Monday, April 27, 2009

Papua Indonesia

WARNING for minors: please ask your parents permission as some pictures contain tribal nudity. We tried to select pictures appropriate for all viewers, but if you are under 18, ask your mom or dad.

It never ceases to amaze us that there are still small groups of people on earth untouched by Western civilization and living as they have for thousands of years. It is estimated by Survival International (see their website for interesting reading) that there are still over 100 uncontacted tribes in the world. Papua has a large share of these tribes. While the Dani tribes that we visited in Papua's Baliem valley have been in touch with the outside world for several decades, the remoteness of the region where they live has largely interrupted attempts to change their culture.

Papua is yet another incongruous island in the largely Islamic country of Indonesia. Like the people of Vanuatu (see our previous blogs), native Papuans are mostly considered to belong to the group of Pacific Islanders known as Melanesians.

We opted to save some money and make our journey by hitch hiking around the area, so before heading out to the remote areas of Papua's Baliem Valley, we stopped off at the local market for some food and to find transportation. We loved the rich blend of aromas, colors and food. We were even pleasantly surprised to see many of the local Papuans in their traditional dress, consisting of penis gourds for the men and grass skirts for the women. Kelsi had visited Papua before and even purchased one of the penis gourds. Her dad was fond of fooling his friends into trying to play it like a flute before he showed them a picture of what it really is.

Our first stop in Papua after we left the market place in an overflowing van was a small tribe of Dani people. They were proud to show us a their village mummy which has a small pock mark on his scapula (see just below the hand in the picture below.) According to the man showing us the mummy, this hole in the mummy's back is from the arrow which killed the man in tribal war some 250 years ago.

The picture below shows a similar arrow wound just behind a living man's scapula from a tribal war a few decades ago. Luckily for him, he survived.

Rusty with the Dani Tribesmen. He asked if he could get a bone nose ring too, but Kelsi wouldn't go for it.
Funerary rituals are always interesting, and one of the more interesting ones in Papua is that when a family member dies, the women remove the top one or two joints from their fingers. Notice the left hand of the older woman below, who has obviously lost a number of close kin. We saw other women who were missing even more of their hands, which must make life rather difficult... The practice has been outlawed by the Indonesian government, but we still noticed some relatively young women who had continued the tradition.

Even though traditional tribal culture is still alive in Papua, this is changing rapidly. This move from traditional culture to modernization wipes out much of what is interesting (and valuable) in these cultures, which is one of the primary reasons we chose to travel now before international influences changes so many of the places we have been seeing.

We also had a great story about the airport security. The local military had all flights on one carrier booked out for 3-4 days due to elections. We found it amusing watching the soldiers put their bags through the security screening just before they walked through the metal detectors wearing semi-automatic machine guns. So, what, there might be some weapons hidden in their bags?

This reminded Kelsi of a similar incident when she was in Papua a few years ago. She forgot to put some spears she purchased into her checked luggage. The airport security motioned for her to put them through the screening belt to check them onto the plane as though the airport security was worried there might be some weapons hidden inside the spears!


Vivien said...

Hey guys! Thumbs up for another Nat Geo coverage :) We're just about to hit the road with flight out tonight, planning to do camping in South Perth (throwing in some surprise measure to see my mum for her birthday as well), and then it'll be Europe.

Man, reading your blog is wonderful but trying at the same time - I feel like there is another place now (PNG) that I want to add onto my already growing list of travel *LOL*!

Have fun, keep in touch, xo The Vs in KL

Paul said...

Hey guys, my brother Greg showed me your blog and I must say you guys have the coolest life of anyone I know. If you're ever traveling through Minnesota, please stay with us.


Paul Gunn

nate said...

Just stumbled across your blog while hunting source photos for another project. I love West Papua! Last year I spent several weeks with the Moi people shooting a short film for an NGO. It took us 4 days of travel to get into West Papua territory and then an almost 3 hr. bush plane flight ending on a hand cleared mountain air strip to get there. I don't run into very many people who have been far into true stone age settings!
I spent much of my youth in a Landuma tribe in West Africa and have since traveled and filmed all over the world. Just got back a couple of weeks ago from a shoot in Cambodia.
Who know's maybe we'll run into each other somewhere on the globe!

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