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The Asaro, also known as ‘mud men’ because of their impressive masks made of white clay, are a native population. They live in Papua New Guinea, a country in Oceania that covers the eastern part of the island of New Guinea. It is bordered by Indonesia and lies north of Australia. The island where the Asaro live, is certainly a unique one, because of the rich and varied world of flora and fauna. The country has a lot of mountains and is covered with rainforests. The climate of Papua New Guinea can be considered as very hot and humid.

Mountain spirits

The well-known masks of the Asaro aren’t just very well-known and beautiful, they are also an ingenious way to prevent war and to defend themselves. The masks are called Holosas, meaning spirit. Legend goes that when the neighboring tribes started to attack the Asaro, they decided to hide in the river. The Asaro remained silent in the water until sunrise. When they rose from the water, their bodies where covered with clay from the soil and combined with the fog coming from the mountains every morning, they frightened their enemies away, who thought they were spirits. From that moment, surrounding tribes believed that the river spirits protected the Asaro, and never attacked them again. 

 

Holosas

The Asaro men make their masks themselves using white clay, which they gather from the Asaro river. They have to walk a few days from their village to the banks of the river, a journey they make as much as needed to create and repair their masks. A Holosa is about 2 centimeters thick and weighs 5 to 10 kilograms, and they can’t wear them too long. The masks have changed over the years. Initially, the mask was made of bamboo.
The bamboo was used to create a frame. This frame was covered with the mud. But because the Asaro started using them for many other things as well, they decided to use the roots of a banana tree, which they polished with a sharp stone. However, it takes a lot of time to collect the roots of a banana tree, so the Asaro decided to use clay for their masks.

 

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Asaro & modern professionals

The story goes that the Asaro hardly had to fight with other tribes, because they could scare away their enemies with the impression they made with their masks. That’s why the Asaro say: ‘a wild appearance can save your life’. Thanks to this war tactic, the Asaro have always been one step ahead in battles. They teach us how you should dress and how you should behave to impress your opponent at your first encounter. How do you make a dazzling first impression and gain respect? It’s also an important theme for business nomads, since we are all dependent on good business relations.

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In the monumental Blaakhouse lays the house of the Asaro tribe from Papua New-Guinea. Enjoy the atmosphere and the historical features of the former bank building, such as the vault doors and the marble inlays. 

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