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August 2019

Plast Reconstr Surg. 1995 Jan; 95(1): 181-91.

Surgical alteration of appearance among primitive societies in New Guinea.

Handel N.

On the remote island of New Guinea, hundreds of primitive cultures flourish as they have for centuries, virtually unaffected by outside influences. Among these tribes, practices involving intentional surgical alteration of appearance are common. While these practices do not exactly constitute cosmetic surgery as we define it, they have some interesting parallels with modern plastic surgery. These customs have been observed by anthropologists for decades, but relatively little has been written about them, and nothing has been recorded from the perspective of the plastic surgeon. This paper reviews descriptions made by early anthropologists in New Guinea, records personal observations which I made during two recent trips to the area, and illustrates these customs with photographs of contemporary tribespeople. An examination of these unusual practices provides insight into the underlying impulses that motivate people from radically different cultures to intentionally alter their appearance.


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