Meet the Korowai Tribe of West Papua

The Korowai Tribe are a fascinating tribe only recently discovered in Papua New Guinea. Up until the 1970s, there had been no previous recorded contact between them and the western world. In fact, scientists believe the tribe may not have ever realised anyone else even existed other than themselves. Here’s what you should know about the Korowai Tribe.

They live in 140-foot high tree houses

One of the most remarkable engineering feats of the isolated and primitive tribe is their ability to construct great treehouse which sit 140-feet high in the jungles. The treehouse are constructed and placed on stilts, which were designed to protect the members from rival villages. These basic structures are only accessed by wooden ladders, placed up against the stilts to reach the top.

The central pole is made from a Banyan tree, with the bark of sago palm used for the floor and walls. The roof is made from the sago leaves. Fire pits are also created to protect the hut, as the biggest danger would be a fire.

They didn’t realise anyone else existed outside their village

The first recorded case of westerners meeting this tribe wasn’t until 1974, when a group of Western scientists took an expedition to the area. The scientists made basic observations and noted down some words and local techniques, such as firemaking.

Many of the Korowai still believe today that outsiders carry demons and evil spirits. It’s thought that up until the 1970s, they may not have ever realised anyone else in the world existed outside their tribe. Some of them still have probably never seen a white person in their life.

They believe in witchcraft and sorcery

Witchcraft still plays a major part of the Korowai belief system. While Christian missionaries have been living in the area since the late 1970s, and have successfully converted some Korowai to Christianity, many are reluctant to give up their traditional spiritual views.

Demons are real, and any fatal illness is more likely to be blamed on evil spirits rather than an infectious disease reaching an unvaccinated community. The Korowai believe in the spirits of their ancestors and believe in a form of reincarnation and have many rituals, magical phrases and traditions.

Women marry after their first period

While men tend not to get married until they are in the 20s, most women are married off in their early teenage years, after they begin to menstruate. The treehouse typically hold up to 15 people, which will consist of a man, his wife or wives and any unmarried children. Once a woman is married, she is seen as an adult and must leave the family home to live with her husband.

Staple food

The staple food in their diet is sago, and a single household will use one sago tree each week. After the fibrous trunk has been harvested and split by the men, the heart of the sago palm, which produces a starchy substance, is washed and kneaded or beaten by the women.

The domestic pig has cultural value in Korowai society and is only eaten during rituals or at feasts on special occasions. Dogs are used for hunting and their teeth are also regarded as very valuable.

Pig hunting is done with bows and arrows, while cassowaries are shot or caught with ropes. For fishing, the Korowai use their bows and arrows, poison, and basket-like traps which they place in artificial dams. In the past, crocodiles were also caught as an important part of their die

As a semi-nomadic tribe with an ancient culture, the Korowai live an almost entirely self-sufficient lifestyle in the dense jungle of Papua. Today, their unique way of life is undergoing rapid change, under the impact of modernity and the actions of the Indonesian government.

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