed.
The Central Role of Women
Kalam women play a central and diverse role within their community. They are the custodians of sustenance and Kalam culture, contributing significantly to daily life and rituals. Their responsibilities include agriculture, pig rearing, meal preparation, craftsmanship, organization of ritual ceremonies, passing down culture to future generations, and participating in community affairs. Kalam women weave strong social and familial bonds, thus contributing to community cohesion and the preservation of their rich cultural heritage.
Explore these cultural references to deepen your understanding of the fascinating Kalam culture in Papua. Their isolated way of life and ancestral traditions, upheld by both men and women, showcase the richness of global cultural diversity.
Credits to Bertrand Linet and Jimmy Nelson