Abelam spirits’ houses, gods and yams (PNG 2017)

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A Kwoma epic tells about a powerful spirit-yam who was living in a deep water pond, up, on a tree. When a man discovered the pond, and stared into the water, the spirit-yam burst, throwing plenty of spears and killing him, turning the water pond into a waterfall and scattering animals and plants from the pond. The yams drifted down the Sepik River, ending up close to Maprik, where they spread around.
From there on, gods, legendary heroes, superstitions, ritual art-work, ceremonies, spirits’ houses, taboos, local pride and, recently, demands for governmental funding are revolving around the yam, a sweet potato, the staple food of the Abelams, and their trade-good for fish with the river people.
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Drai wara (Sepik, Papua NG, 2015)

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In 2015, the dry season came earlier on middle Sepik (river in Papua New Guinea). The drought reduced the wide lakes, which cover Blak Wara area, and the channels which connect it with the Sepik, to small ponds.

One day I saw women gathering with enthusiasm at the creek, to catch fish in a dry water channel. I took my camera and join the party. Read more →

In the swamps (Sepik, Papua NG, 2015)

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During the weeks stayed with the people from West Sepik, I joined them a few times to the swamps, to catch fish.

Armed with baskets made of bush-ropes, cane spears, fishing nets, machetes, and smoking logs – to chase away mosquitoes, dry the tobacco and light the cigarettes, we hopped in canoes and paddled along Sepik. When the canoes were pulled aside, we followed a maze of one-foot-wide paths through young forest and marshlands, to a pond of murky water, in the forest. There, they were smashing poisonous roots, after which they squeezed them in the lake’s water and collected the fish afterwards. One to two hours were enough for a good catch, which would last a family for a few days.

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Pukpuk – crocodile hunters (Sepik, Papua NG, 2015)

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Going down the Sepik River, with my hosts, we had a short stop in a village. There, tucked under the roof of the haus-wind (the community’s gathering place), I saw a pile of crocodile skins. Pukupuk means crocodile, in PNG Pidgin.

It was my second trip to West Sepik, staying with the locals, recording their legends and joining them on daily activities. I heard many stories about crocodiles, pukpuk spirits and pukpuk monsters. I saw pukpuk skulls under porches, teeth on necklaces, carvings, paintings and men with ritual pukpuk-skin scarring.

I took my stuff from the canoe and I remained there for two weeks. Read more →

West Sepik to Vanimo (PNG 2012)

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The last chapter of my first journey along Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, took place in Baio, a village at the confluence with Babi River. I stopped there for a few days, before taking a boat to Vanimo.

Increasing gold mining activity on the Middle Sepik was bringing frequently boats on Babi River, which was being used as a shortcut to Vanimo – a border town close to West Papua, my destination. They were carrying smoked fish and sago upstream, to sell it in Vanimo and gold, to be smuggled into Indonesia and were bringing back packed-food, clothes and electronics, smuggled from Indonesia, to supply the camps of gold-seekers.

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To Ama Mountain, Sepik River (PNG 2012)

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“If you want to find remote communities you must go upstream, to Ama Mountain.”
“Where is that?”

I was in Ambunti, an administrative centre on the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. Asking about remote communities leaving on the upper Sepik and how I can get there, I was pointed a few settlements, around Ama Mountain, somewhere between May and Sepik Rivers. Read more →

Sing Sing in Purkunawi, Sepik River (PNG 2012)

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16th of September is the day when Papua New Guinea got its’ independence officially.

In September 2012 I was on a two month trip on the Sepik River, in the Sundown Province of PNG.

Emilyn, Mary and Lorrie Augwi, three sisters, from the family who hosted me, organized a sing-sing festival in Purkunawi, a village on Middle Sepik, to celebrate the Independence Day. They were aiming to get the authorities’ involved in developing a vocational school. They had invited Michael Somare, the governor of Sundown Province to attend the sing-sing. (Somare is the first prime minister of PNG)

For sing-sing ceremony, the clans take out spiritual masks to invoke the spirits of their ancestors in ritual dances. In Purkunawi it wasn’t a proper warrior sing-sing and the masks were not the powerful ones, which were left safe at home, in the haus tambaran (spirits’ house). Despite this, sing-sing was a serious event and everybody joined with enthusiasm, even if just for the community pride. Read more →

Spirits’ houses, Blak Wara, Sepik River (PNG 2012)

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In 2012 I went on a two month trip along the Sepik River, from Middle Sepik to West Sepik, joining the people I was meeting on the way and following their stories.

In Ambunti, an administrative centre on Middle Sepik, I met Kaipuk, a “savvy men” from the Kwoma clans. He invited me to join him, to Blak Wara, a flooded area at the foot of Waskuk Hills, to show me the haus tambaran (spirits’ house) of his clan, Teg-Asaul. Teg – the Dogs, Asaul – the Vulture. Kaipuk is an Asaul. Read more →

Vanimo – Ambunti, Sepik River (PNG 2012)

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In August 2012 I crossed from West Papua to Papua New Guinea, planning to stay a few days in Vanimo, a small border town, to renew the Indonesian visa. The process took only one day, so, why not, I left east for a short trip, just to have a sight of Sepik River.

I arrived in Pagwi, on the Sepik bank, where I looked for a boat to go downstream, back to the coast. But the first canoe which stopped was heading upstream. I hopped in and ended up on a two-month journey along Sepik River. Read more →

Koroway and tree top houses, West Papua (2012)

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In 2012, together with Iulius Carebia, I went on a trip to Korowai, a tribe living in the forests of West Papua, somewhere between the rivers flowing south of Maoke Mountains.

It took us ten days to get there, starting from Agats, in the south of Papua, travelling with the locals and finding our way by word of mouth. Read more →

Java to West Papua (2012)

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In June 2012, I embarked on a PELNI ship to Papua, together with my friend Iulius Carebia. We were looking to go to the Korowai, a tribe which lives in the Papuan forests, known for building their houses on treetops. The cheapest way to travel from Java to the south of Papua was by PELNI, at “kelas ekonomi”.

PELNI is the maritime-transportation company which links the Indonesian Archipelago. Onboard, thousands of people working in different provinces, families, students, militaries, illegal traders of home-made alcohol, betel-nut sellers, gamblers, prostitutes, businessmen and groups of Christian youth singing with enthusiasm. For the “economy” ticket, the seats’ numbers are irrelevant and people group according to ethnic connections, religion, social class, or destination. Checking the decks you find karaoke bars above Muslim praying rooms, rescue boats either filled with illegal travellers or used as toilets (guess how I know it), decks separated with barbed wire and illegal cinemas loudly advertised. On speakers all over the ship, we could hear the Azan five time a day or the name of the next movie, always alternating a karate/commando one with porn – presented as “very romantic”. 10k a ticket (0.8$) sold at a small stand, along with boiled eggs, imported apples and home-made banana chips. Read more →

On the sea, Ambon to Bau Bau (Indonesia, 2012)

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In March 2012 I hitch-hiked on cargo boats, from Ambon to Sulawesi.

In Indonesia, travelling on cargo ships is forbidden, but I found out that in the eastern part of the archipelago, there are boats which transport cargo without documents, avoiding the sea police, so hopping on them should have been possible. Read more →