Photographer Captures Daily Life Of Elusive West Papua Korowai Tribe


An amateur photographer has managed to capture the daily life of an elusive tribe in West Papua, New Guinea, having photographed people across several generations going about activities like cooking and chopping down trees.

Credit: Media Drum
Credit: Media Drum

After being discovered by anthropologists in the 1970s, the Korowai tribe in south-eastern West Papua have featured in several documentaries - including BBC series Human Planet.

However, when an anthropologist called Will Millard travelled there for a BBC doc released earlier this year, My Year With The Tribe, he found that some elements of their lifestyle had actually been set up for entertainment - such as the massive tree houses they'd been filmed building, where had been commissioned by film crews.

Hoping to unearth what everyday life for the Korowai people was really like, photographer Maxim Russkikh has released a series of striking images depicting the mysterious tribe - as the western world creeps in and threatens its traditional life.

Credit: Media Drum
Credit: Media Drum

Thirty-six-year-old Russkikh, who hails from Moscow, Russia, said: "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.

"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."

Credit: Media Drum
Credit: Media Drum

There are thought to be around 3,000 Korowai people, but Maxim believes the simple way of life they're used to could be under threat from Christian missionaries, as well as the Indonesian government, which has urged them to stop living so remotely.

"Christian missionaries, who have been making first contact with tribes for five hundred years, are still trying to do so today," Maxim continued.

"Korowai have managed to survive in the harsh environment of the rain forest over thousands of years keeping its traditional culture alive. And it seems like right now they are disappearing day by day.

Credit: Media Drum
Credit: Media Drum

"They are surrounded 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."

Featured Image Credit: Media Drum

Jess Hardiman

Jess Hardiman is a journalist who graduated from Manchester University with a BA in Film Studies, English Language and Literature, and has previously worked for Time Out and The Skinny among others.

Next Up

arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up camera clock close comment cursor email facebook-messenger facebook Instagram link new-window phone play share snapchat submit twitter vine whatsapp logoInline safari-pinned-tab Created by potrace 1.11, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2013