Haus Tambarans

The Sepik

There are numerous villages around Maprik, many with a striking, forward-leaning haus tambaran, an architectural style echoed in such modern buildings as Parliament House in Port Moresby. The front façade of the Maprik haus tambarans are brightly painted in browns, ochres, whites and blacks and in some cases reach 30m high.

Without your own vehicle getting to the various villages can be problematic. Speak to the owner of the Maprik Wakin Hotel to arrange an impromptu tour. Traditionally haus tambarans were exclusively an initiated-man's domain, but these days the rules are usually bent for Western travellers. Locals usually charge to enter and a photography fee. There isn't much to see inside anymore, most of the art having been sold to collectors decades ago. The tunnel-like entrance at the front is reserved for ceremonies; you'll be asked to enter by a door at the back.

Yams are a staple food in this region. Harvesting entails considerable ritual and you may see yam festivals during the July or August harvest time. Woven fibre masks are used in ceremonies where yams are decorated to resemble people.

Interesting back roads connect villages between Maprik and Lumi, some with spectacular haus tambarans and good carvings. You can walk between these villages. Ask permission before entering a village and then see the bigman (local leader).