Huli Wigmen. Is this a good look?

I would like to take you forward in time by a few days, but just for a moment. After a week or so it appears that our fame is spreading. There are so few tourists that it is easy to make our mark. We have become a cohesive group and we are becoming well known because we are willing to try anything and because we laugh all the time. We are having a wonderful time, and it shows. We hear from another tour group that we meet that we have been christened “ The Fearless Five”

So back to the present. We, the Fearless Five, have a driver, two guides, a cook and a security guard on the bus with us. This is the standard of service I like. If it weren’t for the security guide it would be perfect. We are going into areas where there are gold mines and a new natural gas plant being built and the conspicuous consumption of the workers has attracted kidnappers. We have a security guard with us for the next two days, but we never feel remotely threatened. Quite the opposite. The Hulis are wonderfully friendly and almost everyone waves as we drive by.

We have a 90 minute drive ahead of us. For the first half of the drive, the road is compressed gravel and quite wide.                                                                                            tari to hule villageLater it becomes much narrower.Our driver is going at break neck speed when we hit some sort of pothole. There is a loud and rather alarming crack from the back of the bus. The driver ignores it. But as he barrels on down the road we see that he is fighting with the steering wheel. We suggest that he stops and takes a look at the underneath of the bus. We can tell that he thinks this is entirely unnecessary. We don’t.

He stops, takes a cursory look outside, shrugs and gets back in. But now the bus is leaning alarmingly to the right. We are leaning alarmingly to the left to try and counteract it, but it has little effect. We insist that the driver stops. He does and this time discovers the main spring on the back axle has snapped in two.

I envisage us all getting off the bus and waiting for hours by the side of the road to be rescued. But the driver has a cell phone. He calls the hotel. They promise to send another bus. That’s good, we will only have to wait for half an hour or so. But the driver has no intention of waiting. His plan is to continue driving, but at a more leisurely pace, allowing the replacement bus to catch up with us. For some reason we agree to the plan. Actually we have no say in it. The driver refuses to open the bus door, and just starts off before we can say a word. We all crowd to the right hand side of the bus, which does help the tilting a little, but does nothing for our blood pressure. I am very conscious of the fact that eighty years ago these people had never seen a wheel. Now I am entrusting my life to one of them. I have to tell myself to breathe.

However the Huli Spirits are looking after us, and the second bus eventually arrives before we all die in a crash or from fright.

We continue on. There is virtually no traffic, instead there is a steady stream of pedestrians on the side of the road. The Hulis can’t afford cars. Dealers don’t accept pigs as payment. Almost everyone waves and smiles as we pass by. There are however occasional trucks. It is alarming to see that all the windows of the trucks are covered in a heavy wire mesh for security reasons.

Our first stop is to see the Huli Wigmen of the Orabi Village, and their gravity defying hairdos.wig9 (2)

Is this a good look? Well it might not do for Liberace, but it is the height of fashion for the Huli men.  Of course these are the same men who look for a bald woman to marry. The version above is for tribal elders and worn for special ceremonies – or appearances at Las Vegas should they be invited.

It is such a hot look for the men that they actually go to school and learn how to look like this. As an adolescent or young man a Huli can choose to go to wig school. It is actually a great hardship as they have to pay to go to the school, and while there, they are completely cut off from their family and have no way of making a living. If that isn’t bad enough, they can also have no contact whatsoever with women, as the women will make them unclean. Their life is not dissimilar to that of monks in a monastery. The lack of earning may be hard, but the lack of contact with women may not be a hardship for everyone, judging by the ones we meet.

But entry into the school is not just dependent on money. The young men must be pure, which means they must not have eaten pig’s fat or pig’s blood. Vampires would not look attractive in these wigs.

Once in school, they are there to be immersed in the customs of the tribe, and to learn their history. Nothing is written down. It has to be passed from generation to generation by word of mouth and the wig school is one place where this happens

But while being immersed in their customs, they are also growing their hair. As it grows it is trained into a huge basin like shape turned upside down on their heads.wig6 (2)

Most Huli men want to own a wig and the one above is, believe it or not, the common or garden variety. It is reserved for special occasions and is so important to the Huli Men that when there is a tribal war, the other side always tries to burn the Huli Wigs

It takes about eighteen months to grow at which point it can be shaved off to make a wig, or they can decide to keep it on their head. If they have it shaved off, they can opt to pay for another eighteen months of schooling and grow another one. They can then sell the original to an Un-Wig schooled Huli.

When the Wigman returns to the village he will be hugely respected and accorded a place of honor within the Tribe.

As we enter the Orabi village, we experience our first attempt at crossing a small bridge made of three branches that marks the entrance. The Hulis nimbly jump or run across these. We do not. We must look ridiculous to the Hulis as we try to balance, arms whirling and feet shuffling, moving across an inch at a time.


Roger actually descends on to his hands and knees to cross. Our guides are horrified and yell at him to stand up. I try to be cool and do it without help, but the branches are slippery (it rains all the time) and our shoes are permanently caked in mud. It is impossible. The guides hold our hands and walk backwards leading us across. So much for the Fearless Five. Colette needs two guides to help her across. One takes her hands and leads her while the other guides gently from behind. Perhaps we should be the Fearless Four plus one

Once across we have to climb a short steep and very muddy bank to enter the school through a small gate:


This is also our first experience of the mud that dominates everywhere. We are in rain forest country and it rains every day. The ground is always wet. Where it is not trampled on it feels like a peat bog, but where there is a trail or path it quickly becomes a quagmire of mud, often deep enough to seep in over the tops of your shoes if you are not careful where you place your feet. I, of course, am not careful. My shoes fill with mud. I have learned my lesson. I will be careful from now on.

Once through the gate we enter the school and meet three student wigmen and one teacher. The three students are sitting on a tree trunk which is balanced over a small pond. These are all mature students and have obviously paid to be there for several successive eighteen month periods. They have had no contact with women for years, and it appears that this might have been the deciding factor when they made up their mind to stay.wig4 (2)

We are given a demonstration of how the hair is carefully nurtured. It is treated like any other crop! Three times a day the hair is sprinkled with water to encourage its growth. The water comes from the pond, so I am sure it must be full of nutrients.wig16 (2)The teacher then teases it into shape and untangles any knots.wig3

I know I haven’t mentioned the Fabulosity Meter much, but at this point it is confused. It did come out to see the Wigmen, took one look and retreated. It didn’t know whether they were fabulous or ridiculous

At a certain stage the hair gets so long that it needs support and then a sort of bamboo shelf is placed round the head to keep the hair from falling down. All this is fine until we learn that the hair is never washed as this would spoil the finished product. So after eighteen months of growing unwashed hair sprinkled with pond water, it can be carefully cut off and sold as a wig. I presume you have to catch it first. The wig is never washed either and can be passed down from generation to generation for as long as it lasts.



We are invited to try one on, but not one of the Fearless Five wants to do so.


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5 Responses to Huli Wigmen. Is this a good look?

  1. Baz says:

    Hilarious. You’re really into your stride now Andrew. Is there a publisher out there? This man deserves a wider audience!

  2. David Yntema says:

    It is so interesting to see how many isolated tribes live, and your pictures and commentary are excellent. 20 plus years ago, I was visiting and living with hill tribes in Northern Thailand for a few days with a friend of mine who lives in ChiangMai. We found one tribe where the young girls were dressed in plain clothes looking like sackcloth until the day they were married. Similarily, the young boys wore very colorful, even feminine clothes, and were covered with jewelry. So, when they were married, they shaved off their long hair, got rid of the colorful clothes and jewelry, and the girls took on the jewelry and clothes. We saw a young man getting his hair cut when we were there. Sorry I don’t remember the name of the tribe.
    David Y

  3. Eric says:

    my fabulosity meter says: “this should be your fabulous new look for next year’s mardi gras!” 😉

  4. Bonnie says:

    This looks like most peoples’ hair on any given August day in New York!

  5. ปาย says:

    The wig is never washed either and can be passed down from generation to generation for as long as it lasts.

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