The Asmat tribe is one of the hundreds of tribes in Papua. This ethnic group is one of the most well-known Papuan tribes in the archipelago. The population of the Asmat community may be the largest compared to other ethnic groups in Papua.
Because the numbers are large, the Asmat do not live in one place. Instead, they are spread across various regions in Papua, including the coastal areas and the Papuan jungle’s interior.
The Tribal Landscape in Papua
The Asmat’s way of life is centered around their carving, weaving, singing, and dance traditions. Death is the result for individuals who lack these abilities.
The Asmat hold a carver ancestor named Fumiripitsy as the source of their knowledge and skill in carving. The magnificent Tifa Fumiripitsy made is known as Eme, and the sculptures are known as Mbis.
Typical Wood Carvings of the Asmat Tribe
The distinctive patterns or motifs used by the Asmat Tribe in their wood carvings are very diverse. However, the most frequently used by sculptors is the theme of the ancestors, Mbis. It shows that the Asmat are so attached to and respect their ancestors. Even manifested in art in the form of handicrafts.
Another motif that is also often used is a boat called Wuramon. The Asmat believe that the ship in their wood carving symbolizes a spirit boat that will bring their ancestors to the realm of death.
Again, this theme is still related to the ancestors. It is not surprising, considering that the art of wood carving is the embodiment of the Asmat people to commemorate the spirits of their ancestors whom they love and respect.
Art and Culture of the Asmat Tribe
When the Lorentz expedition traveled through the rivers near Asmat in 1907 to reach the snow-capped peaks of Jayawijaya, the Asmat first became aware of iron. They reached out with the Asmat Tribe and negotiated trades for exclusive Asmat sculptural goods in exchange for iron utensils, iron axes, and food cans.
The tribe appears to be dissatisfied with iron artifacts, which are new to them. Additionally, they believe that using these iron tools makes carving wood less difficult than using chisels made of cassowary bone.
An attack on a village near the Mimika border by a group of Asmat people equipped with bows, arrows, and spears was once recounted in a 1930 Dutch newspaper article on this penchant for iron things.
They demolished the school seats at the church but left the nails in place. It is only possible to use these nails as chisels, according to the Asmat people, who are experts in their use.
This tribe’s art is renowned for having a specific carving heritage and is well-known elsewhere. During his lifetime, even the well-known European artist Pablo Picasso admired this carving.
Distribution of the Asmat Tribe
The tribe, as was already said, is dispersed from the coastal region to the forest’s interior. Asmat community groups live in coastal areas around the coast of the Arafuru Sea. The life of the coastal Asmat is reasonably easy because it is close to water sources and food, both fish and game animals.
Meanwhile, the Asmat tribe who live in the interior are in the mountainous area of Jayawijaya. This mountainous terrain is quite heavy because it is a wilderness. The natural resources around them are more limited compared to the Asmat, who live in coastal areas.
For example, we usually find street stones that are considered normal. These stones may be used as dowry by the Asmat clan and become essential possessions for them. Since there are bogs where they reside, it is difficult for them to find stones.
For them, the stone is beneficial for everyday life. With these stones, the Asmat people can make them into hammers, axes, and other tools for survival.