Introducing the Huli of Papua New Guinea

Face of a Huli wigmen painted for a ceremonial or festive occasion.

by Ron Meshanko

They are a most likeable people but are mercurial in temperament, very emotional with a strong sense of personal dignity. I consider them quicker to anger than the Kukukuku, but quick also to revert to calm. They love gesture and oratory, yet become most uneasy at detailed questioning. Sinclair (1955)

The Huli people of the Hela Province of Papua New Guinea number over 245,000 1 They are a short, stocky and muscular people with varying shades of brown skin, coarse, tightly bound black hair and brown eyes. There is also a small percentage of red-heads with very light brown skin.

The Huli personality is characterized by a tendency to be very proud, strong, self-assertive and very individualistic, yet modest, religious and community-minded. They regard their culture as being superior to that of their neighbors, though they do borrow cultural elements from them. The Huli are keenly aware of their history and folk-lore as evidenced in their knowledge of family genealogy and traditions. Unlike many other Highland peoples, they have not relinquished much of their cultural expressions to the new and innovative ways of the white men who arrived to live among them in 1951.

The Huli live in a land of perpetual Spring where it rains seven out of ten days and where the temperature ranges from 80 °F during the day to 45 °F during the night. Occasional frosts do blanket the valley and sometimes destroy the people’s mounded gardens.

Hela Province Flag
Flag of the Hela Province of Papua New Guinea

Top photo courtesy of Eric Lafforgue Photography

  1. Papua New Guinea National Population and Housing Census 2011: Final figures”, Port Moresby PNG National Statistical Office 2014 []