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Friday 15 January 2016 | Published in Regional


French photographer Marc Dozier has captured a stunning series of portraits featuring Papua New Guinean Huli chief Mundiya Kepanga in some of America’s biggest cities.

Dozier first met Kepanga 15 years ago when the photographer was travelling in PNG, and the chief was his guide.

The two stayed in close contact and in 2014, they were together when Kepanga travelled to the US as part of a PNG tourism promotion.

“We were just like tourists. But of course Mundiya is not like normal tourists because he’s different, he comes from a tribal society. So he had a special look on things,” Dozier told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

They made the spontaneous decision to stay on in the US for another three months to document the chief’s travels.

“Mundiya and I looked at each other and we said, ‘wow, we are in New York. It’s crazy, we should stay in America,we should travel around and we should take pictures’,” he said.

The Huli people are an indigenous tribe who live in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea.

They are known for their striking traditional dress, known as bilas, featuring painted faces, huge wigs and woven clothing.

“I would be worried first of the reaction the American people, if they would make fun of him or have silly comments,” Dozier said.

“But it was totally different, when Mundiya would put on his body decoration, his bilas, everyone would come to see him and ask him questions and be very curious. Say, ‘where are you from and can I take pictures of you?’”

The pair travelled across the states, talking to people about Papua New Guinea and seeing America’s biggest attractions.

“America is like nowhere else. It’s not at all like PNG, Australia or France. America is high level and everything is big, super sized,” Kepanga said.

“I went around and I would tell stories about PNG, about my community,” Kepanga said.

In Arizona, Kepanga met members of the Navajo tribe.

“They had a big festival there and they invited Mundiya to join them,” Dozier said.

“He was very happy to wear his feathers and the Navajo people were very proud, so we danced together and it was a really strong relationship, it was really powerful.”

Dozier plans to turn the photographs into a book documenting the three-month journey.

“This book is not about Papua New Guinea itself. It’s more about ourselves,” he said.

“Because it shows that we can see western culture from another point of view. And Mundiya is very clever and very funny. He sees the western world from another perspective and it gives us the opportunity to think about it and change our own point of view.”

Kepanga has travelled the world to share stories from Papua New Guinea, including a speech at the COP21 climate conference in Paris.

“What seems to be very interesting for me, with the work we are doing with Mundiya, is he is giving us the chance to correct the point of view that we have, realise that maybe our point of view is not the only one,” Dozier said. “We can learn many things from other people, especially people from Papua New Guinea.” - ABC