the Asmat

The Asmat tribe resides in the tidal swamplands of West Papua's south coast. They are renowned amongst tribal art experts world wide as woodcarvers of the highest order. They were previously notorious as head-hunters and cannibals.

The Asmat Wowipit (wood carver) has a truly spiritual approach to carving and each piece made is imbued with the spirit energy of their ancestors. An Asmat carving can therefore be regarded as a bridge between the material and spirit worlds. The Asmat believe that their creator - FUMERAPITJS - carved their ancestors from trees and gave them the blessing of life, so from the very beginning the relationship of carver to wood is totally sacred.

Asmat territory is remote, not always easily accessible. A maze of rivers runs through the lowland swamp forests and the only way to travel is by motorised dug-out between the small villages that fringe the rivers. Accommodation is provided in traditional wooden longhouses.

Aside from local disputes the Asmat are now by and large a peaceful artistic people. They subsist on a diet of sago palm supplemented by fish, prawns and some fowl. They have a particularly strong relationship and regard for the human skull, hence the history of head-hunting, and particularly the skull of a revered ancestor. Skulls are used as pillows or hung as a pendant forming a potent contact point with the spirit world.

If you are of mystical, inquisitive nature, a visit to the Asmat and an experience of their lifestyle and beliefs will be very rewarding indeed. Signs and links to the spirit-world are everywhere. It should be stressed that the Asmat region is sometimes difficult and uncomfortable. There is a lot of mud and insects and any visitor should be prepared for that reality. However, if you have a real interest in probing and understanding Asmat culture then this would be the trip of a lifetime.

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