Matthew and Michelle
A COUPLE last night spoke of their fears of being eaten by spear-waving tribesmen after they were captured while trekking in a jungle known for cannibalism. British, Matthew Iovane and American girlfriend Michelle Clemens, both 31, had been on the dream trip to Papua New Guinea when they were pounced on by painted men on Monday.
Two natives with machetes beat and stripped the terrified pair before blindfolding them and leading them into the jungle. The couple said the tribesmen, one of whom wore a mask made from feathers and vines, were so primitive that they communicated in grunts.
Michelle sustained cuts while struggling with cannibal
But they said they knew enough English to issue the chilling warning: “We will kill you.” Brand consultant Matthew, was brutally beaten when the pair tried to escape. Michelle had three fingers sliced to the bone by a machete as she fought her captors. Matthew said: “We’d joked about the famous cannibals of Papua New Guinea’s jungle but it was no laughing matter when these men came out of the bush.
“They looked very scary in native costumes and what looked like warpaint and came closer before circling around us. They tore up my T-shirt to blindfold me and the awful thought crossed my mind that we could be on the menu. “They were totally feral and we were at their mercy. I thought we’d vanish into the jungle and never be seen again.”
Cases of cannibalism on the Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea have been reported as recently as 2012. Some natives are also thought to follow a tradition of feasting on relatives’ brains at funerals.
Matthew, who DJs in his spare time, added: “The first five days were among the most amazing of our lives. We lived like Tarzan and Jane on nuts packed into our rucksacks and bananas, papaya, wild spinach and exotic ‘tree tomatoes’ found only in this jungle.
“Villagers we met along the way were wonderfully welcoming and rushed out to greet us and we slept under the stars soaking up the most astonishing scenery of mountains and jungle creeks. “It was truly a dream trip made even better by the way Michelle and I loved each other’s company. As we set out in the morning of the final day I felt elated.”
The couple hired a native to carry a heavy bag early in the trip, but he had taken off before the final day. They are convinced he betrayed them. Matthew said: “We were about an hour into the walk when a tribesman appeared ahead of us and another behind us. “Our first reaction was to try to calm them and we even thought it must be some kind of a prank, but we realised very quickly that we were in a very serious situation.
“They both had machetes with huge blades and one had a long wooden spear with a crude arrowhead and they were grunting. “I thought we were being robbed so we put down our bags and tried to calm them, saying they could take everything when they started pushing and threatening us.
“They got more angry and didn’t seem to understand the value of our belongings and hiking kit. It meant nothing to them. “Then one turned on me, swinging his machete and began tearing at my clothes until I was stripped virtually naked. They looked fearsome and I was too terrified to fight back.”
The couple did try to flee, but fell after becoming tangled in vines and were quickly recaptured. While being held in blindfolds in a snake-infested scrub, they were then subjected to a torture game. Matthew said: “The one in a mask punched me, tied my hands in vines and then began playing a cruel cat and mouse game with me.
Matthew with scratch marks
“He was grunting and shouting ‘kill you’ while sliding his machete blade across my throat, then swung it towards my face. Each time he’d lift it at the last moment and chop it into the tree I was leaning against.
“I could hear Michelle was putting up a fight, but when they brought us back together I could tell she was hurt and heard her crying in pain. She said to me, ‘We have to get away, I have to get to hospital’.” Michelle said the tribesmen later then went through their belongings and despite their seemingly primitive nature, they recognised her iPhone.
She said: “They took off my blindfold and shook my phone while grunting as if to say, ‘Make it work’. “I swear I heard one of them say what sounded the word ‘password’, which might have been funny if I hadn’t thought I was about to die.” The couple finally fled their captors as they were being marched along a ridge back towards the trail.
Matthew said: “They took our belongings, I was naked in the most remote jungle on Earth with no shoes and Michelle was bleeding buckets beside me in her underwear. “But nothing mattered except getting away, so we ran.” However, their escape was not straightforward as they encountered a pack of wild dogs and brushed against poison ivy.
Michelle was terrified from the cannibal kidnap ordeal
But they eventually spotted a man building a shack near the end of the trail and he raised the alarm. Villagers ran to their aid with blankets as a rescue helicopter was scrambled from the capital Port Moresby, where they are now recovering.
Michelle added: “The experience gave us the shock of our lives. My wounds are so deep that I’m not sure I will regain the feeling in my fingers. “But this won’t stop us trekking, although our next adventure will be a bit less challenging.”
THE jungles of Papua New Guinea remain popular with tourists despite a shocking history of cannibalism and violence. Cannibalism was made illegal more than 50 years ago, but a TV crew claimed they saw evidence of it in 2006. And 29 members of an alleged cannibal cult, including a boy of 13, were arrested in 2012.