The Korowai are a small tribe in West Papua and are allegedly the only tribe in the world that have taken up residence in the treetops. UK television channel BBC broadcast an hour-long documentary this week, detailing some of the intimate details of the world’s most mysterious tribal populations, with a quarter of the programme dedicated to the construction of a new home for the Korowai.
The tribe selected the strongest kind of tree in the forest – an ironwood – and constructed a ladder using metres of twine and branches from the local vicinity in order to reach their chosen spot, 35m up in the treetops. As news of the activity spread, the tribe’s neighbours gathered to aid the building efforts, with the assurance that the favour would be returned when they too decided to build a new home.
In stark contrast to the rigid health and safety requirements of urban building sites, the Korowai display no fear in walking along thin branches 30-40m in the air with no harness or safety equipment, just incredible balance and poise. The production team on the other hand caused a stir with their ropes, pulleys and hard hats as they hauled themselves into position with considerably less composure and elegance!
Over the two-week building period, 42 workers used 30 bundles of Sago Palm leaves (for the roof), 16 rolls of tree bark (for the walls and floor), 5km of twine and countless felled trees to construct a durable, watertight shelter for the entire tribe, tens of metres off the forest floor. Reasons for the elevated nature of the Korowai’s living quarters are threefold: they escape the hazards of flooding and biting insects on the forest floor; they are protected from enemy attack; and it allows a clear display of ‘jungle prowess’, as the tribe believe ‘the higher the house, the greater the prestige’.