Local arts and crafts are more than income sources for people of West Papua. They are parts of cultural identities that showcase local materials, techniques, and talents. Many of the craft makers and artists in West Papua still wholly depend on these products for their livelihoods. Visitors to West Papua should not miss the chance to buy locally made handicrafts and artworks.
Here are some of the most recommended products to browse if you visit West Papua.
Noken is a type of bag with a long strap used for various purposes, from carrying harvests to babies. The large ones are often used to carry stuff when the wearer is shopping at the market. Traditionally, noken bags are made of wood fiber and barks (without a machine), and carried by putting the strap over the head.
Noken bags are often gifted to special or honored guests and used as props in ceremonies. Visitors who travel to certain areas can buy noken right from the makers, such as in Sauwadarek Village. UNESCO established noken as an intangible world heritage on December 4th, 2012.
Papua has unique batik pattern, with a lot of colors and distinctive patterns. Papua batik has earned more recognitions in the past two decades, especially after designer Jimmy Afaar created Port Numbay Batik brand. President Joko Widodo even uses Port Numbay batik shirts for various state events.
Papua batik is famous for bright colors such as red, yellow, and blue. Typical patterns display images such as leaves, birds of paradise, traditional instruments such as tifa, warriors, and many more. The batik is colored with natural colorings, such as from pinang (areca nuts). However, cheaper batik products may be colored with synthetized materials.
Papua Bark Arts
The abundance of bark from forests has inspired Papuan artists to create bark arts. Asei Village in Sentani, Jayapura, is one of the areas famous for bark arts and paintings. The paintings depict motifs such as warriors, birds of paradise, sharks, traditional instruments, and many more. The thriving business of bark arts in Asei has compelled the government to develop them.
Bark arts from Asei are often available during special events, such as Sentani Lake Festival. However, art enthusiasts can also find them at traditional markets, art markets, and even online stores. Many artists even create more creative products by turning bark arts into functional goods, such as sling bags and phone covers.
Asmat Wood Carvings
Asmat wood carvings are famous in many countries because of their sophisticated, abstract-like qualities. The carvings may come in different sizes and shapes, and depict various surrealistic images, such as people and animals. These statues used to be created as sacred objects, but now, many statue makers create these objects to sell at national and international markets.
Asmat statues have been famous since colonial era in Indonesia. During the Dutch colonial era, Asmat statues (or their illustrations) were brought to Netherlands, starting its long-time popularity in Europe. Southeast Asia monetary crisis in 1997 made the wood carvings’ popularity decrease, but people have started hunting for them again since the early 2010s.
Pandan hat is a popular craft from Raja Ampat, made of pandanus leaves that grow abundantly in the forest. The hats are light, wide, and perfect to protect the face and eyes from the scorching sun. The hats are often shaped into manta rays, complete with bright colors and unique patterns on the top.
Raja Ampat locals make pandan hats by cutting, trimming, and boiling pandanus leaves until clean and flexible. Natural colorings for these hats are made of various roots and leaves. The hats are available at gift shops or sold at stalls during cultural events and expo.
Tifa is a percussion instrument popular in eastern Indonesia, such as Maluku and Papua. The instrument is made of hollowed log, with dried hide to cover one of the ends. Tifa has various sizes and shapes, which create different sounds. The instrument is used to create beats for traditional dances, especially the dynamic ones such as war dances.
Many tifas have artworks adorning their sides. The more sophisticated ones may have detailed ornamental carvings, such as in the forms of crouching animals.
Eastern Indonesia, including Papua, is famous for saltwater pearls. Raja Ampat is a great destination for pearl enthusiasts. The area harvests at least 150,000 pearls every year, which are sold or exported to countries such as Australia, Japan, and Singapore.
Visitors may buy pearls that are still in their original forms. However, there are also jewelry stores that sell necklaces, earrings, and rings with pearl ornaments. You can get jewelry with low-grade to premium-grade pearls, depending on the budgets.
Small accessories such as necklaces, keychains, wallets, purses, and bracelets are abundant in Papua gift shops and traditional markets. They are usually made of wood, coconut shells, pandanus leaves, and barks. Images such as birds of paradise, flowers, leaves, crocodiles, fish, and warriors often adorn these accessories.
West Papua is a land rich with traditional arts and crafts. Don’t forget to check out these products when making a trip to eastern Indonesia.