Papua Penis Gourd Paraphernalia

Lets’s set words straight.

Webster defines “paraphernalia” as “equipment needed for a particular activity.”

Welcome to Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya) which is the eastern-most province of Indonesia located on the same mega island shared with the rival country of Papua New Guinea farther east, a land where many past fierce battles were waged in the name of honor or territorial dispute. The victors often made a nice lunch of the defeated. Past history reveals rampant cannibalism. Men of animistic cultures can be like that when they are trying to defend honor and pride and when they are convinced they must wield the ultimate insult toward their defeated heroic victims by eating them. But taste wasn’t the only stimulant. By their very act of consumption the winners firmly believed they would also absorb some of the valor of those extraordinarily brave fallen warriors.

Indonesia, Irian Jaya, Baliem Valley, Dani tribesman wearing penis gourd

This proud Papuan chieftain was dressed in his most formal attire.

Notice his elegant neck piece.

Perhaps I should explain how his gourd is held in semi-erect position. By the way, these gourds are also referred to as a “koteka” or “horim” and sometimes as a “phallocrypt” or “phallocarp.” But first, I must establish parameters. You probably tuned into Stroborati for lighting guidelines when using minimal strobe equipment in remote regions of the globe where the word “electricity” doesn’t even exist. And I’ll do my best to relay what I experience in those locales. But first I must clarify that my raisons d’être in this life goes far beyond mere technical description of my own kinds of paraphernalia utilized in the pursuit of magic light.

I’m convinced I’m on this great earth for the ultimate purpose of celebrating cultural differences. This is what drives me.

Much of the excitement in this blog will derive from not only visiting such unique cultures and lighting them accordingly but, more importantly, to gain insight about how they view life. I always challenge myself not to pass judgement. This particular culture doesn’t deny modesty and I’m sure you’ve noticed already that essential instruments of the male libido have been well concealed. But it’s interesting that testicles don’t seem to play a role in this modesty. Well, I didn’t get that deep into the reasons behind this phenomena so you’ll just have to do a bit of Margaret Meade research on Google if you need more info in that regard. By the way, though I didn’t plan it in advance, the “G” in the watermark on this image just happened to have conveniently concealed the chief’s very exposed testicles.

He leads his people graciously and with great dignity. He has no problem with such exposure. Why should we?

Nevertheless I graciously lent my name just in case, though in this circumstance it was mere serendipity that such concealment occurred. I personally have absolutely no problem when experiencing cultures who have chosen to live in semi-nudity.

Now back to the mechanics of keeping ones gourd erect.

No, it’s not the result of some herbal tribal version of Viagra I’m sure. It’s just simple mechanics as you can observe if you look closely. A tiny string is attached to the furthermost tip of the gourd and this string then encircles the warrior’s upper abdomen for grip. A small hole is drilled in the receiving end of the gourd at the bottom and into that hole another string is threaded. It then wraps around dangling testicles and is cinched tight. Note that as a result of this censure most of these gentlemen speak in rather high-pitched tones. Nevertheless, they are able to tromp through the jungle in an apparent manly state of rapture that validates their own perceived state of eternal virility.

Manly pride in ones assets cannot be denied. Men can be like that.

When my tiny plane descended into the regional capital of Wamena, the land of the grand penis gourd, I peered intensely out the window searching my first exposure of the wild world of Papua. Pigs and chickens scattered from the grass landing strip as the roar of the engines approached and the consequent unfurling of wind turbulence cleared the way. A dozen male Dani villagers were on hand to greet our arrival. The pomp and circumstance was very ceremonial. Every gourd in attendance was in strict salute for the occasion.

The next day I commenced my trek deep into the Baliem Valley.

After a while I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that my porter carried my backpack on one side and proudly sported an erect gourd on the other for counterbalance.

You might have gathered that this particular locale lends itself to a bit of humor from a Western perspective. But rest assured I don’t laugh at the expense of this rich culture. I’m only making fun of my own Western mores that often limit the extent of tolerance allowed. So sad, but this is the reality from which many of us emerge.

But the world is so much bigger than our narrow limits of perspective.

Now let’s discuss lighting strategies and Photoshop augmentation. Rest assured that I will leave post-production gourd size un-manipulated.

The image above is one I shot a few years ago for which I used a simple on-camera fill flash fitted with a Sto-Fen diffusing dome. Most of the inhabitants of this small village compound were performing a ritual fire dance for me and they were prancing around in circles very fast. It was hard for me to keep up with them. Just a few decades ago that fire and this ceremonial dance would also have been performed except back then I would have been the main course for dinner.

On this particular day the key light source was the very intense midday sun casting deep shadows that needed to be filled. I powered down the on-camera flash about two f/stops. Today I’d probably use either an Orbis or Ray ring flash for that fill since they would more easily facilitate both vertical and horizontal images and when I would move in close for a quick vertical face closeup then I wouldn’t be casting sideways shadows from a flash unit that was offset from the lens.

During my treks from village to village in the Baliem Valley I often heard drums in the distance. You can just imagine the sensation. But what I didn’t know is that these sounds alerted the next village of my imminent arrival. So I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the trail was always lined at the last-minute with numerous artifacts that I could potentially purchase.

One lady sold “no ken” bags. These unique items were woven with a net-like structure. They were meant to be draped over the head and slung over the back into which they could place loads of taro root or maybe even babies if they were so encumbered. But the “handle” section of these bags were all matted and crunched up as if they had already been used in the field. Thus they didn’t make for a very attractive gift for my mother back in LA. Then I came across several penis gourds that I could purchase as souvenirs. But upon handling one of them I noticed it was warm to the touch. I quickly discerned that perhaps a tribal warrior might be concealing his modesty behind a nearby bush while he offered his prize piece of clothing for sale along the path.

Penis Gourds & Moscow Muggings

To the locals’ great disappointment, I didn’t buy anything.

I could continue with these anecdotes poking fun at the way we Westerners often view such circumstances but, hey, you are here to learn about lighting strategies. The full extent of my Papuan penis gourd experience appears in my humorous travel narrative written in celebration of cultural differences: “Penis Gourds and Moscow Muggings”

Perhaps, however, it might be appropriate if I conclude with my very last experience in the land of penis gourd envy.

On my way to the airport I happened across a curio shop and decided to stop for last-minute gifts. Inside this fully packed establishment I found dozens of voodoo dolls, piles of snake-skin drums and a big stack of funeral masks. And displayed on one wall were at least 200 penis gourds of every size and curly configuration imaginable.

Temptation seized me and I quickly grabbed several possibilities. Taking a chance that the gourds weren’t the “previously owned” models, I excitedly asked the sales clerk if there was a fitting room.

Glen Allison

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