The Asmat


Asmat people who live along the remote southeast coast around Agats are famed for their artistic "primitive" woodcarving. Modern civilization did not reach this area until recently. Agats has an interesting museum filled with woodcarvings and other objects. The area however is still largely untamed wilderness. Asmat crash received a boost in late 1960s under a United Nations supported project to encourage local craftsmen to keep alive their art.

The Asmat homeland comprises the rugged and isolated southern coast of Irian Jaya. It is an area of approximately 10,000 square miles and comprises mainly swamps and mangroves.

Ancestor figures were traditionally made only for the festival honoring Fumer-ipits. They wear a unique costume. Tourists demand, however, is as resulted to change to this custom. Previously, after the festival, the figure is discarded into the forests near a sago tree because it was believed that as the wood of the carving is deteriorated, the power of the ancestor was transferred to the sago palm. Other ancestor carvings are designed as elements in larger carvings, such as canoe prows, paddles or ancestor poles.

The Asmat believe that all things have a spirit whether humans, animals, plants and even special locations such as a whirlpool or the bottom of a river. They also believe that the world is divided between that which can be seen and that which is unseen which is the realm of the spirits. It is considered important to maintain a proper balance between the seen and the unseen. In this respect, birth and death balanced the population between the seen and unseen realms and one cannot take place without the other. This would manifest itself in disease, hunger, death and misfortune that will be caused by the unsettled spirits.


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