Papua is home to more than 200 tribes. Each of them has a particular culture and tradition from generation to generation. The same thing applies to the Korowai tribe. You can witness some unusual Papua traditions by seeing the lives of the Korowai people.
The Korowai tribe has a long history. However, they became known to the outside world around 44 years ago. Johannes Veldhuizen, a Reformed Church missionary from Dutch, encountered the tribe in 1978.
The Korowai people live in the remote area of Papua (150 kilometers from the Arafura Sea) with zero records of contact with another society. With a population of around 3000 people, the tribe’s survival depends on hunting animals from the forest.
Unusual Papua Traditions in the Korowai Tribe
Since the discovery of the Korowai tribe, many have gone to their living place to learn about the people’s traditions. What are the values, beliefs, and unusual practices of the tribe?
Rumah Tinggi (High Houses)
The Korowai people take residence in high treehouses. The houses are usually built from 8 to 20 meters above ground on large, sturdy trees such as Wanbom or Banyan. Some take place on trees from 45 to 70 meters off the ground.
The house has a simple rectangular shape and structure. The people use Sago tree bark for the walls, branches for the floor, and dry leaves for the roof. In addition, a strong rattan strand is attached to the string and binds the house. There will be a ladder leading up to the entrance of the house.
There is a story as to why the Korowai people build treehouses. The people believe in the existence of evil spirits living on the ground. To protect themselves, they started to develop and dwell in treehouses.
This treehouse has two other advantages for the tribe. Since the house is so high above the ground, it can protect the tribe members from wild animals and insects in the forest. Also, it can prevent kidnapping or killing if there is an enemy of the tribe nearby.
Values and Beliefs
The second of the unusual Papua traditions in the Korowai tribe is their values and beliefs. The older generation of the Korowai tribe will teach and pass the knowledge to the younger generation after they reach maturity.
Young male members should have their first hunt, while females get their first period. The teaching covers the history of the tribe, ancestors, sexuality, and supernatural things. The people uphold human beings’ equality. There is no social class present in the tribe.
The Korowai people acknowledge the existence of persons with magical power. Named the Khakhua, this individual has the ability to reverse bad luck and identify black magic. Korowai tribe members believe in reincarnation. They see death as a journey for the person. The dead can walk through a rite of passage and wait for reincarnation.
Ritual and Feast
People of the Korowai tribe have a specific ritual at night before the members live in a new treehouse. They should perform a ritual to drive away evil spirits. Known as Laleo, the evil spirit is quite similar to a walking-dead demon. This can refer to foreign visitors or the members of the tribe, which the people believe is an incarnation of the devil.
Korowai people hold a feast for birth or marriage called the sago party. Sometimes, they also celebrate a good harvest of sago. In this party, the tribe members will butcher pigs because the animals have social values for the tribe. As a symbol, butchering pigs means a special event is worth celebrating.
More Korowai Traditions?
Unusual Papua traditions can be spotted in the life of the Korowai tribe. Living in a lush jungle allows them to be adaptable and cherish nature. There might be more traditions of the Korowai people if you look for other sources of information.