Asmat and Other Ethnic Groups Living in Papua

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As one of the largest provinces in Indonesia, Papua is rich in ethnic and culture. It is proven by a number of ethnic groups who live throughout the island, near the sea or valley, as well as occupy most of the areas in the highland. Each ethnic group has each characteristic since they develop a special way of life, speak a specific language, and follow their own tradition. The following are several well-known ethnic groups that live in Papua, the Island of Paradise.

Asmat

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Asmat is probably the most noticeable ethnic groups that stay in the province of Papua, Papua Island. The Asmat people live in the southwestern part of the island. Lying on the coast near Arafura Sea, the groups inhabit a land which is formed from lowland rainforest with typical characteristics of a coastal land. The Asmat’s territory is surrounded by numerous kinds of swamps, such as mangrove, freshwater, and tidal swamp.

Most inhabitants of Asmat build tree houses as their residence. The Asmat relies heavily on the natural environment to live their daily life. Within the group, Asmat people develop their unique culture, customs, and tradition. One of the most popular traditions of Asmat people is their woodcarving skill. A variety of high-quality woodcarvings are created by the Asmat by collecting local materials from the forest. 

In the present time, the land where Asmat people live is included in two protected sites of Asia-Pacific Region: World Heritage Site and Lorentz National Park. The inclusion of this ethnic group makes it easier for those who want to interact with the Asmat people or buy famous woodcarving crafts made by the villagers.

Yali

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Besides Asmat, Yali is another major tribal group living in Papua. The people of Yali inhabit a territory named Yalimo that is located in the Papuan highlands, in the eastern part of Baliem Valley. Most Yali people occupy two major towns in Papua: Angguruk and Kosarek. The geographical condition to reach those two towns are quite challenging, thus, air transportation becomes the main access to arrive at the towns.

One of the primary traditions of Yali people is their ability to develop botany and agriculture field. Yali people are often connected to other ethnic groups in Papua, such as Dani, Moni, and Damal groups. They dominantly hold the belief of Catholic and Protestant Christian, although some of them also have other beliefs besides Christian, including animism, dynamism, and totemism. The language spoken by Yali people is a unique subfamily of Papua language, namely Ngalik-Nduga. 

Dani

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Having known by the world since 1926, Dani refers to the people who live in the central highlands of Papua, near Baliem Valley. This ethnic group is often spelled Ndani and has a specific connection to the Lani people who live in the western part of the highlands. Many times, Dani people welcome and interact with the tourists who visit the Papua highlands, especially the area of Baliem Valley.    

Dani becomes the ethnic group in Papua that has various subgroups of language. While Dani language is used as the primary communication system by the tribe, the language itself is categorized into four different groups according to the area of the speakers. Four language subgroups of Dani are Lower-Grand Valley, Mid-Grand Valley, Upper-Grand Valley, and Western Dani or Lani language.

Dani people still maintain the traditional method when it comes to producing, cooking, and growing main vegetables such as potatoes or cassavas. However, in several fields, the modernity and globalization have played a role in influencing the Dani people’s ways of life.

Ekari

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Ekari is known for having several different names. The people of this ethnic group are often called by the name the Mee or Bunani Mee, which refer to the inhabitants, Kapuaku, and Ekagi that is also the language type spoken by the Mee people. Ekagi itself is a Trans-New Guinea language mostly used by people living in the region of Paniai lakes. It becomes the second populous spoken by Papuans besides the Papua language.

Although the Ekari people dominantly believe in Christianity, the elders of the group still hold the belief that the universe and their place of livings were created by a God-like named Ugatame. There are two religious practitioners in Ekari tribal group, namely the shamans and the sorcerer. The religious and cultural practices are also realized through principal dances of Ekari: the waita tai and the tuupe.

Bauzi

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Bauzi, or often pronounced as ‘Baudi’, is a Papuan ethnic group that lives in the northern area of central Papua, to the west of Mamberano River. The Bauzi people were formerly the believers of animism, but in the present time, 65% of the populations are Christian, especially Protestant. They speak Bauzi language and still follow the cultural tradition of hunting. 

Since the early 1990s, the educational process has been developed in the area where Bauzi people live, supported by an organization namely Indonesia Betania Foundation. In later years, starting in 2014, the educational foundation for Bauzi people has cooperated with the Finland government to promote education system in this Papuan ethnic group.

Those various ethnic groups of Papua become one of the national heritages in Indonesia, making the easternmost island of the country rich in culture and tradition.