|Tribes’ people who live along the Southwest of Irian Jaya (Casuari-Coast, Cannibal-Coast), still untouched by modern civilization. The swampy Asmat area, as big as Belgium, consists only of dense jungle and thousands of rivers.|
The staple diet of the tribes is sago, mussels, snails and insects. Everyday they have to collect their food along the rivers in vast mangrove, wild sago and bamboo forests. A hard and dangerous job in a crocodile country, where some creatures can grow up to 10 meters. Asmat is one of the most inaccessible regions of Irian Jaya and many tribes have never seen any outsiders until today. The tall and strong Asmat are world-renowned fantastic wood-carvers. Some spectacular pieces of Asmat art are in the Museum of Primitive Art in New York City. The Coastal Asmat are perfect canoe builders. Everybody, even children, are going around on these long and narrow tree-canoes, which can be up to 15 meters long. Some have magnificent boat decorations. The coastal people live together in big villages, where wooden long houses, the Yeus, are still the center of power and spirit. The lives of the Asmat are made from long genuine bones from the giant Cassowary bird and sometimes even from crocodile bones. Their necklaces and other body decorations are made from white kauri-shells, pig and dogteeth, grass and free seeds and Cassowary feathers. To join one of the many different Asmat cult-festivals is an unforgettable highlight, even for very experienced traveler. Far away from the coastline, many of the Asmat tribes build their houses on treetops, up to 15 meters from the ground. These are the Citak, Kuruwai, Kumbai, Korfon and Uwakain as well as the people from Brazza and Kolff-River. Living deep in the vast lowland jungles on the foot of the central mountain range, their lifestyle remains still nomadic. To visit these lost stone-age hunters is one of the last adventures on this planet.
Asmat is the most famous cannibalistic tribe on Papua. They would put human skulls under their heads instead of a pillow. They would eat brains of their animals mixed with sago worms straight from their halved skulls. They live on small islands in mangrove vegetation nearby the sea, on the south side of the western part of the New Guinea Island. The Asmat build long houses, where they live together. Every family has its own reserved fireplace. In the long house about six or even ten of the group members live.
Besides the fact that the Asmat were head-hunters, they also hunted for names. Every person was named after someone deceased, or after a killed enemy. A child was sometimes given a name only ten years after it was born, and after its village set out to kill a man from an enemy village nearby. They had to learn the name of the man they killed, and then bring his skull to their village. Only in this way could a person get a name.
Asmat did not only hunt for skulls, they also worshipped them. The skulls of the deceased were stripped of the brain and the eyes and nasal parts were closed up in order to prevent evil spirits to enter or exit the body. Skulls that were modified and decorated in this way, were displayed by the Asmat in a honorable place in their long homes. Fortunately, the evil reputation of Asmat has become history. The missionaries have done a lot of work in changing this. Thanks to it, we can now go to the Asmats for a visit.
The members of the Asmat tribe believe that they arose out of wood. Therefore, wood is sacred for them. Even in ancient times they carved wonderful things from wood. Asmat are considered to be the best woodcarvers of the stone-age.
Their small drums, statues, engraved boats are admirable. Many originals of the woodcraft from the Asmat tribe are now shipped from Papua to Europe or America, and decorate German or American museums, galleries, or households. Asmat woodcraft became a wonderful exported good for worldwide exchange, public sales, and auctions.
Contemporary and civilized Asmat use metal tools. They are visited by salesmen, most of whom are German, who ask them to make large numbers of statues so that they can trade them in Europe or America. Thanks to that, the Asmat territory can now be considered safe, and tourists no longer have to be afraid of cannibalism.
The territory of the Asmat tribe lies near the Brazza River, along which the tree people, Korowai and Kombai, also live. Therefore, it is possible to link the visit to the Asmat territory with an expedition to the tree people.
The several hundred kilometers long sail against the current is also interesting. You don’t need to be afraid of crocodiles, since nowadays they hunt mainly at night, and are very timid. It is difficult to catch a glimpse of them, and in the upper part of the stream the crocodiles are small. So far we haven’t seen a living crocodile in the Asmat territory, and neither in the Korowai and Kombai territory.