Irian Jaya is the western half of New
Guinea, the second largest island in the world and Indonesia's eastern most
province. The island is a relative youngster, as far as geologists are
concerned, and is continually being remolded by the forces of nature. Intense
rainfall gives birth to mind blowing varieties and quantities of life
while fierce flowing rivers sculpt and reshape the land at every turn.
Imposing mountain dominate the landscape
with snow capped peaks and two glaciers, Carstensz and Meren, glisten in the
morning sun. Three major tectonic plates jostle occasionally just northeast of
the island adding to the continual changes of this amazing environment.
Another major attraction in Irian Jaya is
the variety of flora and fauna with steamy mangrove swamps in the lowland
coastal areas rising to tropical rain forest in the island's heart. Hundreds of
rivers dump staggering quantities of silt in the lowland plains making them
prone to flooding as well as creating a home for some fantastic species of
birds. Splashes of colour flash by while other-wordly sounds resonate from
the lowland jungles, also home to one of the island's most documented tribes -
Travelling ever higher, forest gives way to
grassland and later to rock outcrops and the hars environment of a mountain
wilderness. In many places these mountain peaks rise above 4,500 meters and even
from the coast they dominate the landscape with an awesome power. Early morning
views are spectacular with glaciers sparkling against deep blue tropical skies
and mist rising from heaving jungles.
The People and Way of Life
The indigenous people of
this province are Melanesians with black skins and curly hair. They generally
have a root crop subsistence agriculture based on sweet potatoes and taros.
The people of Papua
obtain their starch from the sago palm which gives and extremely generous yield
for remarkably little effort. Feral and domesticated pigs on the island is
originally came from Southeast Asia was an event which has had vast cultural and
ritual significance for its people. Pigs are often treated as members of the
family and are sometimes suckled by women.
While many other people
of the world were still hunters and gatherers, Papua people had begun to garden.
After fairly recently, many of them lived with a simple Stone Age Culture
wearing little clothing and decorating their bodies with paintings, shells, pig
tusks, feathers and skins. There is a plethora of language in the province,
perhaps some 250 in all, each representing a tribal group which mixes little
with the others. Some of the more remote groups still have virtually no contact
with the outside world.