You might have seen some pretty terrifying images floating around that show some of The Smoked Mummies of Papua New Guinea, a collection of deep red corpses strung along a mountainside that are eerie enough to give anything in the Paris Catacombs a run for it's money. While it's one thing to view the morbid images from the safety of your desk, it's another thing entirely to go visit them in person.
If you're not familiar with the smoked corpses of Aseki, here's a primer. For the last several hundred years, the Anga tribe of the Morobe Highlands have been the only tribe to practice a form of mummification that involves smoking the meat of their dead. Unlike traditional mummifications, the smoked bodies aren't placed in any kind of tomb, but instead strung up on steep cliffs that overlook the nearby village. To the Anga people, the charred corpses of their dead act as protectors.
The rare honor is bestowed only to those that the tribe deems worthy, as the mummification process is a long one that's only carried out by a select few. It's easy to see why. The embalmers must first slice open the knees, elbows, feet, and other joints. Bamboo poles are then inserted in the slits, as well as the stomach of the body. These hollow poles drain the body fat, which is collected for a strength ritual meant to transfer the power of the deceased to the living. How? By smearing their guts all over your face. Whatever liquid is left over is used to cook future meals.
Every orifice in the body is then sewn shut, from the eyes to the anus, a process that effectively "seals" the body and prevents the flesh from rotting as quickly. The tongue, palms, and soles of the dead are then sawed off and presented to the spouse of the deceased as a keepsake, so you can imagine how interesting the mantle in an Anga home looks.
The prepared corpse is then bound in rope and smoked in a communal fire pit until it's ready to be coated in red clay, a process that not only protects it from scavengers, but preserves the body for centuries. The gruesome process works so well that some mummies in the Morobe Highlands date back to well over 200 years ago. The mummies are placed in "nests", only to be removed for the occassional celebration in the nearby village, after which they're quickly returned.
If you're up for an adventure through the jungles of Papua New Guinea, you can actually visit the smoked corpses for yourself, but only with permission from the Anga elders, something that can be acquired by speaking to the provincial authority, who will contract the tribe on your behalf.
The best place to see the smoked mummies for yourself is in the village of Watama, just a short walk from Menyamya, which is most easily reached from Bulolo. The journey from Bulolo generally takes about nine hours, and can be done with a rental car or by hired driver. Once in Menyamya, inquire about the smoked bodies at the provincial authority, where you'll pay the equivalent of around $20 for the privilege, and $150 to take photographs.