In an island as large as West Papua, it’s no wonder if there’s a diverse variety of communities with fascinating stories. According to Badan Pusat Statistik (Central Statistics Agency), Indonesia has approximately 1,340 ethnic groups, and 255 of them are native to Papua island alone. Considering that an ethnic group is larger than a tribe, can you imagine how many West Papua tribes are there? Although many of those tribes gave birth to different local languages, they all still uphold their ancestors’ values and norms. Here are five tribes that are most widely known among Indonesian people.
Asmat Tribe (Suku Asmat)
As the most prominent tribe in Papua island, it comes as no surprise that the Asmat tribe is the most heard of in other Indonesian regions. The Asmat tribe produces highly distinctive wood carvings due to its highly unique motif, making its popularity skyrocketed today. Moreover, Asmat tribe people firmly believe that their carvings are considered a sacred ritual to communicate with their ancestors.
Also, this tribe is famous for the Tobe dance. In the past, the dance was performed when there was a war order from the chief of the tribe. Today, the Tobe dance is used to greet guests as a warm welcome and tribute. As a war dance, Tobe is performed along with incendiary songs and music played by tifa (Papuan traditional hourglass drum). The dancers wear beads on their chest and skirts made from akar bahar (a kind of reefs), with leaves tucked into their outfits to symbolize their closeness to nature.
Dani Tribe (Suku Dani)
Dani tribe is another famous tribe from West Papua, and they inhabit the mountains of Jayawijaya Regency and areas in the Baliem Valley. This tribe is also unique as they mostly still live inside traditional Honai houses. This house has a round shape consisting of two floors made of wood with thatched roofs or conical weeds.
The Dani tribe is also famous for its extreme tradition called Iki Palek, or cutting fingers as an expression of loss and a sign of affection and loyalty towards someone deceased that they hold dear to heart. The finger that was already cut off also shows how many of their family had died. Even though the majority that seems to do this tradition is women, men also do it as a form of grief for their loss.
Muyu Tribe (Suku Muyu)
The Muyu tribe is one of the West Papua tribes that inhabit the Muyudi River area, northeast of Merauke. The language used there is the Muyu language.
Muyu tribe people call themselves ‘kati,’ which means ‘real people.’ They’re also super unique since they still implement the system of bartering for goods rather than paying stuff with money like we do today. The most common exchanging tools they use are ot (shells) and mindit (dog teeth).
The Muyu people are well known to be hardworking and have a strong determination. Moreover, they’re also considered the most brilliant inland tribe since they occupied the most important bureaucratic structure in Boven Digoel.
Korawai Tribe (Suku Korawai)
The Korowai tribe can be found in the Kaibar area, Mappi Regency, Papua. The Korowai tribe is known for living in treehouses, which can be as high as 15 to 50 meters! The purpose of building their houses on the trees is to avoid wild animals and interference from evil spirits. This tribe is also wary of attacks by “laleo” or cruel demons.
Their population is currently estimated at 3,000 people. Interestingly, until 1970 the Korowai people did not know the existence of other humans besides their group. Back then, these tribal people consider them to be the only humans who live on this earth.
Amungme Tribe (Suku Amungme)
Another one of the most widely known West Papua tribes is the Amungme tribe, famous for having strong ties to mountains. For them, the mountains and their surroundings are sacred places that must be guarded and protected at all costs. The mountain they highly worship and respect is the mountain used for gold mining by PT Freeport. They call it NemangKawi.
The word ‘nemang’ in West Papua has the meaning of ‘arrow,’ while ‘kawi’ means ‘sacred.’ NemangKawi is regarded as a symbol for peace and freedom from war.
We hope you find our information on some of the most widely known West Papua tribes above fascinating! There are still many other tribes that are still rarely known but still worth exploring and learning about. Are you perhaps considering going directly to West Papua and finding it out yourself? We can’t wait to hear your story, then!