The sparsely populated island of New Guinea, the second-largest island in the world after Greenland, is divided between two countries: the independent nation of Papua New Guinea in the east, and the Indonesian Papua in the west – formally known as Irian Jaya. More than 75 percent of Papua is covered by impenetrable jungle, and is home to a wide diversity of plant and animal life, as well as an array of indigenous, so-called “primitive” tribes – many of whom have little or no contact with the world outside.
Believed to number some 3,000 to 4,000 people, the Korowai of southeastern Papua are one such tribe. They were “discovered” in the 1970s but remain isolated. They hunt with bows and arrows, subsist for weeks on roots and beetle larvae, are illiterate, and don’t wear clothing. They practice polygamy, believe in witchcraft, and live in scattered treehouses some 25 feet off the ground. They are also thought to be among the last people in the world to practice cannibalism.
In some respects, there is little difference between the eastern and western half of the island. When we moved into our remote location, our neighbors were the same as described here, except they had clothes and didn’t practice cannibalism. I knew some former cannibals, but never met a practicing cannibal. They liked the thigh meat.
Traveling into the jungle, it quickly turns out, is not only dangerous, time-consuming, and physically challenging – it costs a fortune. Who knew, for example, just how expensive hiring a motorized canoe could be?
Yes, expensive. Very expensive.
I look forward to the other parts.