INSET: World premiere of my new article ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ in Ink Fashion.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA (PNG) is the second largest island in the world. Although it is roughly the size of California, it is one of the most rural countries on the planet and only 18 percent of its six million inhabitants live in urban areas. Incredibly, over 800 indigenous languages are spoken in PNG: a statistic that accounts for 1/5 of the world’s total.

Just as PNG is linguistically diverse, it is also an ecological and geographical wonder. From snowcapped peaks reaching heights of 14,793 feet, to steamy rain-soaked jungles and volcanically active islands, PNG is a virtual treasure trove of natural beauty waiting for the intrepid traveler.

But it is also one of the final frontiers of women’s tribal tattooing culture. And as far back as the old men and women can remember, tattooing has been a tribal custom of nearly every coastal people. Here, among the Motu, Waima, Aroma, Inland Aroma, Hula, Mekeo, Korafe, Maisin, and Miniafia, women were heavily tattooed from head to toe, resulting in some of the most complete body coverage in the indigenous world.


I think one of the reasons why so very few outsiders have studied tattooing in PNG recently is that it is a dangerous (and expensive) place. Port Moresby and its suburbs compete year after year with Johannesburg (South Africa) for the notorious title of “Murder Capital of the World,” and many stories are told of people being hacked down in the streets with machetes or car-jacked in broad daylight with little or no response from local police. People living here never walk the streets at night, and houses and schools are enclosed in high security compounds surrounded by razor wire and full-time guards.

Leaving Moresby for the coastal hinterlands is certainly not for the faint of heart either, as bandits roam certain sections of highway in search of human prey. Buses, personal vehicles, and other forms of motorized people-movers are equally vulnerable to such attacks that sometimes include…[to read more please read Ink Fashion Magazine!]