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From the cliffs of a village in Papua New Guinea’s highlands, are the stained and charred corpses of the Anga people. In these remote parts of the country, it is the highest honour they can bestow on their dead. First, experienced embalmers make cuts in the feet, knees and elbows of the cadavers, to allow body fat to drain away, before jabbing bamboo poles into their guts and collecting the drippings. These are smeared onto the skin and hair of surviving relatives in a ritual believed to transfer the strength of the dead into the living. Any leftovers are used as cooking oil, for the same reason. They then sew shut the eyes, mouth and anus of the body their working on, to reduce the air intake in an attempt to prevent flesh from rotting. The soles of the feet, palms of the hands and tongue are sliced off and presented to the surviving spouse and then what’s left of the body is smoke cured over a fire pit, before being coated in clay and ochre to deter scavengers. The cliffs of the Morobe highlands are littered with these corpses, some dating back 200 years of more. They are sometimes brought down for special events and celebrations, and returned soon after.
Photo credit: (top)Michael Thirnbeck, (bottom)Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images