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Rare look at Indonesian Korowai people who were undiscovered until 1974

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Rare look at Indonesian Korowai people who were undiscovered until 1974

The tribe the world didn’t know existed: A rare look at Indonesian Korowai people who were undiscovered until 1974 and rumoured to EAT humans whose bodies were ‘possessed by spirits’

  • The tribe from West Papua were unaware of the existence of any peoples other than themselves until 1974
  • They are rumoured to practise cannibalism and live in trees but some anthropologists dispute this
  • It has been claimed the tribesmen now dupe western media to promote tourism by perpetuating myths 

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Remarkable photos of a remote tribe which was disconnected from the outside world until the 1970s have been captured by an adventurous photographer.

The images of the Korowai people of West Papua, Indonesia, show the almost naked tribesmen feasting on live bugs and protecting and repairing their rudimentary tree buildings.  

Ever since they were discovered, the tribe have been rumoured to be cannibals who live in treetop houses. Members of the tribe today still encourage such stories when asked by Western visitors, but while they certainly once lived among the branches, there is little evidence to support claims they ate human flesh. 

A member of the remote Korowai tribe of West Papua, Indonesia, eats a live bug in an image captured by Italian photojournalist Gianluca Chiodini

A member of the remote Korowai tribe of West Papua, Indonesia, eats a live bug in an image captured by Italian photojournalist Gianluca Chiodini

The almost naked tribesmen eat live bugs although it is doubted how authentic the lives they present to westerners actually is

The almost naked tribesmen eat live bugs although it is doubted how authentic the lives they present to westerners actually is

Some believe the Korowai practised cannibalism until recently but others say this was a myth perpetuated by certain clans to promote interest and tourism

Some believe the Korowai practised cannibalism until recently but others say this was a myth perpetuated by certain clans to promote interest and tourism

Their first documented contact with the outside world was when a group of scientists met with members of one clan in 1974. 

An Australian reporter later claimed the tribe practised cannibalism but this has been disputed by some.

And while the Korowai previously lived in communal tree houses high up in the jungle canopy, the clans have increasingly moved into settled villages. 

Last year, the tribe was the subject of a BBC blunder when a film team following up on the 2011 series Human Planet discovered that the tree houses had been built for the benefit of the show – and were not lived in by the tribe. 

In BBC Two’s My Year With The Tribe last year, Adventurer Will Millard visited the Korowai where during a trip to a treehouse they told him the raised houses ‘are not our home’ and that they were ‘commissioned for filming’.

The tribesmen are pictured digging pulp out of a palm tree to create sago, a major food staple for the people

 The tribesmen are pictured digging pulp out of a palm tree to create sago, a major food staple for the people

Their first documented contact with the outside world was when a group of scientists met with members of one clan in 1974

Their first documented contact with the outside world was when a group of scientists met with members of one clan in 1974

A mother carrying her child on her back and a machete in her right hand walks through the rainforest

A mother carrying her child on her back and a machete in her right hand walks through the rainforest

The Korowai used to live high up in trees to avoid critters but now they have increasingly moved into settled villages

The Korowai used to live high up in trees to avoid critters but now they have increasingly moved into settled villages

This latest set of photos was captured by Gianluca Chiodini, 41, who spent days trampling through rainforests to spend several nights with the tribe

This latest set of photos was captured by Gianluca Chiodini, 41, who spent days trampling through rainforests to spend several nights with the tribe

‘What I found when we got to Korowai territory was that, actually, in the more contacted, accessible places, there was something of a Korowai tourist economy going on, where they were putting on a performance for the benefit of rich tourists,’ Mr Millard said at the time. 

The BBC later released a statement saying it ‘breached editorial standards’ by inaccurately portraying the life of the Korowai, which is now thought to number around 3,000 people.

It was revealed they charged western photographers money to appear naked and living in the trees, even though that was not how they usually lived.

This latest set of photos was captured by Italian photojournalist Gianluca Chiodini, 41, who spent days trampling through rainforests to spend several nights with the tribe.

Last year, the tribe was the subject of a BBC blunder when a film team following up on a 2011 series discovered the tree houses had been built for the benefit of the show - and were not lived in by the tribe

Last year, the tribe was the subject of a BBC blunder when a film team following up on a 2011 series discovered the tree houses had been built for the benefit of the show – and were not lived in by the tribe

Ever since they were discovered, the tribe have been rumoured to be cannibals who live in treetop houses

Ever since they were discovered, the tribe have been rumoured to be cannibals who live in treetop houses 

Marcus, the clan chief, plays Chiodini a tune to Chiodini. There are claims the tribe have created a tourist economy to dupe westerners

Marcus, the clan chief, plays Chiodini a tune to Chiodini. There are claims the tribe have created a tourist economy to dupe westerners

A tribesman uses his teeth to secure a knot on his improvised tool. The Korowai do not have access to many modern medicines

A tribesman uses his teeth to secure a knot on his improvised tool. The Korowai do not have access to many modern medicines

He said: ‘The Korowai live in the heart of the rainforest, where they’re not yet exposed to the modern world, so they still maintain many of their age-old traditions. 

‘The first documented contact with the outside world occurred with a group of scientists in March 1974. Until then, members of the Korowai tribe were totally unaware of anyone else on earth.’

The Korowai do not have access to many modern medicines and diseases are treated with herbs, so the mortality rate is typically very high.

Not having the relevant scientific knowledge, the tribe reportedly believed that deaths are caused by ‘khakhua’ or demons that take the human form. 

Some say that anyone killed by a ‘demon’ was eaten by the remaining tribe members, a curious revenge ritual to protect the rest of the Korowai people, although this has been disputed.

Certain anthropologists believe that clans in the tribe have perpetuated the myth of cannibalism to promote interest and tourism. 

One of the specialities eaten by the tribe is sago, made from palm trees, which is essentially mashed tree pulp cooked on the fire. 

One of the specialities eaten by the tribe is sago, made from palm trees, which is essentially mashed tree pulp cooked on the fire

One of the specialities eaten by the tribe is sago, made from palm trees, which is essentially mashed tree pulp cooked on the fire

Certain anthropologists believe that clans in the tribe have perpetuated the myth of cannibalism to promote interest

Certain anthropologists believe that clans in the tribe have perpetuated the myth of cannibalism to promote interest

Some say that anyone killed by a 'demon' was eaten by the remaining tribe members in a curious revenge ritual but others dispute this

Some say that anyone killed by a ‘demon’ was eaten by the remaining tribe members in a curious revenge ritual but others dispute this

Published at Fri, 20 Dec 2019 20:08:41 +0000

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