West Papua is home to 2.7 million people, out of which 50% are of Indigenous Melanesian origin. It is also one of the most diverse regions of Indonesia, with over 250 different languages despite the official language being Bahasa Indonesia.
In terms of religion, the Indigenous Population are Protestant Christians, although they combine their traditional beliefs with it. The forests of West Papua cover over 40 million ha (24% of Indonesia's forest area and home to most of its biodiversity. It’s also a rich region in mineral resources and has the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world.
Despite the above, like many other regions around the world inhabited by Indigenous people, West Papua has the lowest Human Development Index in Indonesia, around 27% of the population lives in poverty.
One of the largest Indigenous communities is the Arfak. They live in the Arfak mountains in Manokwari. This group consists of 4 tribes: Sohug, Meihag, Moilei, and Hatam.
The Arfak are well known for being an intermediary in the Dutch and Portuguese expansion as they helped the communication with other tribes of the island.
Like many Indigenous people, they have incredible hunting skills and are familiar with traditional plant medicine.
Their traditional housing is a very interesting and defining trait of the Arfak tribe. Called Mod Aki aksa or Igkojein, (The house of the thousand feet) it is famous for its structure. It has many supporting poles. The roof is made of leaves and straw.
The function of the wooden poles is to protect the population from enemy attacks and threats of black magic. The reason behind its height is to avoid the attack of wild animals.
Another defining trait is one of their traditional dances, the Ibihim. It mimics snakes movements. The snake represents the majesty of the tribe. This dance will be held when welcoming guests, celebrating a victory, a marriage, etc.
There isn’t a limit for the number of dancers and both men and women can be part of it.
Head to our article about West Papua to see how you can contribute and help West Papua’s population.