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Korowai People of West Papua

Listed under Traditional Cultures in Indonesia.

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The Korowai are known as the tree dwellers due to the stilted huts, rising high among the forest canopy, in which they live.

In tune with their natural surroundings, the Korowai are hunter-gatherers, also practising shifting cultivation. Traditions here are centered around a belief in ancestral spirits and reincarnation; magical charms, animal sacrifices and totems are used to maintain positive realtions with the spirit world. Korowai beliefs are relayed through a complex oral tradition of protective, magical sayings and stories.

Korowais are among the last known cannibals, with official evidence of such practice recorded as recently as the early 1990's. However, cannibalism is recognised only as part of their criminal justice system: if a tribe member is said to have been practising black magic, he will be accused of being a 'khakhua'(a malevolent sorcerer/witch). Khakhuas had to be killed, cooked and eaten by tribal law, as consumption is apparently the best method to ensure total eradication.

Traditional dress, tools, beliefs and methods still feature strongly in the Korowai lifestyle, but politics and logging continue to grow as a threat to this unique way of life.

The best way to experience the culture is to trek the region with a native Irian Jayan guide.

Written by  Amber Due.

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