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Irian Jaya and the Sawi Tribe


I flew from Jayapura, the capital city of Irian Jaya, up to a town in the mountains named Wamena. New Guinea is a large island that is divided into two parts. Irian Jaya is under the control of the Indonesian government while the east side is called Papua.

From Wamena I flew in a small ‘float plane’ down through the endless jungle and valleys to my destination of the Sawi tribe. We stopped at a few places along the way to deliver mail and other items. Landing on flowing rivers is a thrill like no other. I can still remember the pilot having to dodge floating logs at one place as we tried to land. At another place we forgot to drop off a frozen chicken which a lady had bought for her wedding anniversary so we had to fly back.

It was a cloudy day and the pilot told me we would fly for a few minutes and then go down through the clouds and hope we were in the right area. Down we went and I was hoping against hope that he was correct. When we descended below the cloud line, he saw the river but wasn’t sure which way to go – left or right. Anyway, he chose ‘right’ and after a while recognised some familiar navigational points. The village came into view 20 minutes later.

The history of the Sawi is very interesting. They were a tribe of cannibals and had a clever way of shrinking the heads of their enemies. Sixty years ago, they gave up cannibalism and are now struggling to adapt to our modern world.

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thrill – a feeling of excitement and joy
hoping against hope – to hope very strongly
cannibals – a group of people who eat other people
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Historical Recount

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