The Korowai language belongs to the Awyu–Dumut family (southeastern Papua) and is part of the Trans–New Guinea phylum. A grammar and a dictionary have been produced by a Dutch missionary linguist.
The majority of the Korowai clans live in tree houses on their isolated territory Since 1980 some have moved into the recently opened villages of Yaniruma at the Becking River banks (Kombai-Korowai area), Mu, and Mbasman (Korowai-Citak area). In 1987, a village was opened in Manggél, in Yafufla (1988), Mabül at the banks of the Eilanden River (1989), and Khaiflambolüp (1998). The village absenteeism rate is still high, because of the relatively long distance between the settlements and the food (sago) resources.
The Korowai are hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists who practice shifting cultivation. They have excellent hunting and fishing skills. Information about Korowai trade patterns is scant. The Korowai have a few gender-specific activities, such as the preparation of sago and the performance of religious ceremonies in which only the male adults are involved. Some Korowai have since the early 1990s generated moderate cash income by working with tour companies selling tours into the Korowai region. Within the tourist industry, opportunities are limited to hosting tour groups in villages for tourist-sponsored sago feasts, carrying luggage, and performing traditional displays. For a short period (1996 – about 1999) the Korowai region was rapidly subjected to the exploitation of gaharu (Agarwood) with outsiders pushing into areas within the Korowai region where clans preferred no contact in a search for the valuable wood. In 1997, 1 kg of gaharu collected by a local Papuan would have a value of about $4.00 when sold to a trader; the gaharu was eventually sold to Middle Eastern and European market for about $1000 a kilo. The gaharu was transported out of Papua via ports like Agats on the south coast or Jayapura on the north coast (via missionary flights to and from Yaniruma and Boma). The trading of gaharu was controlled by military-owned and operated businesses. Gaharu also fuelled a rapid trade in prostitution into the jungles of Papua which has helped contribute to the current AIDS epidemic throughout Papua
The patriclan is the central unit with respect to social, economic, and political organization. Kinship terminology follows the Omaha I pattern (Lounsbury), knowing a central opposition between cross and parallel relationships. In Korowai society the forms of institutional levirate and predominance of avuncular relationships are found, as well as a kind of affinal avoidance relationships. Marriage is exogamous and polygynous. Preference is given to a conjugal relationship with the (classificatory) mother's mother's brother's daughter.
Leadership structures are based on personal qualities of strong men rather than on institution. Interclan warfare occurs mainly because of witchcraft and sorcery-related conflicts.
The Korowai universe is filled with all kinds of spirits, some more personal of character than others. Reverence is paid especially to the (spirits of the) ancestors. To Ginol Silamtena, the creator spirit, the Korowai do not ascribe an important role in their daily lives. Once in a lifetime a Korowai clan must organize a sago grub festival in order to stimulate prosperity and fertility in a ritual fashion. In times of trouble they sacrifice domesticated pigs to the spirits of the ancestors.
The Korowai have an extraordinary and rich oral tradition: myths, folktales, (magical) sayings and charms, and totem traditions. With respect to death and afterlife the Korowai believe in the existence of a reciprocal type of reincarnation: those who died can be sent back at any time to the land of the living, by their kinsmen in the land of the dead, in order to reincarnate in a newly born infant of their own clan.
The first documented contact by Western scientists with members of a band of western Korowai (or eastern Citak) took place on March 17–18, 1974. The expedition was co-led by anthropologist Peter Van Arsdale (now at the University of Denver), geographer Robert Mitton, and community developer Mark (Dennis) Grundhoefer. Thirty men were encountered on the south bank of the Upper Eilanden River, approximately 12 miles east of its junction with the Kolff River and 10 miles north of the Becking River.
A basic word list was generated and observations were recorded regarding such things as fire making techniques. In the late 1970s, a few Christian (Dutch Protestant) missionaries began to live among the Korowai. Dea Sudarman, an Indonesian anthropologist, made several documentary films on the Korowai for Japanese television in the 1980s. In 1993, a film crew documented an anthropological study in the Dayo village area by the Smithsonian Institution of Korowai treehouse construction and the practice of cannibalism as a form of criminal justice. This resulted in the film Lords of the Garden. In 1996 a local Christian community was established, the members of it mainly originating from the neighbouring Kombai people. For a long time the Korowai have been considered exceptionally resistant to religious conversion; however, by the end of the 1990s the first converts to Christianity were baptized. In the autumn of 2003, a small team of Bible translators from Wycliffe/SIL moved to Yaniruma. In May 2006, tour-guide Paul Raffaele led an Australian 60 Minutes crew to report on the people. After a few days' filming, the crew were allegedly approached by a man who claimed his 6-year old nephew Wa-Wa had been accused of being a Kakua (witch doctor), and was in danger of being cannibalised. The 60 Minutes crew declined to offer assistance. Paul Raffaele approached the rival Seven Network, who agreed to send a Today Tonight crew to remove Wa-Wa from the area. Before being able to gain access to them, the crew were deported by Indonesian authorities at the Papuan capital of Jayapura over visa issues. In January–February 2011, the BBC documentary Human Planet commissioned the Korowai building of a treehouse 35m high.
The Korowai have been reported to practice ritual cannibalism up to the present day. Anthropologists suspect that cannibalism is no longer practiced by the Korowai clans that have had frequent contact with outsiders. Recent reports suggest that certain clans have been coaxed into encouraging tourism by perpetuating the myth that it is still an active practice. In 2006, the television show 60 Minutes claimed that when someone in Korowai society is convicted of being a khakhua he or she is tried, and if convicted he or she is tortured, executed, and eaten. Other unverified claims were made that the brain is usually eaten immediately, while still warm, and that pregnant women and children don't participate in the cannibal act.
The distinctive high stilt architecture of the Korowai houses, well above flood-water levels, is a form of defensive fortification – to disrupt rival clans from capturing people (especially women and children) for slavery or cannibalism. The height and girth of the common ironwood stilts also serves to protect the house from arson attacks in which huts are set alight and the inhabitants smoked out.
Day 01: Airport pick up-Wamena
Pick up services at Wamena airport, directly transfer to your hotel, free and easy
Day 2: Wamena-Yokohimo- Korowai Trekking
In the morning transfer to airport. Regular flight to Yahokimo (Dekai), located at the upper reaches of Brazza River (about 35 flight minutes). After arrival, visit of local market and last shopping for the tour. After lunch at a local restaurant, drive to harbor (about 28km/ ca. 1 hour). At the harbor our motor longboat including crew await us. Today we plan to go downstream for 2 hours until we reach the village of Patipi Dibawa. Here we raise our first tent camp right down by the river. This short stage gives us an impression of what awaits us during the next days: jungle landscapes in the essence!
Day 3: Korowai Trekking
In the morning we have an early breakfast before we continue to go downstream with our longboat. Down Brazza river, we are passing amazing prime forest landscapes. Hornbills, flying foxes and other birds often startle when our boat appears. Around noon we will reach the mouth of the mighty Siret River. After our lunchbreak, we go upstream Siret river to the Korowai settlement MABUL. Going upstream, the Siret river changes its face; the current gets stronger, sand banks appear, big tree trunks often block parts of the way, less and less local boats can be spotted. Depending on the water level, our today’s boat trip takes around 8 hours. Under best circumstances, we will reach Mabul in the afternoon. Mabul is a small settlement of Korowai people who were attracted by the Indonesian government to leave behind their nomadic lifestyle in the forest and to settle down. We will use this settlement as the starting point of our trekking into the Korowai corridor. After we set up our tents and kitchen, we will start recruiting our porters for the next days. With a little bit of luck, we can set up our tents inside an empty stilt house.
Day 4: Korowai Trekking
After breakfast we meet our escort team. Our entire luggage and our food for the next days will be carried by our porters. We leave Mabul in Eastern direction. Only some 50 meters and we are standing in thick forest, which we will not leave for the next days. Today, we approximately need 5 hours until we reach our first destination: a fantastic jungle settlement with several tree houses, MANOPTEROPO. The traditionally dressed Korowai give us a friendly welcome. Tent camp next to the tree houses.
Day 5: Korowai Trekking
Today, we will follow several Korowai families into the sago forest. Here, we will experience a spectacle from another world. The forest nomads chop a huge sago palm with their stone axes, open the trunk, and start smashing the sago pulp. The gained sago pulp is further processed by women who wash it in primitive washing installments – build only from leaves, branches and Rotan. The pure sago is the staple food for all jungle dwellers. Camera enthusiasts will probably never forget this day! In the afternoon we are back at the tree houses, where our cook starts preparing our next real jungle dinner: maybe we will have papaya vegetables, sago larvas, and plantains! The kitchen will surprise us every day with new exotic viands.
Day 6: Korowai Trekking
We will spend a second day with the friendly forest nomads. Maybe today they show us how to repair a tree house in crazy heights, or how to make and use bows and arrows – the most important weapons here. Or we join the Korowai on a journey into the forest to seek food. They are true hunters and gatherers: in a few hours their nets are filled with spiders, larvas, locusts and other exotic animals. They even shoot flying dogs from the trees. And again, we can look forward to another exotic dinner!
Day 7: Korowai Trekking
Today, we say good-bye to our friendly hosts. Back in Mabul we still have time to take a look at the local craftsmanship. One piece or the other, for example a fantastic bone knife, is a perfect souvenir for every visitor, and a true proof that somebody has really been to the stone ages!
Day 08: Korowai Trekking
Whole day drive to Patipi Dibawa. Downstream river Siret, we get along very quick. What took 6 hours before, only takes 2 hours today. Late in the afternoon, tent camp in the familiar small village at the upper reaches of the Brazza river.
Day 09: Korowai Trekking-Wamena
Today we start very early towards the harbor of Dekai. After about 2 hours drive we reach our destination and say goodbye to our boat crew. We continue directly to the airfield of Dekai. Around noon flight back to Wamena and transfer to the hotel.
Surely we will enjoy a warm shower tonight – but the impressions of our excursion into the stone age will remain unforgettable.
Day 10: Wamena-Next Destination
After breakfast, We transfer you to Wamena Airport for your flight back to Jayapura/Bali or your next destination
Rate : USD 4.700/person/twin share, Minimum 2 person
- English speaking guide
- Meals full board
- Program as itinerary
- Travel permit (Surat Jalan)
- 2x Overnights Hotel in Wamena (full board)
- Refreshment ( Mineral water, coffee and teas )
- Entrance fees
- Domestic International flight (can be booked on request)
- All airport taxes
- Beverages in hotels + restaurants
- Private expenses during the tour
- Village donation
- Passport has to be valid minimum 6 months at date of entry Indonesia
- Please check with your embassy if you need a visa for Indonesia and about the procedure
- When entering Papua, every visitor has to bring a passport copy and two passport pictures for the travel permit
- A checklist on what equipment to bring will be send after booking confirmation.
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