By Dian Hasan | September 23, 2009
As a travel destination, Indonesia clearly has earned the bragging rights to the world’s most diverse. The variety is, quite simply, staggering! And can be found nowhere else on the planet. The closest would probably be Brazil, with its Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. While Indonesia plays second fiddle, replete with all its contents. Flora, Fauna… and indigenous tribes that still dwell in the hinterlands. Some of whom are still carrying on a sustainable life based on whatever the earth bestows on them. In the past, we’d simply lump everything into one category “primitive”, but with the world’s rising fascination with eco-consciousness and sustainability, we are quickly realizing that we have plenty to learn from these groups of people that have survived with their way of life for… eternity! Or so it seems. Here’s a look at the Kombai people of Indonesia’s West Papua with their unique tree houses dwellings.
The Kombai are a Melanesian tribal people from the Indonesian province of West Papua, west of Papua New Guinea. The Kombai have become prominent to the outside world primarily because of their traditional tree house dwelling’s, which often reach heights of over 20 meters.
They live adjacent to the Korowai people, who also live in tree houses, and have some similar cultural practices. The two ethnic groups do interact, although as they speak different languages, mutual intelligibility is sometimes problematic. Pigs are equivalent to currency to the Kombai, for example, if the wife of a Kombai man were to die, the family of the woman may demand pigs as compensation. For Kombai men to marry, they first have to buy the woman from her family with necklaces made from dogs’ teeth.
Kombai also host parties (although very rarely), in which they invite people of other tribes, often to repay the other tribes for parties they held, or to clear their names after a “Suangi” attack on another family or tribe. In these parties the Kombai would feed their guest sago, and grubs from the sago tree, which are a delicacy to the Kombai. The leader of the family will hang brush from the ceiling of where the party was housed, and if the party was a success, the other tribesmen burn the brush.
The subsistence patterns of the Kombai people are somewhat related to those of the Asmat people on the southwest coast of Papua, although the Kombai are linguistically very distinct.