By Mark McConville
INCREDICBLE images have revealed the faces of a mysterious tribe that knows little of the outside world and is close to getting wiped out by Christian Missionaries.
Stunning pictures show the Korowai people of south eastern Papua New Guinea going about their daily business as they chop down trees for wood, gather their food and cook their dinner.
Other striking shots show an elderly member of the tribe gazing into the camera, a younger man providing the same look and a child staring over as they feed from their mother’s breast.
The remarkable photographs were taken in West Papua by amateur photographer Maxim Russkikh (36) from Moscow, Russia.
“Korowai also known as Kolufo – is the mysterious tribe of south eastern Papua who lives in the least explored jungles in the world and has had little contact with the outside world,” he said.
“The first documented contact by scientists took place in 1974. Korowai people are generally hunter-gatherers, they must share everything they hunt or gather in order to survive including the living space.
“Korowai people live in clans that usually consist of two to three tree houses in one forest cleared site, securing the territory of up-to 50 sq km. Usually from five to eight people live in the tree house at one time.
“Korowai are skilled hunters and are sometimes away from their homes for days, hunting for rats, pigs, birds and fish. The staple for their prey consists of sago and bananas. After the sago palm is harvested and split by men, the heart of the sago palm, which produces a starchy substance, is washed and kneaded or beaten by the women to get the sago flour.
“We spent 15 days, trying to find some remote settlings and crossed 120 km in the least explored jungles but found just two small inhabited settlements, the rest were abandoned.”
The Korowai are thought to number around 3,000. They were reportedly unaware of the existence of any people other than themselves until anthropologists embarked on a study of the tribe in the late 1970s.
Maxim thinks their way of life is being stamped out by Christian missionaries and the Indonesian government who wish to force their culture upon them.
“Christian missionaries, who have been making first contact with tribes for five hundred years, are still trying to do so today,” he said.
“Korowai have managed to survive in the harsh environment of the rainforest over thousands of years keeping its traditional culture alive. And it seems like right now they are disappearing day by day.
“They are urrounded by the dozens of missionary villages supported by the Indonesian government with the only purpose to introduce the western culture and spiritual values. Hundreds of Korowai have moved already from the jungles to newly constructed missionary settlements and more are coming. Often believing that the tribes are ‘primitive’ and living pitiful lives ‘in the dark’, the missionaries’ ultimate aim is to convert them to Christianity.
“There are less than a hundred uncontacted small tribes around the world and they need to be protected by international law. Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable people on earth, especially in West Papua, and they need to survive.”