The Amungme are a Melanesian group of about 13,000 people living in the highlands of Indonesia Province, Papua. They practice shifting agriculture, supplementing their livelihood by hunting and gathering. The Amungme are very tied to their ancestral Land and consider the surrounding mountains to be sacred.
The Asmat tribe resides in the tidal swamplands of West Papua’s south coast. They are renowned amongst tribal art experts world wide as woodcarvers of the highest order. They were previously notorious as head-hunters and cannibals.
The Asmat Wowipit (wood carver) has a truly spiritual approach to carving and each piece made is imbued with the spirit energy of their ancestors. An Asmat carving can therefore be regarded as a bridge between the material and spirit worlds. The Asmat believe that their creator – FUMERAPITJS – carved their ancestors from trees and gave them the blessing of life, so from the very beginning the relationship of carver to wood is totally sacred.
Asmat territory is remote, not always easily accessible. A maze of rivers runs through the lowland swamp forests and the only way to travel is by motorised dug-out between the small villages that fringe the rivers. Accommodation is provided in traditional wooden longhouses.
Aside from local disputes the Asmat are now by and large a peaceful artistic people. They subsist on a diet of sago palm supplemented by fish, prawns and some fowl. They have a particularly strong relationship and regard for the human skull, hence the history of head-hunting, and particularly the skull of a revered ancestor. Skulls are used as pillows or hung as a pendant forming a potent contact point with the spirit world.
If you are of mystical, inquisitive nature, a visit to the Asmat and an experience of their lifestyle and beliefs will be very rewarding indeed. Signs and links to the spirit-world are everywhere. It should be stressed that the Asmat region is sometimes difficult and uncomfortable. There is a lot of mud and insects and any visitor should be prepared for that reality. However, if you have a real interest in probing and understanding Asmat culture then this would be the trip of a lifetime.
tribe consists of a group of 1500 people living in the north-central part of the Indonesian province of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). The Bauzi area consists of much of the lower Mamberamo area in northern Papua. While the Bauzi people were historically a fierce animistic people group, they are now 65% Christian. For the most part, tribal warfare is no longer a large part of Bauzi culture and all Bauzi people speak the same language. In recent years, linguists have been studying the language and translating various literature, including the Bible, into the Bauzi language.
The Dani people, also spelled ‘Ndani’, and sometimes conflated with the Lani group to the west, are a people from the central highlands of Papua. Linguists identify at least four sub-groupings of Dani: The Lower-Grand Valley Dani (20,000 speakers), Mid-Grand Valley Dani (50,000 speakers), Upper-Grand Valley Dani (20,000 speakers), and the Western Dani (180,000 speakers). They are one of the most populous tribes in the highlands, and are found spread out through the highlands. The Dani are one of the most well known ethnic groups in Papua, due to the relatively numerous tourists who visit the Baliem Valley area where they predominate.The pig features very strongly in their local culture, being the most important tool used in bartering, especially in dowries. Likewise pig feasts are extremely important to celebrate events communally, the success of a feast, and that of a village chief or organizer, is often gauged by the number of pigs slaughtered. The Dani have an unusual method of cooking pig, and other staple crops such as sweet potato, banana, and cassava. They heat some stones in a fire till they are extremely hot, they then wrap cuts of meat and pieces of sweet potato or banana inside banana leaves. The food package is then lowered into a pit which has been lined with some of the hot stones described above, the remaining hot stones are then placed on top, and the pit is covered in grass and a cover to keep steam in. After a couple of hours of broiling, the pile is opened and food is removed from the pile and eaten.
The Dani language does not differentiate between any colors, except for the achromatic black and white. This trait makes it an interesting field of research for language psychologists, e.g. Eleanor Rosch, eager to know whether there is a link between way of thought and language.
Changes in the Dani way of life over the past century are tied to the encroachment of modernity and globalization, despite the tourists’ brochures describing trekking in the highlands with people from the ’stone age’. Observers have noted that pro-independence and anti-Indonesian sentiment tends to run higher in highland areas than for other areas of Papua. There are cases of abuses where Dani and other Papuans have been shot and/or imprisoned trying to raise the flag of West Papua, the Morning Star.
Korowai and Kombai
The discovery of the Korowai tribe by the outside was even more recent than that of the Baliem Valley peoples, occurring as recently as 25 years ago. The Korowai populate the lowland rainforests of south-central Papua, a region that sits between 100 and 200 metres above sea-level.
Due to this very recent exposure to outside influences, the Korowai tribes are not as open and welcoming to tourists as the Yali, Dani and Lani for example. They remain on guard and suspicious of ways different to their own. This does of course make for an exciting and truly adventurous visit flying in by chartered Cessna from Jayapura to Yaniruma and trekking into Korowai country by foot and canoe.
The Korowai live in tree houses usually built between six and 25 metres above ground but they can be as high as 50 metres in times of tribal conflict. Stone and bone tools are the standard here – surely one of the last remaining cultures in the world which use these instruments as a matter of course. Any serious primitive art collector heavily prizes a Korowai stone-axe. These people also make heavy use of Flying Fox, Dog and Pig bones for body decoration.
They subsist by hunting and gathering in a similar fashion to The Asmat Tribe. Here are a people usually completely naked (maybe a leaf), fully immersed in nature and with no apparent interest in anything other than what they already are.