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The Korowai tribe Papua is one of the indigenous people that still maintain their tradition and sustainable life. Take a closer look at their way of life and belief.

Down in the jungle of Papua, lives the Korowai tribe. Isolated from the city modernity and technology, they live in harmony with nature and sustainably. Though there were reports of cannibalism in the past, the Korowai tribe Papua now has started to leave the practice while still sticking strong to their tradition.

First encounter with the Korowai tribe Papua

Korowai people had just been discovered 35 years ago. In 1978, a Dutch Reformed Church missionary, Johannes Veldhuizen, had an accidental encounter with the Korowai people. Since then, he tried to find a way to search more of the tribe by using a local guide from the neighboring Citak tribe.

In the past, they often came into conflict with Citak people, in which many of the conflicts ended up in head-hunting or cannibalism.

Living in Well-Built Korowai Tree Houses

The Korowai tribe Papua is famous for their treehouses. It was built 8-15 meters off the ground, though there are houses that were built up to 45 meters on a tall tree. They usually use Banyan or Wanbom tree as the pole of the house. The structure uses tree branches, rattan, and sago bark. No nails are used, as they fastened everything using strong rattan ropes they make.

the korowai tree house
The Korowai people believe that evil spirit stays on the ground. Thus, by living up in the tree, there would be no evil spirit around their family.

The people of Korowai count days by using their house. A Korowai treehouse should last three to five years before they make a new one. The construction lasts around three days and is worked by the Korowai men. Since it is built on a tree, the house has a wooden barrier to prevent little children from falling and a long hanging ladder to climb on.

A treehouse brings a lot of advantages. First, they are protected from insects and wild animals. In addition, they also feel a lot safer as in the past since enemies could come and kidnap their children and wives to be killed or enslaved.

A Korowai’s Household System

The tribe has no particular hierarchy system, as Korowai people treasure equality and harmony between them. However, the dominant man in the group is usually the one who they thought is the smartest and strongest. From him, they seek wisdom and problem-solving.

As nomadic, the Korowai tribe Papua lives in a small clan consisting of up to 20 people—which is usually two to three family and domestic animals as an addition. They will live in an area where the sago trees are located. When the sago trees are starting to decrease, they will find a new location around the area.

Men and women usually live separately. The little boys will join the men as soon as they learn to hunt. They should be able to walk quietly in the jungle for several hours when they are eight to ten years old. The Korowai marriage system requires men to pay a dowry or prepare a feast—which is the reason why men marry late and the girls marry as early as after their first period.

Though they all believe in harmony, conflicts often happen. It is usually related to witchcraft, theft, or marriage problem. In the past, these problems could end with cannibalism or murders. While witchcraft cannot be easily proven, adultery and the accused will get punished. Furthermore, most everyday arguments and conflicts can be solved by exchanging gifts between families.

Spiritual Belief of Korowai Tribe Papua

Soon as the boys hunt and girls get their period for the first time, the men and women will start teaching them about the value and belief of the Korowai people. They are taught about the spirit, ancestors, magic, cosmos, and sexuality. Some individuals are believed to have a magical power to detect black magic and reverse bad luck. In the Korowai tribe Papua, the man who has this ability is known as khekhua and is feared for his special strength.

One of the unique traits of the Korowai tribe’s spiritual belief is that they believe in reincarnation. As people die, they will go on a long pathway before they reside and wait for their turn to reincarnate as a newborn baby or animal.

Foods and Feasts

The Korowai tribe Papua takes sago trees as their staple food. They even held a sago grub feast when it is harvest time. The men cut down a sago tree, and the women will help by beating and kneading the inside of the sago bark. Once it is kneaded, the dough will be placed in a fireplace. The outside layer will harden, and they will eat the soft layer on the inside.

During the feast, they are dancing and eating as a part of the celebration. The family invite guests that are till their relatives. Meanwhile, the guests bring gifts such as pigs and dog teeth which is highly valued by the Korowai people. Later on, when the guests have their feast, the family must exchange the gifts and bring them the same items of value.

One of the highlights of the feast is also the weevil or sago grub. The protein-rich larvae help to rot the sago tree, making them ready to eat. In the feast, weevils are also consumed, sometimes without being cooked.

Visiting the Korowai Tribe Papua

The Korowai tribe Papua lives in the dense jungle, usually around the river stream. The trip may start in Jayapura and then flight about 40 minutes to Dekai, a small town in the hinterland of Papua.

Please Check our Korowai tribe itinerary