Understanding the Korowai

Understanding the Korowai

West Papua province is not only the home of massive amount of natural resources and unbeatable beauty, it’s also the home of an impressive number of indigenous tribes. There are more than 250 tribes recorded to live in the region alone. Moreover, that number is not the proper reflection of just how diverse and massive the ethnic groups are.

The aforementioned number only depicts a small sliver of the actual number of tribes living in this eastern Indonesian territory. However, up to this day, there is no actual number that can be obtained due to a myriad of reasons. One of them is undoubtedly the fact that the rest of the tribes are of uncontacted kind. Wanting to hold onto their old age tradition and to be able to live peacefully, they move away.

Reckless tourism, aggressive mining, and increasing military presence along with injustice forced them to go. To add to that, the Indonesian government’s relentless effort to civilize them ironically becomes one of the reason of their drastic decision. Instead of being seen as the light at the end of the tunnel, the effort is seen as a threat to their way of life.

These uncontacted tribes generally live in isolation, and move from one place to another. Some live near the beach, others live in one of the impenetrable jungles in the region. Many of these tribes typically live off the radar, their existence is largely not known until being accidentally discovered. One of the tribes that live in isolation is undoubtedly the Korowai.

Also referred to as Kolufo, the unique tribe live in the southeastern side of West Papua province. Close to the border or West Papua with Papua New Guinea. With total population of about 3,000, the tribe had largely been living in isolation. Unlike many other tribes in the region, the Korowai people were unaware of others’ existence.

Interesting facts about the Korowai

Prior to being discovered in the 1970, the tribe believed that they were the only people in existence. Living in isolation made them think that no one existed beside themselves. Living as remotely as they do in the remote and inaccessible rainforests, it should not come as a surprise. This is the primary reason why Korowai people refer to outsiders as ‘ghost demons.’

The Korowai people are hunter-gatherers living in a rather small society. As it can be seen from the spread of their living situation. The jungle located in 150-kilometers away from the mesmerizing Arafura Sea, some clans live downstream where others right in the dense jungle. Their initial discovery took place when a couple adventurers and anthrologists spotted the Korowais down stream.

Korowai clans typically live in an extremely tight family ties with strict traditional values. Each of the family members must share everything they manage to hunt or gather in order to survive. The people of Korowai indeed strictly adhere to their tradition. Not only that, they also share a myriad of folktales, charms, myths, and sayings even up to this date.

One of their beliefs is undoubtedly the one involving their dead ancestors. Korowai people believe that their ancestors have the power to return to life at any given time. Not only that, due to their limited understanding on the outside world and others’ existence. The Korowais refer to outsiders as ‘white ghosts’. But that is not it.

Perhaps there is nothing more distressful quite like the appearance of ‘white ghosts’. Having never seen foreigners of Caucasian descent, Korowai clans are fearful of westerners. The name ‘white ghosts’ is in reference of the color of their skin, which is the source of their distress. In their belief, white skin signifies the end of the world.

Distinctive tree houses

There are quite a lot of interesting facts about the people of Korowai tribe. From architecture, to tradition. Let’s start with the most popular and simplest ones. The fact that the Korowai people live in a tree house perched at least 45-meters above the ground is one of them. Such distinctive treehouses were specifically designed to avoid its rival clans.

Similar to other tribes in West Papua, war is nothing new in this particular tribe. The Korowai’s clans typically capture the people from their rival clans with the intention to turn their victims into slaves. However, it’s worth noting that slavery was not their only intention. Cannibalism is also one of them, although many anthropologists believe it has stopped.

The treehouses are made perched atop a highest tree may seem unique. But it is designed to eliminate risk of being attacked by said rivals. In order to build this tree house, the Korowai people use sturdy Banyan tree as the house central pole. After the top of the tree is being removed, they start on adding floor frames from branches and sago palm barks for the walls and board. Who would have thought that its defence mechanism could be one of the icons of West Papua?