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 an 18th century North Atlantic schooner. Each cabin is air-conditioned and has a private bathroom. With an overall length of more than 145 feet the vessel has comfortable staterooms. On the main deck there is an air-conditioned saloon, library, lounge area and an intimate dining room that seats up to 14 guests at a finely carved wooden table. With its shallow draft, we will be able to travel in comfort to remote areas that most tours will not have access to.
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 life 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 evening 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. There will be one rough day when we are crossing the Arafura Sea. Additionally, we use open boats to travel from the yacht to shore and/or inland on narrow rivers to remote villages if required. It is possible that you, your cameras, and/or day packs would get wet if not secure in waterproof materials. Anyone with back issues should bring a soft cushion to use in the boats, as sometimes the rides can be choppy if we are navigating through heavy waves. Clients should be able to walk unattended over undulating terrain, not be put off by ‘wet landings’ and be flexible to accommodate changes that come about due to weather and /or sea conditions.
March and April are usually good dry months for sailing with calm water, 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.
As with all of our Asmat journeys, the trip is a work of progress as changes may be made to our itinerary if there is some unscheduled feast or ritual that we want to see.
Cruise/Land prices––at this present time we are not asking for any additional amount for clients rescheduled to this Asmat cruise; however, the Rimba Hotel in Timika (the only five star hotel) is closed for renovations and their 2022 rates have not been established. Should there be an increase, we will pass along that additional surcharge.
New clients will be offered the same prices as the 2020 trip and be subject to any rate increase for the Rimba Lodge in 2022.