The Amazing Tree Houses of the Korowai Tribe

In our part of the world, grown-ups are known to build tree houses for their kids, but there exists a parallel culture on this very planet, where the grown-ups themselves live in tree houses. I’m talking about the Korowai tribe of Papua, Indonesia, that has engineered and survived in towering tree homes as high as 114 feet above the ground. The tribe inhabits an inaccessible jungle located 150 km inland from the Arafura Sea, and was completely isolated from the world, until 1974, when they were discovered by a Dutch missionary. The Korowai tribe consists of a small society of traditional family ties, hunter gatherers who have been quite popular with the press for their cannibalistic tendencies.

However, what’s most fascinating about the Korowai people is the way they have designed their homes. There are a few reasons why they live up in the trees – to protect themselves from swarming mosquitoes, evil spirits, and of course, troublesome neighbors. What better way to escape the pesky next-door-neighbor than to hide up in a tree? Ideally, a Korowai tree house is constructed in a clearing, with a large Banyan or Wambom tree serving as the main pole. Once a suitable tree has been located, its top is removed. The floor frame is laid down first, made from branches and covered with sago palm. Walls and a roof are added, bound together with raffia. Additional poles are added to the corners for extra support. The average tree home ranges between 8 to 12 meters above ground level, but some go as high as 35 meters. Each house is sturdy enough to accommodate up to a dozen people.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Korowai people even have house warming traditions for their tree homes. Every new home is blessed by smearing animal fat at the threshold. A typical Korowai home is inhabited by a whole family group, pets included. Larger homes have separate fire pits and living spaces for men and women. Quite understandably, fire is one of the major dangers to these tree-dwelling tribals. That’s why they have specially designed fire pits – with cut-away floor sections in case of accidents. Even with their superior construction techniques, the lifespan of each tree home is only 5 years.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ever since their discovery, the Korowai tribe has been an object of fascination for the outside world. Several articles have been written and documentaries made about their way of life. Their practice of cannibalism has been a cause of some sensation, but the truth is that the practice is only used by the tribe for criminal justice. The family of the victim is permitted to kill and eat those accused of the crime. The Korowai tribe is not just adept at constructing tree houses, but they are also excellent hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists, practicing shifting cultivation. One of their prime means of income since the early 1990s has been from selling tours into the Korowai region. And to think that just over three decades ago, they did not even know that a world existed outside of their own!



Source: Amusing Planet

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