KOROWAI - Pie Aerts

"This is a tribute to him, to the Korowai, a tribute to a world before now."

Artist: Pie Aerts
Project: Korowai

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"After thousands of years living in isolation, the Korowai’s first contact with the outside world occurred in the 1970s when a group of Dutch missionaries came upon a Korowai settlement along the banks of the Pulau River in the South Papua province of Indonesia. Due to their relatively recent contact, they are one of the last tribes in the world to maintain a tree-dwelling lifestyle, constructing their homes around 30 meters high atop some of the tallest trees in their rainforest. The Korowai continue to rely on hunting, gathering, and fishing for their subsistence and safeguard generations of oral history and cultural traditions. Today, both legal and illegal logging threatens their existence. Pie Aerts takes us through his journey with the Korowai of West Papua."



"Echoing through the jungle canopy in Indonesian New Guinea is the distant sound of singing: a strong male voice becoming one with the voice of nature. A man emerges from the dense, swampy forest dressed in nothing but a rolled-up leaf and a necklace made of dog teeth. His name is Baliom.

This is the jungle of south eastern Papua and Baliom is one of the few Korowai still dwelling in the woods. Living in small family clans in tree houses raised above the ground, the Korowai have survived for thousands of years, entirely self-sufficient and independent of the outside world. Being hunter gatherers, they live in full harmony with nature, relying on the jungle to feed and to shelter them. Their world existed before cars, radios, phones, or clothes."



"However, after living in harmony with nature for thousands of years, only a few decades of imperialism and human greed were enough to destroy their homes for ever. There's heavy deforestation due to legal and illegal logging practises for the Indonesian timber export. There's land loss due to the mining of gold, silver and copper. On top, for decades on end, Christian missionaries have been determined to destroy their culture, thinking that the tribes are too primitive. And if that’s not enough, currently, they are being lured out of the forest by the national and regional government into newly established villages with the promise of a "better" life. Unable to escape modernism, many lay down their bows and arrows and put on brightly coloured football jerseys while switching on the single electric light in their new, empty houses. And of course, the most destructive currency of modern life has also found its way in the forests of south eastern Papua: cash. With more frequent visits from expeditions and film crews with an often-voracious hunger for the foreign and the undiscovered, life in the jungle is changing, faster than ever before.

But it still is life in the jungle. As Baliom puts it, "Tourism these days is why I can send my children to school. And at the very same time why I can stay in the forest, which is my home. And why I can keep investing in keeping traditions alive." Which ultimately and hopefully, will keep the Korowai alive.

Baliom knows his culture is fading and, living with the daily dangers of the jungle (most Korowai men never pass the age of forty), how short life can be. So, he chooses to ‘live’. To live where life is happening for him. Focused and fulfilled in the moment, present with all his senses. "Because maybe next time you come, I won't be here anymore." "



© Pie Aerts

Editor : Ecaterina Rusu 

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