PEOPLE, PLACES & PULPED PALAVER: The Crocodile Men of Papua New Guinea

Many tribes from along the Sepik River, like the Chambri and Kaningara in Papua New Guinea believe that they crawled out of the Sepik River, evolved to become humans. In the honor of their reptilian god, boys have to endure the torturous ritual to look like crocodiles. Becoming more reptilian themselves, they cut themselves open to release their mothers’ blood from their bodies, so that it may be replaced with that of the crocodile spirit.

Getting the MarksThe Kaningara and Chambri tribes from Sepik, New Guinea have a unique culture that distinguishes them from other tribes. The men practice crocodile scarification on their skins so as to look alike as crocodile. An ancient practice handed down many generations, the men usually have their skins covered with patterns of marked, imitating the marks made by a crocodile when it attacks its victims.  Usually, when boys (11-30 years) are initiated to manhood, they are required to go through the painful ritual exercise where deep cuts are onto their skins. The marks are patterned on the backs, buttocks, chests and stomachs.

Croc's MarkThe month long painful ordeal is a requirement as a rite of passage to adulthood for all males in the tribe. The boys have to withstand the pain without showing any emotions, but show focus, discipline and dedication; qualities that show they are ready to be men in the community and face pains later in life. The process is slow and excruciating, and the many deep cuts on the body could cause excessive bleeding, infection and even death. As the tribal elders inflict inch long cut deep into the shin, the boys under no pain remedy are held down and required to bear the pain. Clay and Tree oils are applied on the cuts to ensure they are raised. Upon healing, the patterned marks resemble a crocodile’s skin. 

The tribes worship the spirit of the crocodile. They believe that they evolved from the reptile to dwell on land. The generations old ritual among the men is thus an important, and part of the culture of the Chambri. The boys are reported taken for preparation for the ritual, and spent one and half months in a spirit house before the skin marking. To connect back to their reptilian nature, the boys must be cut, bleed out their mother’s blood, and have it replaced by the crocodile’s spirit.



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