Known with several other names, i.e. Ekagi, Me, or Kapauku, Ekari tribes living in the central highlands of Papua Province, an area located at 135-137 degrees east longitude and 3-4 south latitude. At the present, the area is the district of Kamu, East Coast, West Coast, Tigi, which is part of the administrative area of Paniai Regency, a region near West Papua. Read through the article to find out more about Papuan history and culture linked to these unique tribes.
The Etymology of the Ekari Tribes in West Papua
The name Kapauku was given by the people who live on the southwest coast of Irian Jaya to the people who live in the inner part of the highlands of the Central part of Irian Jaya. Kapauku means “people-eater”, therefore this article does not use that name. The Moni, their neighbors to the northeast, call them the “Ekari”.
Nevertheless, the Ekari people call themselves “Me”, which means “humans”. They have their own language called Ekagi language and that is how they are also known as the Ekagi tribes. The total population of Ekari people in 1987 was approximately 130,000. Then, in 1990 the population of this district rose to 223,337 inhabitants. That is what made them one of the largest ethnic groups in Papua and West Papua.
Ekari Traditional House
The Ekari’s house is in the form of a stilt erected on solid pillars. Their houses are usually strong clapboards, with a roof of pandan leaves or grass. The walls of the house are usually lined with pandan leaves to keep the wind or cold at night. The room of the house is divided into a room for men (emaage) in the front, and a room for women (kugu) in the back. Each room has a kitchen for cooking and heating. There are also a delivery room, a room for intercourse, and a room for women who are menstruating.
Their houses are close to each other, thus forming one village. Members of such village communities are led by the village head (tonowi). Several villages formed a federation as the largest political unit in society.
The Rituals of the Ekari Tribes
There are some spiritual rituals that the Ekari tribes have been doing since early 1900s. These rituals are somehow have enriched the varieties of Papuan culture. One of which is emo meni, a ritual which is done in preparation of planting sugar cane, sweet potatoes and taro. Before doing it, the people of Ekari slaughter a pig or wild boar as a sign of respect for the land (makitiya) where they will plant. The essence of emo meni is offering blood sacrifice for their makitiya.
Another ritual is yuwo, in which a wild boar’s blood is a manifestation of the relationship between humans, nature and ancestors. Just as in other tribes before knowing God, basically they had already believed in the existence of a true creator of the nature. Only, the manifestation is through objects, symbols or creatures that they perceive have the strength and inner bond with the supporting community.
The expedition in both Papua and West Papua regions to research on this was done by the Dutch colonialists back in 1917 and 1941. One of the reasons the expedition was done is also for the missionary duties of some Dutch priests.
To conclude, wild boars take a big part in the rituals done by indigenous groups of both Papua and West Papua. In fact, the wild boars are also used as a dowry to propose to more than one wife. A wife for the Ekagi tribes is not only to fulfill sexual needs, but also to help accumulate wealth, even to collect a dowry. Thus, the husband can marry another younger wife, which will then increase his social prestige.
Moreover, a community group leader or clan leader (tonowi) may have up to 10 wives. That may also explain why HIV/AIDS spreading in the region is at the highest rate in Indonesia. This health fact in West Papua and Papua Province has also become a challenge for Indonesian government to do acceleration on development in many sectors, especially health sector.