The eastern parts of Indonesia never cease to amaze with their unique, distinctive cultures—and West Papua is no exception. More than half of the total population in this territory are traditional Papuan tribes, spreading across the land of Papua from highlands to hinterland. You can get to know some of the most notable ones below; each of them has different livelihoods, ways of life, and cultural characteristics.
Dani or Ndani Tribe inhabits the central highlands of West Papua. With the approximate population of 25,000 people, this tribe is claimed as one of the most populous ethnic tribes in Papua besides Asmat.
Among the special features of Dani Tribe is the local language which is divided into four sub-groupings: Western Dani or Lani language, Upper-Grand Valley, Mid-Grand Valley, and Lower-Grand Valley. The first language group—Lani—becomes the most popular as more than 180,000 speakers across Papua use it.
Root vegetables such as cassava and sweet potatoes play an important role in the culinary culture of Dani people. In addition to being the main staple, those vegetables are often used as a bartering tool or dowry for marriage.
Classified as one of the major Papuan tribes, Yali Tribe is located in the eastern coast of Baliem Valley, the highlands of Papua. In its local language, the word “Yali” means “the lands of the east” which refer to the tribe’s settlement location.
The people of Yali speak the same root language as the Dani Tribe. However, there are some significant differences which make Yali language is categorized under the sub-family of Ngalik-Nduga language. Other than its distinctive local language, the members of Yali Tribe possess some similarities to other major tribes in Papua, including the patriarchal society and traditional clothes like the use of koteka and rattan belt.
Korowai, also known as Kolufo Tribe, lives in the southeastern part of West Papua with about 3,000 members. Geographically, it is closely located to the border of Papua New Guinea. Despite its closeness to another country outside Indonesia, The Daily Telegraph stated a fun fact about Korowai ethnic group. As cited in one of its publications, Korowai people were oblivious of other communities’ existence apart from themselves. This situation occurred until the late of 1970s.
As modernization takes part, more and more Korowai people make contact with other visitors, including locals and foreigners. This tribe is best known for its unique high-stilt architecture and distinctive local food culture.
Closely associated with Korowai Tribe, Kombai people settle in identical treehouses and live the same way of life as the former ethnic group. With an approximate population of 5,600 in 2014, the members of this tribe are super protective of their land and houses. Whenever the others hunt or do some activities outside, one member of the clan will guard their area with bows and arrows.
Similar to Korowai, Kombai Tribe is renowned for its culinary culture. The people of Kombai still follow traditional cooking rules. Once they are done hunting, the meats of hunted animals will be wrapped in large leaves, heated under the fire, and covered by the hot stones. Such cooking technique results in a unique meat flavor.
Amungme Tribe is considered a richly spiritual group. Settled in the highlands of West Papua, the people of this tribe strongly believe that they are the direct descendants of mother nature.
According to their historical legend, there was once a mother who sacrificed her life and turned her souls into a beautiful landscape with the mountains, forests, and rivers just like what you see in the Papua land today. Because of the mother’s sacrifice, Amungme people can live in peace—fed and sheltered by all the resources. Nowadays, the land of Amungme also becomes a part of the international mining giant, Freeport.
Lastly, another popular tribe in Papua’s hinterland is Kamoro Tribe. Living with approximately 18,000 members, this tribe is located in the coastal area of Southwest Mimika. Its location is not that far from other ethnical Papuan tribes on the west coast, such as Asmat and Amungme. Therefore, it is not surprising that those tribes have some similarities in terms of cultural and social norms.
In the mid-1920s, when the colonization governed Indonesia, many traditional elements of Kamoro Tribe were forbidden and discouraged by the Dutch Administration. Luckily, such a condition is no longer happening in the present times. Tribal members of Kamoro are now able to show their traditional strengths, especially in the creation of antique wood carvings—just like Asmat people.
That concludes some notable tribal groups living in the hinterland of West Papua. Their unique characteristics and ways of life represent the cultural diversity in Indonesia. As an important part of the nation, those tribes should also receive similar rights and protection like any other ethnical communities in this country.