These Remote Papua New Guinean Tribespeople Transform Themselves Into Skeleton Warriors

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A young Chimbu boy painted like a skeleton gazes into the camera
Image: Dave Schreier

The skeletons are moving. Yes, the ghastly figures shuffle slowly forward, twisted at alarming angles, as if they have just clawed their way out of the earth. As they come closer, though, it becomes clear that these are not the undead but, rather, tribesmen – painted head-to-toe in black, with a vivid white coating outlining the head and body to give the impression of bones. Even so, this formidable sight may well be enough to make anyone think twice about advancing on a tribe deep within the Chimbu Province of Papua New Guinea.

Chimbu skeleton dancers
Image: Dave Schreier

The Chimbu people live at an altitude of as much as 7,800 feet, high up in the mountainous New Guinea province of their name. This is, however, just one of a handful of facts known about the group, who have remained largely a mystery to the outside world. Still, perhaps this only makes the Chimbu’s penchant for supernatural-like body paint even more fascinating.

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Chimbu skeleton dancers
Image: Dave Schreier

In fact, it is difficult to even say exactly how many individuals make up the group. It has been estimated that some 60,000 or so live in areas traditionally occupied by the Chimbu people. A 2011 census, meanwhile, states that the entire province of Chimbu has a population of over 376,000.

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