Few may believe that in this 21st century where technology improves rapidly, millions of skyscrapers become a common thing to see, not to mention the quick spread of information. However, there are still tribes who live among a virgin nature and isolated from the modern world. West Papua becomes one of the places on earth where indigenous ethnic groups live in harmony with the wild.
Furthermore, West Papua fascinatingly has more than two tribes. Want to transport back in time? Let’s get to know this province’s tribes closer as we can also learn about their ancient cultural practices.
As one of the most popular tribes in Papua, the Asmat inhabit the southwestern coast bordering the Arafura Sea, where swamps, mangroves, and rivers lied. These ethnic societies carry a distinctive physique with black skin and curly hair. The Asmat’s women are mostly 162 cm tall while 172 cm is a common weight for men in the Asmat.
It is probably by their choices that they remain isolated from the outside world. As they live among the wild, crocodiles, sea snakes, crabs, crown pigeons, and Merak are some of the things they commonly see.
Today, the Asmat is quite well known for its extraordinary art and rich culture. Carving is one of the reasons that make Asmat steal the spotlight among other tribes in West Papua.
They are also loved for their traditional house, namely the Jew house. The Jew house stores their weapons from spears, arrows, to noken. Not just anyone can touch the noken. It is believed to have the ability to heal any illness.
The Asmat also have a traditional dance called the Tobe dance. This dance is used to raise the spirit of the soldiers.
Korowai is one of the most isolated tribes in West Papua. Not until the 1970s, after a visit from explorers, the Korowai did not know of the other human existence. While Asmat lives in coast borders, Korowai lives in tree houses in the southeast region of the province.
Korowai build their tree houses, about 19 to 82 feet high. The houses are used to protect them from other humans, flood, and any wild creatures.
Furthermore, in May 2006, a journalist and travel guide named Paul Raffaele led a crew on an expedition to forests in West Papua. Paul and his crew made documenter on Korowai, being curious about the reasons behind their horrid ritual.
In his article upon the expedition, Raffaele wrote, “Korowai are one of the few tribes that are believed to eat human flesh.” Raffaele later explained why Korowai were practicing cannibalism. For this tribe, they had to eat human flesh because they believed those who were killed are khakhua—evil witches who took the male form.
Because of the lack of modern health knowledge, Korowai believe that death is caused by nothing but khakhua who disguised himself in the form of Korowai’s friend or relative. Raffaele added, “Many khakhua are killed and eaten every year.”
In the Baliem Valley, you will find the other locals called the Dani in West Papua. Explorers, from Indonesia and overseas, have conducted researches about this tribe. That is why Dani tribe is quite popular in a lot of countries.
The Dani are popular for their fond of war and a strong sense of pride. Looking fierce outside, the Dani are very friendly, soft, and loyal. They will hold your hand a bit longer than a common handshake as they give you an initial hand-grasp greeting.
An expert in zoology and philanthropy from the United States, Richard Archbold, was the first expedition that came into direct contact with Dani. Farming becomes the main activity for them. They are fond of rising pigs and consider this livestock are very valuable.
The Dani tribe has not experienced much modernization. Up until now, there are many ancient traditions that they still preserve, such as clothing, traditional houses, lifestyle, and even native languages. For the clothing, Dani women wear grass skirts. As for the man, they wear Koteka made of dried gourds to keep their private parts sealed.
Their traditional houses are called Honai. The house has thatched roofs and wooden walls, making it looks like a mushroom. Even though the Dani has their native languages, they are still able to speak Indonesian.
Having West Papua tribes in Indonesia is a priceless treasure for our tourism. Visiting and getting to know these fascinating remote tribes will offer unforgettable experiences for domestic and foreign tourists.
As we own those magnificent cultures, we must conserve, protect, and show the world how beautiful our country is.