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Skeleton Tribe: 8 Interesting Facts About the Chimbu People of New Guinea


The Skeleton tribe of Papua New Guinea is one of the most indigenous tribes in the world. They live in the central highlands of Simbu Province, Papua New Guinea.

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This tribe lives far from the world’s civilization, practicing its traditions and rituals, which to an outsider may seem bizarre. Here are some facts about the Chimbu people to know.

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The Skeleton Practise Traces Back 200 Years

Cultural practises of the Chimbu tribe. Video Credit: The Box Studio

Painting themselves to mimic skeletons started over 200 years ago. This was after a group of hunters mysteriously went missing. Later, their skeletons were found in a cave they believed to have been surrounded by a monster. They painted themselves as skeletons with white and black clay to scare the monster. 

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Intimidate Enemies

The Chimbu people believe skeleton colors instill fear in enemies. Their aim is to make them think they have supernatural powers. That said, they have incorporated this tradition into other festivals, for example, the Mount Hagen festival and the ‘Sing Sing’ which they share in dance and songs. 

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Ended Nose-Piercing

Before World War II, the Chimbu people used to pierce the nasal septum of people. This was a form of discipline and was combined with ear piercing. However, the practice was discontinued. Instead, they put feathers in their noses and use kina shells to decorate themselves.  

Slow Death of Boys’ Initiation

Cultural practises of the Chimbu tribe. Video Credit: The Box Studio

Boys from the Skeleton tribe went through an intense initiation process. During this time, they were separated from the tribe to receive male education. The practice was done between seven and 10 years, so anyone who didn’t go through it before was included.

Like many initiation practices, boys were subjected to painful ordeals. Over time, it faded away. Girls were also separated from others when they experienced their first period. But they were celebrated with a feast.

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Pigs and Money Are Valuable Assets

Cultural practises of the Chimbu tribe. Video Credit: The Box Studio

During marriage ceremonies, pigs and money were given as bride price. The elders of the clan handled negotiations. But it didn’t end there. They also exchanged pigs after a woman gave birth. The Bugla ingu, the largest pig-killing ceremony, fostered relationships between families. The Chimbu tribe still honors this practice.

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Farming is a Major Economic Activity

The Skeleton tribe engage in subsistence farming. They grow sweet potatoes and are keen on increasing their herds of pigs. Apart from that, they grow:

  • Bananas
  • Beans
  • Sugarcane
  • Greens

Live in Segregated Houses

In contrast to other people in the highland East who live in villages, the Chimbu tribe prefers dispersed settlements. Traditionally, men lived separately from women, in large houses, as a form of defense.

Women lived near gardens to remain close to their work. Although some families still practise this segregation, the reduction of tribal infighting and economic growth has led some men to move in with their families. 

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Conduct Parliamentary Democracy

The Skeleton tribe largely organized themselves into tribal groups. However, they adopted parliamentary democracy, but, senior men in the community still command influence. They are in charge of ceremonies and rally support for candidates vying for elections.

If you want to understand some of African cultural and traditional practices, the Skeleton tribe is a good start. They’ve maintained some of their traditions and shed others.  And they’re still fascinating.

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