Amazing, seldom seen photos of Papua New Guinea

Amazing, seldom seen photos of Papua New Guinea

Photographer Michele Westmorland leads a visual tour into the heart of Southeast Asia's most mysterious land

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 2Westmorland with her new friend, Coco, the resident hornbill at Tufi Lodge, in 2011.When Michele Westmorland first visited Papua New Guinea in 1991, she was immediately hooked.

"I was completely taken by the beauty and diversity of the underwater world," says the real estate professional-turned-photographer, who is based in Redmond, Washington in the United States.

A few years later, Westmorland discovered something more incredible about the island nation.

"It was on my third or fourth trip that I raised my head above the water and realized how diverse the landscape and the people are," says 63-year-old Westmorland.

Westmorland now leads photography tours to some of the most remote areas of Papua New Guinea, the country she has visited 27 times in the past two decades and calls her "second home."

Below, the passionate guide and photographer shares 10 of her favorite shots from the heart of the mysterious Southeast Asia land.

Have you been to Papua New Guinea? What do you like about the country? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Villagers in traditional dress

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 1Anji villagers' traditional costumes are coordinated with their surroundings.

Where: Anji Village, Enga Province
When: October 2007

Westmorland asked three Anji villagers to pose at a nearby stream, wearing traditional costumes, to depict "the relationship between their culture and the natural landscape."

The locals participated in the shoot willingly and, according to Westmorland, appreciated it when traveling photographers send back prints of the photos for them to keep.

"I've even seen a print hanging in a hut, tattered and worn from handling and the humid environment," she says.

Ribbon-tailed astrapia

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 3Papua New Guinea's highland territories are one of the world's top destinations for birdwatchers.

Kumul Lodge area, Enga Province
When: October 2007

These birds-of-paradise inhabit Papua New Guinea's highland territories at elevations of 2,400-3,400 meters.

"It's a rare occasion to capture any one of the species of birds-of-paradise from close range," says Westmorland. "To have this bird fly within 50 feet was truly special."

Westmorland says Kumul Lodge near Mount Hagen is one of the few areas where photographers can capture close-range images of ribbon-tailed astrapias. The lodge also organizes a series of eco tours.

Locals frequently use astrapias feathers to decorate their elaborate headdresses.

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Sing-sing celebration

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 4Papua New Guineans dress in tribal costumes for traditional sing-sings.

Where: On the way from Mount Hagen to Kumul Lodge, Enga Province
When: October 2007

Westmorland and her group came across this traditional sing-sing by the Kosibo Clan, a subgroup of a local mountain tribe.

"We were honored to be given permission to take their photos," she says. "The colors of the body decor replicate the colors of the forest, such as the birds and the orchids endemic to the area."

A sing-sing is a local festival held for a variety of reasons, from marriage to settlement of a dispute. Westmorland says she didn't find out what this particular sing-sing was called for.

Young man in front of his hut

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 5Body decor has several meanings in Papua New Guinea and allows villagers to recognize the tribe the wearer comes from.

Anji Village, Enga Province
When: October 2010

"I am always looking for beautiful portraits of traditionally dressed people," says Westmorland.

It took her some time get to know Lus Apakate before the shy 22-year-old agreed to pose for her in front of his own hut.

Apakate's impressive hairpiece is adorned with the feathers of local birds. The large shell on his neck is a "kina," which is used as trade money.

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Unique sing-sing perspective

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 6Villagers dress in full splendor for a sing-sing.

Where: Kofure Village, Oro Province
When: June 2005

Westmorland says this is one of her favorite shots.

"I wanted to capture an image different from any I've seen or photographed before."

She documented these fully dressed tribal people at a sing-sing by lying on the ground and shooting up with a fish-eye lens.

"My friends were quite curious as to what I was trying to do until I showed them the picture in the image display on the back of my digital camera," she says.

Once the villagers understood what she was doing, Westmorland had to take many pictures for them: some 20 locals took turns squeezing into the frame.

A young lady's facial tattoo

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 7A tattoo is permanently added to a woman's face to announce her coming of age.

Where: Koje Village, Oro Province
When: October 2007

Oro Province is well known for its female-only facial tattoos, which are given when young ladies come of age.

In this photo, Molly Suraba, 17, from the village of Koje, is having her face tattooed with a pattern specific to the tattoo artist and her clan.

The artists use crushed charcoal for coloring and sago thorns to set the design. The process is painful and takes about two weeks to complete.

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Sing-sing preparation

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 8Getting glam for a sing-sing.

Where: Kofure Village, Oro Province
When: October 2007

Westmorland's group spent an entire day in Kofure photographing members of the tribe preparing for a sing-sing. Locals spend many hours polishing headdresses and painting bodies.

Intimate photos like this, according to Westmorland, are rare treats.

Village chief

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 9The shark jaw is saved solely for this chief's adornment.

Komoa Village, Oro Province
When: October, 2010

Komoa Village chief Luke Nunisa is proud of his body decor. Unlike him, no one else in his village has ever been allowed to use a shark jaw as an ornament.

Nunisa, 50, told Westmorland in English that it was important for tourists like her to come and learn about his country's culture, and it was especially good for keeping their children proud and engaged in their history.

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Hand-raised cuscus

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 10The cuscus is unique to Papua New Guinea and the Cape York region of Australia.

Tufi, Oro Province
When: October 2010

"How could I not like this charming little creature?" says Westmorland. "The fact that he was munching on a berry just added to the image."

Unique to the Cape York region of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the hand-raised cuscus is a member of the opossum family.

Many locals keep the marsupial as a pet. Its fur is used in tribal body decorations and headdresses.

Baby girl in bilum

Papua New Guinea gallery -- inline 11No need for lullabies when you've got a swinging bilum to lull your baby to sleep.

Kofure Village
When: October 2007

Bilum is the term for string bags, which are normally woven by women and used for everything from carrying vegetables to cradling babies.

"I found this to be one of the most intimate and charming moments and wanted to capture both the baby's face and the colors and pattern of the bilum she was sleeping in,” says Westmorland.

Although the featured bilum is made of synthetic yarn, tribe members often make their own strings from the local vegetation and color them with natural dyes.

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For more on Westmorland's Papua New Guinea photo tours, head to Asia Transpacific Journeys. Next departure is June 4, 2013. 

Tracy You is a bilingual journalist based in Shanghai and has worked for several publications including as Editor for CNN Travel. She's a fan of history, British TV and Wii Guitar Hero.

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