Indonesia is a country rich in culture. So if “modern life” bores you or stresses you out, then pack your bag to Indonesia. Escape yourself to a cultural stress-free lifestyle and learn the quality of life from traditional wisdom. One recommended place to go is Asmat region in West Papua Province where Amat Tribe lives.
Asmat region is quite far from “modern life”. That means the trip will take a while. Take a plane from Jakarta or Bali to Timika. From Timika, get a small plane to Ewer. And then, you continue your trip to Agats by using speed boat. Agats is the most modern town where Asmat tribe lives. So this is where your Asmat cultural adventure starts.
It is highly recommended if you used the service from professional travel agents for easier accommodation. Also, report yourself to a police station at the airport about your itinerary plan to Asmat. Once you got there, then you shall not miss these awesome activities:
There are two choices of where to stay in Asmat region. One is to stay at the hotel on Agats. Two is to stay in local people’s house called “bujang”. In Asmat, there are two kinds of house; family house and “bujang” house. Rumah Bujang (Bujang House) is a big house where all the single men live together. Families can also live there for a while before they have their own family house. Rumah Bujang is also the center of activities such as religious ceremony or rituals. During these events, women are not allowed to come.
Rumah Bujang is a long wooden house without many rooms. All the men sleep together in line in a wide long room. The house was built together by the clan member using only material from their environment. Because Asmat region is mostly surrounded by swamps, there will be plenty of mosquitos inside the house. For you comfort, please bring lots of anti-mosquito lotion.
To feel the culture at its finest, then we would recommend the second choice. Your travel agent will find the bujang clan who is willing to take you in and help you with the communication. But if you stay in their house, you really need to respect their culture and habits. Smoking cigarettes is quite normal in here. But alcoholic beverage is not allowed at all.
Learn the Customs
Asmat Tribe used to have faith in animism. Now, the minority of them are having “modern religion” such as Christian, Catholic, and even Islam. Even if they have modern religion, they still uphold their customs. Asmat people believe that they are the offspring of Fumeripits (The God). It is said that Fumeripits was casted away by the shore and was unconscious.
His life was saved by a bunch of white birds until he wholly recovered. Fumeripits was alone and lonely. To cheer up himself, he carved some woods into some beautiful sculptures. He then made a kind of drum set called Tifa. He played Tifa everyday until the sculptures turned alive and danced. Fumeripits then went around and created new humans as he went. He also built a long wide house for them to live in. That house was now called Rumah Bujang.
Asmat people believe that human will be stronger if they stay together. They always do everything together; cooking, building house, hunting, etc. That is why they always live in a big group. Nobody in Asmat likes to be alone. So if you are visiting Asmat, make sure to mingle and try to blend in.
Asmat people like to color up their faces and body using natural paints. They use red soil for color red. They mash some seashell for the color white. And then they burn some woods as black paint. Each powder then is mixed with water. They do not need brush to apply it to their skin. Instead, they fold some dry leaves for it.
There are still more customs in Asmat. You will find out about it later during your stay. Asmat Tribe is very nice and friendly so they would be glad to share everything with you.
Due to the story of Fumeripits mentioned above, Asmat has a culture of carving the woods into some exotic sculptures. This form of art of Asmat has made them famous. The sculptures are famous for its complexity, detailed ornaments, and originality. Many art collectors around the world would want to spend a high amount of money to acquire an Asmat sculpture.
Asmat people never use a sketch when carving a sculpture. Everything is spontaneous. They believe that the idea of sculpture shape they have comes from their communication with the ancestor’s spirit. That is why they need to remain focus while carving.
After a sculpture is finished, they will hold a ritual. They then bring the sculpture to the swamp and leave it there as a sacrifice to the God in hope that the God will take care of their sago forest and palm trees which has been their main foods for all this time.
Primitive Asmat people do not really know how to cook. They just hunt and harvest sago from the forest and then grill everything on a bonfire. But that was then. Now there are several delicious menus you can try in Asmat. Their main carbohydrate food is papeda. It is like porridge made out of sago. The most favored side dish is satay ulat sagu. Ulat sago is a species of caterpillar commonly found on sago trees. Sound strange, but it contains high protein. If you do not feel like eating caterpillar, then you can try Ikan Kuah Kuning (Fish in Yellow Broth). It tastes the best if you eat it with papeda or simple grilled sago.
Joining the Ritual
There are many kinds of ritual in Asmat. Long time ago, there used to be a ritual where Asmat people needs to choose a man amongst them and behead him as a sacrifice to be given to God Fumeripits. But now, such ritual has been changed. They do not use real human anymore. Instead, they made a human-sized sculpture to behead. This ritual is practiced every year to pray for their prosperity.
There is also Pesta Ulat Sagu (Sago Caterpillar Party). The party is held to show respect to women. This is the only ceremony where women are allowed to be in Rumah Bajang. At this party, the men cooks for the women while the women rest and chitchat to each other. After a meal, the women will express their hard feelings and complains about their husband. The husband has to patiently hear all the complaints and apologize to their wife. That party used to end with happy tears.
So that is all you can do on Asmat region. If you do not really want to stay in Asmat inland, you can stay in Agats town. There are Asmat people on there. You can also stay in a comfortable hotel. And if you want to learn about Asmat culture, you can go to Museum of Culture and Progress.