Korowai & Kombai – Papua Tree people – Asmat – Yali Tribe
Korowai & Kombai – Papua Tree people
The tree people, Korowai and Kombai, live in the basin of the Brazza River in the vast lowland jungles. This is situated in the foothills of the Jayawijaya mountain range, which is in the southwest part of the New Guinea Island in the Indonesian province Papua (Irian Jaya). Mosquitoes and age-old rivalry forced these tribes to build houses in the tops of trees. Some of them are placed as high as 40 m.
Kombai – tree peoplePhoto©Josef Bojanovsky (Czech) &Kombai – tree peoplePhoto©Ivo Franz Pindur (Germany)
Kombai – tree peoplePhoto©JahodaPetr.com (Czech Papua Guide)
Korowai – tree peoplePhoto©Mrs.Bibiana Stefania Fair (Canada)
Kombai collecting sago (food) – just after cutting sago palm with a stone axePhoto©Luděk Uzel (Czech)
Kombai – We help them with sago processingPhoto©JahodaPetr.com (Czech Papua Guide)
Korowai & Kombai – friendly cannibals?
Korowai and Kombai used to be cannibalistic tribes. We are convinced that they still practice ritually cannibalism, but considerably less frequently. Korowai and Kombi are two of the wildest tribes on Papua. Despite that, as we gradually found out during our expeditions to this area, one can get along with them reasonably well. We have been visiting the area of these tribes for more than 10 years now. We even have some of “our friends” among the tribesmen.
On the above-side photo: Jaromir Giecek, professional photograpfer and cameraman of Czech TV playing music for Kombai childern and women. Jaromir Giecek shot a six part series about Papua tribe life. (Kombai – tree people tribe)
On the below-site photo: Tree house of Korowai tribe, in Indonesian language called „rumah thingi“.
Korowai & Kombai – men dressed in bones– West
Korowai are one of the few Papuan tribes who do not wear kotekas. The men of this tribe have their penises “pushed” into the scrotum, and on the skin which sticks out, they have tightly tied a green leaf. Korowai Batu use nutshells instead of leaves, and the women wear short skirts made of sago palm phloem, which is also their main food.
Korowai – tree housePhoto©JahodaPetr.com
Kombais are the most beautiful tribe people of the west Papua of which we know. The men wear a beak from big bird instead of a koteka on their penises. Their menacing look is intensified by long necklaces made of dog teeth, and they rarely lay their bows and arrows aside. The heads of the arrows are often made of bones. “We use these bone-headed arrows only for people” Kombais would say to us. The women walk half naked, only in short skirts made of sago. There, it seems time stopped only a short while after the dinosaurs died out. I don’t know of a more beautiful tribe …
Kombai climbing up to a tree house*Photo©Luděk Uzel (Czech)*
Korowai & Kombai – Main tribal chief – West Papua
New Guinea, more specifically west Papua, has many surprises in store. The Kombai tribe is, gently put, a problematic tribe. Despite that, we have experienced from them the greatest expressions of friendship whatsoever. Several times, we met the main tribal chief of all Kombais. This rarely happens during expeditions.
First, he “greeted us” by pointing his bow at us, it took about an hour-long negotiation till we were allowed to enter the village. Today we even have his assurance of safety on the whole Kombai territory. That’s something unexpected from the chief of such a troublemaking tribe.
The Kombai tribal chief is a muscular man with a harsh face. Two strips of dog teeth with about 200 total teeth run across his chest. His nose is decorated by horns of a big beetle, and by boar tusks, which are grinded into a thin plate. The top of his head is ornamented with an intricate decoration made of bamboo fibers finely coiled around his hair. His penis is covered by a koteka made of a beak of five or seven years old zoboroh, which is fixed in place by a strip knitted from ropes that were in turn woven from orchid fibers. The thong around his waist has been decorated with small teeth – dog grinding teeth.
Kombai – tree peoplePhoto©JahodaPetr.com
Our first meeting was conducted with an air of distrust and thus warlike mood. After three or four visits we eventually became friends. Last year the tribal chief gave us his personal assurance of safety on the territory of the Kombai tribe, this is hard to believe considering they are one of the Papua’s wildest tribes. That time we were in his village for the seventh time. Obtaining Kombai friendship is not an easy task.
Korowai & Kombai – West Papua lowland Trekking
Trekking through the forest is difficult and „wet“ – Miss Eva filming her friend with tree people – Kombai teritory – PapuaPhoto©JahodaPetr.com
Trekking on the territory of Kombai and Korowai tree people is a very different kind of trekking than you might be used to, to say the least. This area of lowland rain forest is in a close proximity of mountains, and not far from the sea. This drives the amount of yearly precipitation to the max. In 2003 and 2005, we experienced there several “dry” expeditions, but during other years it rained more than enough.
For example, in 2005 it was extremely wet. In that year we undertook three expeditions which passed over the Kombai territory and it was raining during all three. Most importantly the level of water in the rivers increased. We ended up wading through long parts of the flooded jungle, sometimes more than even knee-deep in the water. Many of the bridges were underwater, and time from time someone fell in. At that moment our waterproof GEMMA backpacks proved very helpful. These backpacks are designed as racks for waterman sacks.
After this “wet” part, comes trekking in a “dry” forest. We take narrow footpaths which are often disrupted by sago peat bogs. On this type of terrain it is not uncommon that we sink into the mud ankle-deep or sometimes even up to our calves. Clearings offer another challenge – we have to balance on the logs of cut-down trees.
Chief of the Kombai tribe – most primitive tree people on Papua – Irian Jaya. A tribeman repairing a stone axe)Photo©JahodaPetr.com (Papua guide)
Generally it can be said that trekking in the Korowai and Kombai territory is some of the more difficult kind, but it can be coped with by anyone, who is used to physical activity. We chose such a pace that everyone can keep up, and as a rule we don’t walk for more than 4–6 hours. Therefore, it is possible to reach the target destination safely, and cautiously, even while covering such strenuous terrain. This trekking should not be underestimated, but you needn’t be too afraid of it. After all, we experienced the two “dry” years…
Mrs. Jitka in the Tree people territory – Kombai tribe – most primitive tree people on Papua – Irian JayaPhoto©Roman Heřman
Papua Kombai tribe – tree housePhoto©JahodaPetr.com
Papua Kombai tribe – children of cannibals?Photo©Luděk Uzel
Papua Kombai tribe – new stone axePhoto©JahodaPetr.com
Papua Korowai Batu – tree peoplePhoto©Luděk Uzel
Papua Kombai tribePhoto©Luděk Uzel
Papua Korowai – tree people tribePhoto©JahodaPetr.com (Papua guide)
Kombai man – warriorPhoto©JahodaPetr.com (Papua guide)
Papua Kombai – Papua tree people, Kombai still practice ritual cannibalismPhoto©JahodaPetr.com (Papua guide)
Korowai tribe – Papua tree people, still in a war with the neighbouring tree people tribe KombaiPhoto©JahodaPetr.com (Papua guide)
THE KOROWAI DALAM 2009 – The most feared tribe of the Tree people
We have tried to reach the territory of this tribe already in 2004. Unfortunately at that time we didn’t succeed. We were not ready to carry all our equipment by ourselves and no native was willing to go with us to the area where the tribe Korowai Dalam lives. „They would kill us and eat us!“ it was told to us by Korowai Batu in all the villages where we tried to persuade people to guide us on our trip to this fabulous tribe. The Kombai and Korowai, other Tree people tribes living in the area, had no idea that the Korowai Dalam existed.
In November 2009 we made another expedition to the tribe Korowai Dalam though. Only the best could join the team.The most experienced people who where willing to bear the risk of possible failure and eventual injury. None of us knew for sure that the Korowai Dalam existed and we did not know whether they would react aggressively.
The Expedition Korowai Dalam 2009 exceeded all our expectations as well as our most secret and boldest dreams. Yes, there were some villages where the people did not let us go in and we had to walk around them at a safe distance. But the places where we were able to come along with the inhabitants were fascinating. I have visited Papua 12 years already, but I have never experienced such a great expedition as before.
Lots of tree houses are situated very high in the tree tops and decorated by the bones of hunted animals – like haunted castles. And the people? In the villages where the people let us go in we were able to make some friends. We could hunt with them, cook with them and join them at their meal. We could sleep in their houses and watch them make their stone axes and arrows from the cassowary bones, … I can say they accepted us as friends and invited us to come again.
Therefore we’re going to organize more expeditions to the Korowai Dalam. These expeditions will be open to anyone who has got an experience with a trek in the jungle carrying a load, as it is possible that we have to carry all our equipment by ourselves again… Anyone who is interested can join us.
Photogalery Korowai Dalam and film of Korowai Dalam
Asmat – the most dreaded cannibals
Asmat tribe – New guinea – West Papua (Irian Jaya)
Asmat. A word that long scared people. Asmat is a word that became a synonym for cannibals. Asmat is a tribe whose members in the time of war ate brains of their enemies mixed with sago worms from their halved skulls. A son of New York governor disappeared in the territory of the Asmat tribe. Asmat used to use human skulls instead of a pillow. Asmat, is a word which evokes more than respect…
We can finish the expedition to Korowai and Kombai tree people by visiting the Asmat tribe.
Asmat – The head-hunters – West Papua
Asmat is the most famous cannibalistic tribe on Papua. They would put human skulls under their heads instead of a pillow. They would eat brains of their animals mixed with sago worms straight from their halved skulls. They live on small islands in mangrove vegetation nearby the sea, on the south side of the western part of the New Guinea Island. The Asmat build long houses, where they live together. Every family has its own reserved fireplace. In the long house about six or even ten of the group members live.
Besides the fact that the Asmat were head-hunters, they also “hunted for names”. Every person was named after someone deceased, or after a killed enemy. A child was sometimes given a name only ten years after it was born, and after its village set out to kill a man from an enemy village nearby. They had to learn the name of the man they killed, and then bring his skull to their village. Only in this way could a person get a name.
Asmat did not only hunt for skulls, they also worshipped them. The skulls of the deceased were stripped of the brain and the eyes and nasal parts were closed up in order to prevent evil spirits to enter or exit the body. Skulls that were modified and decorated in this way, were displayed by the Asmat in a honorable place in their long homes. Fortunately, the evil reputation of Asmat has become history. The missionaries have done a lot of work in changing this. Thanks to it, we can now go to the Asmats for a “visit”.
Papua – Asmat – the disappearance of the Rokefeller expedition
Asmat villages lie in a labyrinth of rivers, small islands, and blind stream branches made up of mangrove vegetation, that extends deep into the inland of west Papua. In river deltas, changes in the water level can be related to high and low tides. It is said that these changes occur up to 100 km far from the sea.
The Asmat culture attracts scientists, and their skillfulness tempted collectors. In the beginning of the 70’s, leading an expedition while he was working for the New York Museum, Michael Rokefeller probably died in the Asmat territory.
In 1961 the twenty-three year old American son of the New York State governor disappeared in the woods in the southern region of the island, and he was never found. The rescue group sent to the Asmat territory failed to find any evidence of him. Today, we can only guess whether the expedition was assaulted, killed and eaten, or any other number of things. In the territory, which is home to the Asmat tribe, there lives a group of large sea crocodiles. It is possible that the expedition crew got lost in the mangroves or their boat keeled over, and that they were eaten by crocodiles. But it also can’t be ruled out that they didn’t become victims of the cannibalistic Asmat tribe…
Asmat – excellent woodcarvers- west Papua
The members of the Asmat tribe believe that they arose out of wood. Therefore, wood is sacred for them. Even in ancient times they carved wonderful things from wood. Asmat are considered to be the best woodcarvers of the stone-age.
Their small drums, statues, engraved boats are admirable. Many originals of the woodcraft from the Asmat tribe are now shipped from Papua to Europe or America, and decorate German or American museums, galleries, or households. Asmat woodcraft became a wonderful exported good for worldwide exchange, public sales, and auctions.
Contemporary and civilized Asmat use metal tools. They are visited by salesmen, most of whom are German, who ask them to make large numbers of statues so that they can trade them in Europe or America. Thanks to that, the Asmat territory can now be considered safe, and tourists no longer have to be afraid of cannibalism.
Yali Tribe – Papua pygmey cannibals
Yali tribe is most likely the smallest of Papuan nations. I wrote “likely” because I am convinced that not all the nations living in New Guinea (including Irian Jaya), have yet been discovered.
Yalis were discovered no sooner than in 1976. They make their homes in the highlands; this is what inhabited areas of mountains are called in Papua. Inland, and especially areas near the mountains, are the least accessible territories which were thus discovered most recently.
Papua – Yali tribe – story of cannibalism
Papuan Yali tribe belonged to the most dreaded cannibals of the western part of the New Guinea Island (Irian Jaya). They are ranked among the pygmy group of nations (dwarf nations), and more precisely among pygmy negrits.
Despite the fact that mature men are scarcely taller than 150 cm, and that they have never been head-hunters, they are respected by their enemies. The fear reached such a degree that the Yalis couldn’t visit each other. As a result, in every valley the language developed in a different way. The difference was so striking that the Yali tribe members themselves claim that the valleys don’t understand each other.
The reason why, the group of cannibals called Papuan Yalis were particularly dreaded, was because they totally destroyed their enemies. They did not only eat the body, but they allegedly grinded the bones to dust, which was then thrown into the valley. They did all this to prevent the victim from ever returning. People from the neighboring villages were not only killed for revenge, sometimes just for meat…
Papua Yali – trekking in Highland
Papuan mountain Yali tribe members dwell some 2500 – 2000 m above the sea level. There are two ways to reach them. First, there is a very difficult but also beautiful trek. This several day long trek starts at Wamena (18000 m). It traverses the Jayawijaya mountain range, and a mountain saddle situated at 4000 m above the sea level, not far from the summit of Mount Elit. The trek is so strenuous because the Papua mountains are very rugged and steep.
You won’t avoid trekking, even if you decide for the second alternative – a plane. To see the Yalis you flew in to see, you will have to follow them to their villages, which lie in the mountains. If you want to see also the lowland Yali tribe members, who live 1500 – 1000 m above the sea level, you’ll have to extend your trek by several days. You won’t regret though. The fantastic sceneries, which will be offered as a reward for this effort, will remain your lifelong memories. Take my word on that.
Papua mountain Yali tribe – culture
The Papuan mountain Yali tribe members live in round huts build from cut planks and roofs made of pandan leaves. Women and men live separately. Women have their own houses, and men live in community houses (honai).
Men wear traditional big “rattan” skirts and kotekas. The skirts are composed of large number of separate approximately 5 mm wide strips of rattan, which are coiled around the body like a tire. These “tires” are connected on several places. The result is a kind of skirt. This skirt covers the body of Yalis from breasts down to knees. The front of this skirt is supported by a koteka, a “penis tube” made of wooden fruit of a bottle plant.
Yali women wear traditional small and short skirts made of grass. Their breasts are left bare, similarly as in the rest of Papuan tribes. The skirts merely cover their genitals. They consist of two parts – the front one and the rear one. A small string encircles their waists, and the rear part of the skirt is usually worn beneath their butts. A part of their dress is also a bag woven from threads made of orchid fibers. The bag, full or empty, covers the women’s back and butt. Often it ends down at their knees. The skirt consists of four layers. The first layer is given to girls, when they reach approximately four years of age. One layer is added every four years. As soon as the number of layers reaches four, it means that the girl is mature and she can marry.
Papuan lowland Yali – culture
Papuan lowland Yali tribe members are significantly different from highland Yali. Men don’t wear rattan skirts, only kotekas. Women don’t wear small four-layer skirts, but long skirts made of grass. It could be hence said that they are not as interesting as the mountain Yali, but the opposite is true. Lowland Yali almost live in isolation and are thus affected by outside influence only to a very small degree. It is fantastic to visit both cultures during one trek. A descent from the mountains to the lowland can be a very pleasant experience, considering that our diet changes as well. The diet of sweet potatoes might change to buamera (pandan fruit) or even sago. All in all, one should explore as many things during a trek as possible, don’t you think?