Culture

The Sepik region is the best known part of PNG outside the country, and Sepik artefacts (carvings and pottery) are displayed in many of the world’s great museums. Traditional art was linked to spiritual beliefs. Sepik carvings were often an attempt to make a spirit visible, although decorations were also applied to everyday items (ie pots and paddles).

Today carving is rarely traditional – it’s more a mixture of long-established motifs, imagination and commercial tastes – but it's still beautiful, and of excellent quality. Some villages still retain their own signature styles – Kambot makes the famous story boards but even these are not traditional. Story boards were originally painted on large pieces of bark, and now they’re carved in relief from timber.

Christianity, as elsewhere in PNG, is blended with many traditional beliefs. Although most Sepik people would claim to be Christian (they go to church every Sunday), it’s a very localised interpretation. The religious world is also inhabited with the spirits of ancestors and some Sepik people invest great spiritual power in crocodiles. People around Kanganaman and Korogo villages in the Middle Sepik perform an initiation rite where young men are cut with hundreds of incisions on the back, chest and buttocks to imitate a crocodile’s skin.