Ethnologists estimate that there are about 14,000 Damal living on the steep slopes of the Sudirman Mountains. Beoga and Ilaga are the largest villages in this mountainous kingdom of magic and spells. The Damal men like to decorate their noses with the beaks of paradise birds. They wear wide koteka on their manhood and cover their hair with a characteristic black hat made from orchid fibres. Because these people do not know pots, meat with vegetables is baked and stewed between red-hot stones. They only own the things that are necessary for survival. And there are not many of such things.
The Kombai live in impenetrable rainforest swamps, beyond an invisible border known as the Pacification Line. They refuse to communicate with civilization or with other tribes. Their dwellings are placed high in the crowns of trees like a parasitic epiphyte. In these tree huts, the Kombai flee from their enemies and from malarial mosquitoes, as well as from voracious fungus, termites and bacteria. They make fire up the tree by friction using rattan and bring water up into their huts in a hollow piece of bamboo. A wooden pole cut with notches is their only link with the ground.
About 65,000 Asmat live in the brackish delta of the rivers that flow from the mountains into the Arafur sea. The Asmat have always been the most feared head-hunters and cannibals. The death of their enemies was the very essence of their life. They consider the human head to be a strong source of energy, whilst the skulls of famous warriors have the greatest power. The phrase Asmat-ow could be translated as “real people”. To calm the spirits, the Asmat make large wooden carvings, which experts consider to be one of the most valuable native arts.
About 8,000 members of the Komoro tribe live on the south coast of West Papua, by the Mukamuga River. Their villages are built on poles in the mangrove swamps. The life of these fishermen and crocodile hunters is greatly affected by the fact that a supply network for the worlds largest gold mine, which is hidden high in the mountains above Timika, leads through their territory. Their original culture and rituals were forbidden. Some Komoro escape from civilization deeper into the forest. Do they still have somewhere to go?
In 1938, Richard Archbold discovered the Balien valley high in the mountains of New Guinea. The National Geographic reported the discovery of the century. The sensational news about a forgotten Stone Age, ruled by head-hunters, cannibalism, stone axes, bamboo and bone knives, spread all round the world. The valley is currently occupied by about 60,000 Dani. At present, the old rituals and traditions are only being maintained in remote areas. To our civilization, their habits are considered to be unbelievably cruel
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