The Huli are proud and fearless warriors preferring traditional methods of dispute settlement. Tribal wars originate from fighting over land, pigs and women, precisely in this order. Pigs are the most precious asset for Huli. They are used to pay for bride price, death and other ritual payments. Man’s status in the local community depends upon the size of his wealth in pigs – the more pigs, the bigger the man. Huli chiefs (bigman) come to power through their skills at war, ability to mediate disputes and to amass wealth in pigs and kina shells. There are no chiefs in the hereditary sense.
Men and women live in separate houses as contacts with women are believed to be harmful. The women, who live with children and piglets, are strictly prohibited from entering the man’s house (hausman), and marital relations take place in the gardens.
The Huli are recognisable by their unique and colourful way of painting face and body with red ochre and bright yellow clay, called Ambua, considered sacred in their culture. In contrast to men, Huli women have very simple attire wearing sombre black at the wedding, and coating themselves with blue-grey clay when mourning.
The Huli men’s traditional decoration consists of a cassowary quill put through the nose, kina shells around the neck, hornbill (kokomo) beak on the back, a knife made from a cassowary bone stuck in the belt, a bend of snakeskin across the forehead, bilum (string bag) over the shoulders, arsegras (or tanket, made from leaves stuck into a belt to cover the bottom), and a belt of dangling pig tails made to attract the women.
Renowned warriors, the Huli men have one surprisingly soft side – an obsession with their hair. The Huli, also called Huli wigmen, are known for their intricately decorated woven wigs made from their own hair. The wigs represent symbols of their maturity, a custom shared by their neighbours, the Duna, and by some tribes in Enga and Western Highlands Provinces. The wigs are decorated with everlasting daisies, feathers of the bird of paradise and parrots, cuscus fur and other materials.
In the Huli tradition, each boy must grow his own wig. Most Huli have more than one wig. Some wigs are used as daily wigs, and some are worn only on special occasions. To grow a wig, the boys enter a “school for bachelors” (“wig school”), reserved for young, virgin boys, where they stay under the guidance of a wig master for around 18 months to grow one wig. During this time, they are forbidden from any physical contact with women. After the graduation, the boys wear the elaborate red hair wig of young bachelors (mandá hare) demonstrating that they have passed into adulthood.