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Gemtasu – the Story of Eternal Life

Far away somewhere in the remote Highlands of Papua New Guinea lives a tribe which mummifies their ancestors.

When Ulla was 25 years old, she looked for the first time into the eyes of a mummified protective spirit- an encounter with a tradition and its people, which never leaves her. She has learned a new way of dealing with death from Gemtasu, who adopted her as a daughter. Ulla returned to the tribe of the Anga many times, sometimes several times every year- and still visits today. During her first visit, the village people are still in traditional grass skirts, now they wear T-Shirts with McDonalds advertisement, have mobile phones and watch music clips from Justin Bieber. The tribal traditions disappear at a rapid pace and the old tribal leader Gemtasu has only one final wish: He wants to continue the rituals of his ancestors. He wants to be mummified after his death according to his tribal laws.

Gemtasu himself has mummified his own father 60 years ago. Ever since, Gemtasu also wanted to be a mummy according to the tribal traditions. He wanted to have his last resting place above the village to protect his beloved family. According to ancestral beliefs, mummified ancestors are protective spirits. The influence of Christianity and Westernization has stopped mummification, but Gemtasu’s dream is very strong and his children agreed to fulfill his final wish. But nobody except the old tribal chief knew how to mummify anymore, so Gemtasu had to teach his family with the help of a pig how to mummify.

When Gemtasu passed away peacefully, his family mummified him according to the tribal traditions and gives him eternal life. Gemtasu wants that Ulla documents the process, because he wants his story to be shared. He wants to reassure all of us that life is not over after death and that our loved ones are still amongst us to protect us.

Gemtasu’s story was published in National Geographic, GEO, Paris Match and others. We made some documentaries together when he was still alive and there is an exhibit with large format prints. In her Multivision Show “Adventure South Pacific”, Ulla talks about what Gemtasu taught her and takes the guests on a journey through her emotions when she learned about this unique ritual and how she managed to photograph Gemtasu being mummified.

Right now, Ulla is working on a film about Gemtasu’s life and death, filmed aver the duration of 10 year, narrated by Gemtasu himself.

„To photograph Gemtasu’s mummification was the hardest thing I ever did. I love Gemtasu so much and to see him like this broke my heart- at first. Then, I looked closer at his face and his peaceful, happy expression. I really have the feeling that he is still amongst us- I hope that he likes reading his story here!“  Ulla Lohmann