You have most likely heard of “head hunting” and cannibal tribes but you most likely did not know that one of these mythical tribes is still around. In fact, the Asmat tribe of Papua, New Guinea did not even have regular contact with the outside world until the 1950’s. The Asmat people of today no longer practice these outdated traditions but they still hold a reverence for their ancestors while struggling to maintain their identities in a changing world.
Over the years the Asmat have used human skulls in the majority of their rituals and war activities but the use and preparation of human skulls varied greatly depending on how they were….acquired.
An Asmat trophy skull or “ndakus” was collected from an enemy in war times. These skulls are recognizable by a hole in one of the temples where the Asmat would remove the brain of their enemy. Usually, these skulls are also missing the lower jaw. The men of the village would give the lower jaw to women in the village as pendants as a way to further insult their enemies. The men, or warriors, of the tribe would keep the remainder of the skull in the central house as trophies.
Ancestor Skulls like the ones found here at Amazing Relics were those of honored ancestors and were decorated in traditional ways. These Ancestor Skulls or “ndambirkus” were revered and brought out during special ceremonies or occasionally used as pillows. These ancestor skulls were decorated with local shells, beads and feathers. An ancestor skull is easily identified because most of them will have some sort of septum piercing. The septum piercing is thought to protect ancestors from bad spirits.