The Korowai (or Kolufo) are a tribe of nearly 3,000 people living in West Papua in the Indonesian Province of Papua. The tribe was unaware of the existence of western civilization until 1970 when anthropologists embarked on a journey to study them. What did scientists and anthropologists discover?
Korowai Tribe members are known to be extraordinary architects and have built “towering tree houses as high as 114 feet above ground,” according to writers for AtlasObscura. These monstrous tree houses are designed to protect the people from the elements and against attacks from outside tribes. They also serve to keep them safe from the “evil spirits” that lurk below the treetops and jungle canopies. Korowai tree houses have large Banyan or Wanbom trees as the foundation or main poles. For additional support, the tribesmen add smaller poles to the corners of their homes. Once the poles are set and bound together with raffia, construction of the floor begins. The walls are made next and are followed by the roof, which is made of sago trees.
After the home is blessed with animal fat, holes are cut into the roof to give the hunters safe access to wild game. Fire is the greatest risk to the Korowai tribe, so they plan their homes with integrated fire pits that make for a speedy and simple break amid a crisis. The fire pits are designed on cutaway floor areas in case things go awry.
Whole families live in single treehouses that sometimes have different living quarters for the men and women. Though the homes are extravagant, they only last for about five years.
Religion plays a key role in how the Korowai people function. Their universe is filled with the spirits of demons and ancestors. Aleksandar Mishkov, a writer for Documentary Tube, states that the tribe’s members “pay special tribute and respect to the spirits of the ancestors.” Ginol Silamtena, the spirit of the creator, is paid tribute to and thought of during all of their day-to-day activities.
Papua New Guinea has a history of cannibalism that is no secret to western civilization. Though some researchers suggest that the Korowai Tribe no longer partakes in this activity, it is believed that they are one of the last active tribes that practiced cannibalism. Television’s 60 Minutesdocumented the first known report of their cannibalistic rituals.
The Tribe believes in evil spirits referred to as “Khakhuas.” Khakhuas disguise themselves as relatives or friends in an attempt to gain the trust of members of the tribe so they can later kill them. As the victim sleeps, the Khakhua enters their body and eats their insides, replacing them with ash, according to writers at DocumentaryTube. To rid the world of these evil spirits, the Korowai people perform cannibalistic rituals when someone is believed to be a Khakhua. After seizing the demon, friends and family of the victim kill the person and eat their flesh. It is believed that the Khakhuawhispers its own name upon death, which allows the tribesman to know exactly which evil spirit has possessed their loved one.
The Korowai have proven great skill in their architectural capabilities. They are also adept hunters. They are survivors who have maintained their culture through the centuries. However, the recent discovery of their tribe and its location has forced authorities to attempt to end their cannibalistic rituals. Though police try to enforce local law, some believe that the Korowai continue to practice cannibalism to this day.