Meet the Caraway Tribe
You may have heard of tribal communities living in the forests to this day, keeping their way of life intact, along with their religion, traditions, culture and their beliefs. One such tribe is the Korowai Tribe (or the Caraway Tribe), which was completely isolated from western civilization till the 1970s, after which anthropologists set out to discover more about them. The Caraway didn’t know of the existence of a world beyond their own tribal community of roughly 3,000 strong, nor were they aware of the onset of technology and the industrial revolution. So you can gander a guess as to the kind of beliefs and practices that the Korowai must be indulgent in. The most shocking, yet obvious one, has to be cannibalism. Although, the tribe claims to have a reason behind it. Which we will explore in a little bit.
First, some background about the Caraway Tribe. They are a small tribe living in the forests of West Papua, in the Indonesian Province of Papua. They are primarily hunter-gatherers and horticulturists and practice shifting cultivation. Korowai are fantastic hunters and skilled fishermen. Religion is a big part of their lives and the tribe has their own set of deities, spirits, symbols and other entities.
The Korowai Tribe’s Style of Living
Sometimes also called the Kolufo, the Korowai Tribe is known for building striking houses set atop tree trunks as high as 140 feet! It was believed that these ginormous tree-houses were made to protect their occupants from harsh weather, as well as shelter them from attacks from wildlife and other enemies. Another purpose the tree-houses’ height serve is to protect the tribe from “evil spirits” that lurk closer to the ground. But it was later debunked that the Caraway built these magnificent houses for the sake of “overseas programme makers” and actually live in houses much smaller and closer to the ground. Many have also moved to recently established villages at the banks of the Becking River and other such villages in the last 4 decades but even today, a large number of their people still live in their old settlements since it is difficult to procure their traditional food (sago) near the villages. Sago is a starch extracted from the spongy center of various tropical palm stems, especially those of Metroxylon sagu palms.
A ritual is performed in every new Caraway house. First the entire area is blessed with animal fat and then holes are cut into the roof to give hunters safe access to wild game. This seems to be kind of an offering to one of their deities to please them and grant the people a bountiful harvest and a good hunt. The way cooking and fire is handled in every Kolufo household is ingenious – fire pits are built as contained environments for the fire and are built on top of sections of the floor that can be hastily and effortlessly cut away in case a fire starts to get out of hand.
As mentioned before, religion is integrated into everything the Kolufo do, and each one of their rituals has spiritual significance. They also believe in the afterlife, and in rebirth and often, rituals paying tribute to their ancestors are performed. Korowai consider their gods to have been their ancestors at one point of time and as such offer regular tribute to the creator of them all – Ginol Silamtena. One ritual that every member of the tribe has to go through at least once in their lifetime is the Sago, which apart from being a key resource, is also the name of a festival that celebrates fertility and prosperity. Another common tradition is the sacrificing of pigs to alleviate any troubles or hardships one may be facing.
The Caraway tribe also believes in evil spirits called Khakhuas. Khakhua spirits take the form of a member’s friends or relatives to gain their trust and kill the member(s) later. Khakhuas can enter the body of a sleeping person and devour them from the inside, leaving only an ash filled walking husk. This is where cannibalism comes in, as the friends and family members of the possessed individual capture and kill them, and eat their flesh. A dying Khakhua whispers its real name just before passing away and this lets the people know who exactly possessed their friend or family member and maybe even let them know the purpose behind the possession.
While the Caraway claim to have abolished cannibalism as a result of pressure from the local authorities after being discovered, it is not confirmed. We may not know for sure if they still practice cannibalism to this day or not, yet we can take comfort in the fact that the Caraway are among the last tribes to partake in this ghastly practice.
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