Meet the amazing Papuan people of Raja Ampat
When you mention Raja Ampat, the first thought that crosses your mind is of the incredible marine life and diving, white beaches, and coconut trees. What most fail to remember, is that the area is also home to the indigenous tribes and people of West Papua. An area that is believed to have been populated over 30 000 years ago by the Melanesians, an ethnic group that can be traced back in both the populations of West Papua and that of Papua New Guinea.
While the modern-day tribes of Papua New Guinea are much more closely related to their Melanesian ancestors, the tribes of the Raja Ampat region have, over the years, been exposed to, and even integrated with, many other tribes from all over Indonesia and the surrounding areas, including Biak and Maluku.
Over the years this has greatly influenced the evolution of this unique culture and people. Commonly referred to as the Papuan people. A popular story among the Papuan people is that a skilled warrior of Raja Ampat helped the Sultan of Tidore conquer the Raja Ampat region, after which he was rewarded the Sultan’s daughter’s hand in marriage. They then had four children, who were named the four kings of the region, and this gave birth to the name of Raja Ampat, the Four Kings.
Most of the Papuan people come from families of migrating fishermen, with small tribes forming across the 1500 islands in the region. While all come from the same general ancestry, each individual tribe has developed their own individual dialects, customs, and habits, over time. As many as six distinct dialects have been identified among these tribes, while the Indonesian Bahasa language is used as a common language between them.
As with the rest of Indonesia, the two main religions in the area are Christianity and Islam. With the northern regions having a larger Christian population and the south favouring Islam. These two religious groups live in perfect harmony in the area, with a deep respect for each other. While modern religions are present because of outside influences over the years, most of the Papuan people still hold fast to old beliefs and superstitions. Although not openly practiced anymore, many of these have their origin in witchcraft and the spirit world.
The Papuan people of Raja Ampat are known for their friendly and welcoming nature and will often greet visitors to the area with big smiles and generous natures. The children in the area will swarm around newcomers to speak, play, and make an appearance in photos. These families are of the ocean and their entire lives revolve around it. Kids are seen swimming in the waters surrounding their villages, or swinging from homemade swings high in the treetops, while the adults come and go. The men mainly take their homemade boats out for the day to fish, while the woman stay home and look after their household.
Their culture is one of family and caring, with the bonds running deep. It is common for families to live their entire lives in one village and house from one generation to the next, with the young looking the elderly. While in modern times, the children are more likely to attend modern schools they are still taught the traditional ways. From fishing to forestry, the Papuan people truly are at home in their environment.
They are also proud people with a rich history and culture. They are lovers of the arts, and previous generations were as well. Many caves in the area are filled with drawings from long ago, while folktales are still passed on from generation to generation. Where you are most likely to see the love of arts is through their passion for telling stories through their song and dance, with traditional dances, and songs, taught from a young age. Children dress in traditional dress and war paint to perform these dances, the most famous of which tells the story of the Lau Lau (Kangaroo) hunt.
One of the best experiences of all is to be surrounded by the unique cultural aspects of the Papuan people. From their distinct cuisine, heritage, and way of life, the people of Raja Ampat are genuine and friendly to all who visit their home and will go to great lengths to make all feel at home in this paradise.
Situated in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, Meridian Adventure Dive is a PADI 5 Star Resort and winner of the PADI Green Star award. Scuba divers enjoy our professional services that have become synonymous with both the PADI and Meridian Adventure names.