Skin cutting initiation festival in the inland Sepik region

Initiates on the second final day of their skin cutting ceremony. Peeping through their fenced up spirit house to witness their sisters and mothers singing and dancing on the outside. Family members would encourage the initiates on throughout the whole night on the last day of the initiation. Plenty of singing and dancing, blowing on bamboo long pipes and other instruments. No sleeping for the whole night, all the villagers would sing and dance non stop on this final day before the initiates get officially released out of the spirit house.

In the inland part of the Sepik, with almost 1.5-2hours walk from the Sepik river, Yamok Village was having its annual skin cutting rituals for its boy’s initation.

This is a large village is made up of around 7-9 clan, internal villages with 10 spirit houses.

I revisited this village after hearing that the boys were having their skin cutting initiation which culminates with a big celebration at the end. Had spent the first night of my Sepik river tour in Yamok. Unique to this inland village where the end of the ritual is hugely celebrated by the families. I spent a week in Yamok to witness this ceramonial end. Quite the privilege for I was the only foreigner in the entire village of 3000 locals. This celebration is not conducted in other river villages.

As it happens, the head master of the village organises their first inaugural cultural festival in the days following the end of the initiation.

Resting in the mid morning, covered with yellow inland stream mud. The mud and plant ashes are smeared onto the freshly cut wounds to infect the cuts forming large keloids. The initiates also bath in Sepik river watch on the daily basis to keep their scars formation.

Here in Yamok, as this spirit house was too small for all the initiates to reside in for the duration of their skin cutting ritual. They were allowed to return to their homes after dark when their family members were sleeping. Initiates were not allowed to be seen by their sisters or mothers and their fathers and brothers would in turn sleep in the spirit house after the initiates return home nightly. When dawn breaks, the boys were head back to the spirit house for their training as well as preparations for their end of initiations ceremony.

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