Friday, November 14, 2008

Asmat, Ethnic Group of Papua

The Asmat are an ethnic group of New Guinea, residing in what is currently the Papua province of Indonesia. They inhabit a region on the island's southern coast, much of it a large wetland sometimes referred to as theAsmat Swamp. The total Asmat population is estimated to be around 70,000. Map showing Papua province in Indonesia Papua is a province of Indonesia comprising part of the western half of the island of New Guinea and nearby islands (see also Western New Guinea).

A subtropical wetland in Florida, USA, with an endangered American Crocodile.
Asmat Swamp is a wetland on the southern coast of New Guinea, located within what is now the Indonesian province of Papua.

The swamp has been a major factor affecting the Asmat. Due to the tidal flooding which frequently occurs in many parts of the swamp, Asmat dwellings have typically been built two or more metres above the ground, raised on wooden posts. In some inland regions, the Asmat have lived in three houses, sometimes as high as twenty-five metres from the ground.

The Asmat have traditionally placed great emphasis on the veneration of ancestors, particularly those who were accomplished warriors. Asmat art, most noticably elaborate wood carving, is designed to honour ancestors. The tide is the regular rising and falling of the oceans surface caused by changes in gravitational forces external to the Earth.
A tree house (also spelled treehouse) is a house that is built among the branches or around the trunk of one or more mature trees and is a least 3m off the ground.

Ancestor worship, also ancestor veneration, is a religious practice based on the belief that ones ancestors possess supernatural powers. ... Carved wooden cranes Wood carving is the process whereby wood is ornamented with any design, by means of sharp cutting tools held in the hand.

The swamp has also isolated the Asmat from other peoples. It was not until the mid-20th century that they came into regular contact with outsiders. Initially, the Asmat had a reputation as headhunters and cannibals, and were left undisturbed. Although the Netherlands laid claim to the western half of the island in 1828, a post of the colonial government was not established in the area until 1938, and it was not until Catholic missionaries arrived in 1958 that significant interaction began. Even today, the Asmat are relatively isolated.


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The Dayaks, Ethnic Group of Kalimantan

Headhunting was one of the main pillars of Dayak culture. In the old days, it was believed that freshly severed heads were essential to the welfare of a village. Old heads' power faded with age and new ones were continuously needed. This led to a permanent state of warfare in the hinterland of Borneo (West Kalimantan, Indonesia) until the practice was stopped early in this century by the British and Dutch colonial governments.

The Dayaks, who make up some 30% of West Kalimatan's population, are divided in this province into three main groups: the Kenyah, the Kayan and the Bahau. These in turn are each subdivided into several sub-groups. All Dayaks show a fundamental physical and cultural unity. They are usually light skinned and of Mongol genetic stock.

Several Dayak groups used to excel in beautiful and intricate ironwood carvings with religious significance but this is now fast becoming a lost art. Carvings were a common feature of longhouses in many areas. These huge wooden houses were built on stilts, up to 180 metres long and 18 metres wide. The largest ones boasted of some 200 doors to serve up to 500 persons or 50 families living under one roof. Villages located in several upstream areas of the Mahakam still have longhouses although the government is trying to encourage individual housing.

Many of the older women still sport personal decorations consisting of many large metal rings - weighing up to one kilo per ear - in huge distorted earlobes. Hands and other parts of the body were tattooed to mark status and as a means for ancestors to recognize their descendants after death.

(There are several elements of Dayak mythology and belief with un-canny parallels to the Aztecs and other Indian groups ot ancient Mexico. The feathered serpent was an important figure in both pantheons. There were special paradises, depending on the manner of death. Warriors who died in battle and women who died in childbirth shared one of the paradises in the afterlife. There was another one for those who died by drowning.)

Since the conclusion of WW II, missionaries have succeeded in converting most Dayaks to the Catholic or Protestant faiths. Traditional beliefs have been abandoned, except in a few remote areas. Christianity has been accepted over Islam mostly because it allows the consumption of pork and the presence of dogs which are invaluable for hunting wild game.



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