Asmat Exploratory Cruise: Asmat, West Papua, Indonesia
Join Kathleen Fung and Phyllis Hischier, a renowned expert on the Asmat culture, as we cruise into the jungles of West Papua, Indonesia, and visit the Asmat people. We are chartering the luxury Mutiara Yacht, a 47-metre double mast yacht that closely resembles an18th century North Atlantic schooner.
The Asmat number approximately 65,000 people and occupy a swampy area about the size of Belgium in West Papua, a province that along with Papua makes up the western half of the island of New Guinea, the second-largest island in the world after Greenland. More than 250 languages are spoken in West Papua, with at least an equal number of dialects. With its many hidden valleys and rugged and inaccessible terrain, much of the interior remains uncharted territory.
As late as the 1960s the Asmat people of West Papua, New Guinea, were a Stone Age culture, practicing headhunting and living their ritual life isolated from the rest of the world due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the region. This way of ife began to change when Catholic missionaries established a post in Agats in 1953, and over time, the missionaries were able to convince the Asmat to give up their headhunting and cannibalism.
The Asmat and their woodcarving came into the international spotlight in 1961 when Michael Rockefeller disappeared in the jungles of New Guinea. The Asmat have developed elaborate ritual objects that powerfully represent their culture. Many of these objects embody ancestors as a way of honoring them in the afterlife or instilling their power into the object. Much of the prestige derived by the woodcarvers comes from the interest that the outer world has shown.
Our journey begins in Bali, one of the most beautiful islands in the Indonesian archipelago.
From Bali, we fly to remote Timika in West Papua, our launching point for the Asmat exploratory cruise along the swampy Casuarina coast. A complex network of rivers and streams flows through the swamps, which flood and recede depending on the tide. In Central Asmat we encounter up to five cultural groups, which might be hosting some ongoing festival or ritual where villagers could be dressed in full body masks with some, like traditional leaders, wearing bride price dog teeth necklaces, woven human hair bands, and bipane nose ornaments.
Phyllis will be offering nightly talks on the similarities and differences between the body adornment, rituals, houses, and feasts of the various tribes along the river. Asmat life revolves around feasts and ceremonies, and usually some type of feast is going on. Although there are no guarantees, Phyllis will be arranging some type of community event for a deeper understanding of the Asmat. Along the way many opportunities will arise that are not on the itinerary. These may include demonstrations of the making of drums, shields, mats, and so forth. Different village headmen, religious leaders, or war chiefs may also come aboard our boat to talk about contemporary Asmat life. After all, connecting with the culture and being with the people are the highlights of our visit.
Due to the fact that we are many days sailing into isolated areas of the Asmat, we will be far from medical facilitates. Anyone booking this exploratory cruise should be fit, in good physical condition, and aware that emergency medical evacuation may not be possible for days. October and early November are usually good dry months for sailing but with global warming, we could experience a shower here and there. No one can predict weather especially in these changing times, but we anticipate favorable weather in West Papua during this period.
This is the first draft of our cruise itinerary but the trip is a work of progress as Phyllis and her advance team heads into the Asmat this summer in search of villages that might be engaged in rituals when we are there in 2020.