The hidden mountain tribe in Papua New Guinea. Where villagers mummified their ancestors with SMOKE and have kept their remains in a nearly perfect state for hundreds of years.
The Anga, a tribe of about 45,000 people, have a mummification process far different from the ancient Egyptians, who would dismantle the body from the inside, remove organs, and then wrap the body in a form of cloth. The Anga mummify their dead sitting up and subject them to three months of smoking over a constantly roaring fire (the smoking helps to preserve the corpse in a tropical culture where it would normally decompose quickly).
The mummification method follows a strict structure. The body is suspended over a fire, and as it bloats, it is poked with wooden sticks to drain its fluids, and later, a stick is used to gently widen the anus to allow the organs to fall out. From start to finish, the mummifiers must remain with the body at all times, and no part of the dead—his fluids, his intestines, or even his body—is allowed to touch the ground, a taboo invitation for bad luck.
The most important part is to keep the face intact. In a culture without photography, the only way to preserve the image of the departed is to physically see their immortal faces. “We have pictures, they have mummies,” Lohmann says. “The Anga believe that the spirits roam free during the day and return to their mummified bodies at night. Without seeing the face, the spirits cannot find their own body and would wander eternally.”
Mummification was once widespread in Papua New Guinea and other South Pacific islands, most prominent in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Finding a way to preserve physical bodies was seen as a way to keep them from being buried underground, where they could be easily forgotten. But the arrival of Christian missionaries and British and Australian government officers in the middle of the 20th century cast stigma on the practice, both for matters of morality and hygiene.