Archive for ‘Travel’

January 17, 2009

“Cannibals, hunters, and home”

by thoughtfulconservative

Jungle diary, part 4 starts,

“So, tell me, do you really eat humans?” I ask Jacob, a Korowai tribesman whose family – the Dayos – we stay with on one of our last nights in the Papuan jungle.

Isak translates from English to Bahasa, and Lakor translates from Bahasa into Korowai. “I have eaten three,” comes the answer, taking the same three-tiered translation journey back to me. Jacob gestures nonchalantly to his left to indicate the direction from which the latest dinner came.

If you remember, the series started with Ms. Harman in search of a group of people called the Korowai,

They are also thought to be among the last people in the world to practice cannibalism.

But the answer above is pretty disappointing. Translation problems could have caused some of the confusion. He was asked if he does, he answered he did.

Ms. Harman notes this in the next paragraph.

My fellow traveler Adam raises an eyebrow. I wonder if someone along the translation line has made this up for the benefit of us visitors.

It’s not surprising that he ate human flesh, many groups about the hundreds that inhabit the island of New Guinea, did at one time. Several men admitted to me in my time in Papua New Guinea that they had eaten human flesh.

The question is, does it still occur?

After a description of capturing a monitor lizard, Ms. Harmon lapses into philosophical hyperbole.

Nonetheless, I end the trip with a few new ideas about the trade-offs we “civilized” societies have made in leaving the jungle.

For while civilization has provided all of the comfort, wealth, culture, sophistication, and finery of the world I live in, to me it has also robbed us of the direct knowledge of our intuitions, our true necessities, and our natural selves.

The Korowai, in some way, represent a form of living alternative to who we could be. And while I would not like to trade worlds, I know that for me there is magic in theirs, too.

The idyllic way many look upon these primitive groups, shows the shallowness of their interaction.

I lived with people like this for most of 21 years and they would trade places with me in a heart beat.

Of course, their view is colored by their own interaction with Westerners.

Shayla in the comments of part 4 sums up my feelings,

They all have Biblical names and are well-Evangelized.

So how do they do it? While the minister isn’t looking they go out for a “bite” to eat?

Reminds me of the Margaret Mead chronicles. They are probably telling him [sic] what he [sic] wants to hear. After awhile they realize that it gets them attention.

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January 2, 2009

The art of sleeping in a treehouse

by thoughtfulconservative

Part 3 of Danna Harmon’s Jungle Diary is up at the Christian Science Monitor web site. To catch folks up, Ms. Harmon has been trekking the Papuan jungles searching for a remote tribe that may still practice cannibalism. Prat one and part two links are at the beginning of the article.

My interest? I spent 21 years off and on, in a remote area on the eastern side of the island, the nation of Papua New Guinea. I want to compare notes. My looks can be found here and here.

First quote of note,

[In the evening we] hang out entertaining one another and eating beetle larvae (them) or sandwich cookies filled with pineapple cream (us) until bedtime.

Cookies are great but I don’t think beetle larvae are too bad, either, especially the younger ones. Melt in your mouth good almost.

The next passage tells about what you’ll find in a house,

The scenes within are usually chaotic, filled with chatting, coughing, and spitting, as well as babies crying and small pigs and dogs making a racket.

This includes church services, which, as you might guess, makes them exciting.


I sit with the women of the family who are topless, wear skirts made of sago fiber, decorate their hair with tiny mice bones and tails, and wear dog’s teeth as necklaces [very valuable to them, if they’re anything like the group we lived with]

Another one,

Bedtime happens at about six, when it suddenly becomes pitch dark. I try reading with a flashlight for a while, but the light attracts bugs that go flying directly in my eyes, and I give up.

Mosquito nets don’t even help, especially with the “no-see-ums,” the little biting bugs that are vitually invisible. We also used to wrap ourselves with white sheets to better see the “mozzies.”

And my favorite of this article,

In what seems like the middle of the night, I wake and watch the old men preparing sago patties on a smoldering fire nearby – spitting into their palms to knead the root. A mental note regarding eating sago patties from here on out is made. A little girl with evidence of a fungal skin infection has cuddled up near me. I pull my hand out of my sleeping sheet to see what time it is: 10 p.m.

Ah, New Guinea!

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December 26, 2008

Who knew there were so many kinds of mosquito?

by thoughtfulconservative

The Christian Science Monitor has Jungle diary, Part 2 up on their website.

I could identify. For example,

The jungle is beautiful – filled with mangroves, sago palms, breadfruit trees, and thousands of different species of orchids. The thick insect life, upon which I mostly will harp from here on out, is astonishing. Papua is home to some 800 species of spiders, 30,000 kinds of beetles, and who knows how many sorts of mosquitoes. This is a place of frogs, bowerbirds, cockatoos, and parrots, where 120-pound flightless birds called cassowaries are king and wild pigs roam free.

Beautiful but hot and humid,

I spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating the pros and cons of my long-sleeved shirt – humidity and sweat dictate it should be off, mosquitoes eating me alive prompt me to put it back on. On breaks from considering this dilemma, I am focused on the delicate art of not flying off the wet logs we traverse into murky swamps beyond. With an annual rainfall of about 200 inches, Papua is one of the wettest, and muddiest, places on earth.

The scars on my shins will testify to those slippery logs.

And the most humorous for me? This bit,

And the Korowai? Our first encounter with a jungle member of this tribe is, shall we say, underwhelming. The man has a bone through his nose and is naked from the waist down save for what looks like the cap of an acorn, strategically placed. But he also sports a red T-shirt reading Cut video. I am worried that this is not the real thing.

The Korowai is the supposedly cannibalistic tribal group they went to investigate. The “ignorant savage” version of the “bait and switch.” You may think there’s nothing going on upstairs, but these guys are sharp.

And the article ends with,

I miss the corner cafe back home.

Not quite as glamorous as National Geographic makes it look sometimes.

This part is short. Here is part one, and my post on it.

By the way, what is the most deadly member of the animal kingdom?

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December 18, 2008

In search of Papua’s cannibals

by thoughtfulconservative

From the first part of a 4 part article,

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.

November 28, 2008

Forgotten by time

by thoughtfulconservative

Cynthia Dennis in a special to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote about the country I lived in for 21 years, Papua New Guinea in the Travel section of last Sunday’s paper.

It was a mostly accurate account, at least I found no major errors. I’ll have to post a linked edition sometime.

The only flaw was that it downplayed the security risks in going there. But it was a travel piece, after all.

Reading the article took me back to those years and the group of people whose language I learned and who became the brothers and sisters they are.

Yeah, I got a little “home” sick.

June 9, 2008

Four dollar gas

by thoughtfulconservative

Remember when we thought $3 gas was expensive?

We haven’t had to buy any $4 gas yet although we may have to before the end of the summer.