Chimbu Tribe

Situated near the foot of Mt. Wilhelm, Papua New Guinea’s highest peak, the Chimbu tribe of Mindima village lives communally. Families care for pigs and other domesticated animals and grow small vegetable gardens. Daily life has undergone some major changes since the arrival of missionaries in Mindima in the 1930s, but one thing remains unchanged: the tribe’s unique — and unforgettable — skeleton sing sing.

Mindima, Papua New Guinea, 5°59'21.0"S 144°50'38.8"E

700 people

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Alfonz Brugl

Village Elder

Alfonz’s family

A simpler past

Alfonz is the head of the Brugl family who have been living in Mindima for at least five generations. The original family members came from the foot of Mt. Wilhelm to establish the village. He recalls the way things used to be in the older, simpler days when trade was accomplished mostly through barter and the whole village used to pull together to help each family.

Family Tree

My father had three brothers who were killed in tribal wars.

My father had three brothers who were killed in tribal wars. The past generations fought other tribes and they had no contact with outsiders. My father told me he remembers when the first missionaries came. When the villagers saw them, they thought they were their ancestors.

In the past, the elders taught young people to take care of pigs. When it was time for a wedding, the whole village got together to give the man a pig for the bride-price. We used to do all the trade with pigs, and also pig tusks, kina shells, stone axes, feathers. Nowadays we only think of money. Things have changed..

Nowadays we only think of money. Things have changed..

Traditional marriages

Chimbu marriages remain very traditional. Each groom is given some land to build his own house and garden. Before the wedding, each family prepares a sing sing that describes the other side. Once the couple is married, the wife is responsible for all domestic chores, which she has learned to perform from her mother.

We have big gaps between children.

The local custom is to wait until one child is fully grown before having another. This is a wise tradition we learned from our ancestors.

The skeleton sing sing

According to local lore, the Chimbu ancestors were scared to go into the woods to hunt, gather and garden, because they believed a ghost that lives in the mountain will come down and devour them. They invented this sing sing in order to scare away the ghost and be able to walk the land in peace. Alfonz explains: "Nowadays, we don't believe in the ghost... but if you go up to the cave in the mountain you'll still be able to see that it is filled with bones. Human bones."

The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.

We spend hours painting our bodies to resemble skeletons.

We perform the story of the ghost.

The ghost’s skeleton family, the little children who are taken by the ghost, and the hunters who go after them to rescue them.

The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.

We perform a magic spell to scare away the ghost.

This dance is scary for people,

but it also scares the ghost and keeps it away so we can hunt in the woods and garden on our lands without being afraid that the ghost will attack.