There are several oral history versions regarding the creation of the Asaro Mudmen, with Danish anthropologist Todd Otto from Aarhus University noting, “there are as many versions of [the creation legend] as there are sources.”
In one recitation, they were defeated by an enemy tribe and forced to flee into the Asaro River where they met a man who gave them eyes to kill. They waited until dusk before attempting to escape the one whom was given the eyes was captured. The enemy saw him rise from the muddy banks covered in mud and thought he was spirit. Most tribes in Papua New Guinea are very afraid of spirits, so the enemy fled in fear, and the Asaro escaped. They then went into the village to see what had happened, not knowing the enemy tribesmen were still there. The enemy were so terrified they ran back to their village and held a special ceremony to ward off the spirits. The mudmen could not cover their faces because legends say that the people of Papua New Guinea thought that the mud from the Asaro river was poisonous. So instead of covering their faces with this alleged poison, they made masks from pebbles that they heated and water from the waterfall.
Another version claims that the tradition began with a wedding guest who was unable to find a traditional wedding costume.
According to research in September 1996 by Otto, the tradition is undeniably an Asaro invention. However, its current elaborate form, originating from a 1957 cultural fair, is more likely an intercultural phenomenon heavily influenced by outside elements, such as tour operators, writers, and government administrators.