Korowai Tribe: History and Their Cannibalism Practice

The history of the Korowai tribe is difficult to trace with certainty because they live in high isolation in the interior of the tropical forest of Papua. However, some information about their history has been revealed through anthropological research and observations made in the 20th century.

The History of the Korowai Tribe

Understanding the History of the Korowai Tribe

The Korowai tribe is a nomadic tribe, meaning they live by moving from place to place. However, there are several places that are believed to have been the residence of this tribe. 

One of them is in the northeast of the Asmat tribe, more precisely in the Brazza River headwaters, which is south of the Jayawijaya Mountains.[1]

This tribe was first known to exist 47 years ago after a Dutch missionary team explored the Papua region. To be more precise, it was from 1975 to 1978.

The Korowai Tribe Lives In High Isolation

The life of the Korowai Tribe

Having as many as 2000 to 3000 tribal members, the Korowai tribe lives in high isolation from the outside world. Even today, this tribe still lives in isolation in the forests of Papua without communicating with outsiders.

They inhabit inaccessible regions and have limited contact with modern culture. Their sheltered lives and away from other settlements have kept their traditions and culture intact for years.

Joe Hattab, a filmmaker, in February 2023, made an expedition to the interior of Papua to meet the Korowai tribe. During his journey, Joe Hattab even had to look for footprints of the Korowai tribe to find out where the Korowai tribe lived. [2]

The Korowai Tribe Lives in the Trees

The Korowai Tribe Lives in a Tree House

What is the Korowai tribe known for? The Korowai people are famous for their extraordinary houses.

Unlike most tribes who build houses on the land, the Korowai live in tree houses. This house of the Korowai tribe is known as the high house or rumah tinggi.

There are several interesting reasons why the Korowai tribe built their homes in trees. First, they avoided the attacks of beasts and mosquitoes, as they lived in the middle of a jungle. The second reason is because of their belief in the attack of the ‘Laleo,’ which is a cruel demon that walks like the living dead and roams the night.[1]

The Korowai tribe builds their homes in trees with a height of about 12 to 35 meters from the ground. They use materials they can find in the forest. Tree bark and twigs are the main materials they use for building their homes. 

The Korowai tribe was able to construct houses using scraps from nature.

It didn’t take long for the Korowai tribe to complete a tree house. The Korowai tribe only takes about two to seven days.

What does the Korowai Tribe Believe In?

The Korowai tribe adheres to beliefs that are passed down from the stories of their ancestors. One of the beliefs of the Korowai tribe is that death is related to a demon (Khakua) who takes a human life.

When a member of the tribe dies due to something unnatural, they will believe that it was Khakua’s doing.

You need to know because of their isolated life, the knowledge of the Korowai tribe regarding disease and treatment is very minimal. Therefore, when a tribe member gets sick or dies, they think it is the devil or Khakua.

The Korowai tribe has a tradition of cannibalism to defend themselves from the Khakua. In this practice of cannibalism, all members of the Korowai tribe will kill and eat humans who are considered Khakua. 

The Korowai tribe does not engage in the practice of cannibalism at present. This custom no longer exists.

Why does the Korowai practice cannibalism?

The purpose of the Korowai tribe’s cannibalism practice is to demonstrate to the Khakua that they are considerably more powerful. The goal is that the Khakua are afraid of the Korowai tribe and not bother them anymore. [3]