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THE TRIBE OF THE SAYAKH

Yaniruma

After many exhausting days we left behind us the un-noticeable border line between developed and undeveloped land. We had to conquer many detours because of tribal wars, or our carriers were not on friendly terms wit tribes on our track and last not least to mention the deep mood infested with parasites which we had to get through.

The Dayos treated us as their guests. This tribe considers the theft of women and pigs as normal. Nevertheless, it is a crime and needs punishment. Each time it happens one member of the guilty clan will be killed. Permanent hatred results after each mishap and will not be forgotten for generations. We experienced caution even rejection and threat. "White Ghosts" were not welcomed. Old stories tell about death and disease, which were caused by white ghosts. We had to send spies prior to our arrival. All happenings, which could not be understood by the Korowai, had their origins with the ghosts. Our aim to reach the Sayakh seemed more and more impossible, the threats increased and we could hear the drums signalling our arrival from all directions. Despite all the difficulties we, our delegation of 25 carriers plus one tonne of equipment and food managed many days later to penetrate towards the Sayakh. This tribe has had no contact to the outside world. They live in the midst of a region surrounded by swamp in the heart of Irian Jaya. They could only maintain their origins until today because of their deep mistrust towards 'foreign' customs. Their necklaces are made out of dogteeth and kaurishells. Bones from flying foxes decorate their noses. They appear in front of us - with bones pinned through their noses and their penises are wrapped in leaves. In the background a nearly 45 m high tree-house arrises gigantically into the sky, their home.

Way to the treehouse
Treehouse

The house offers them a vast view and simultaneously means protection. We could only stay a few days in the company of the Sayakh until the neighbouring tribe showed their clear mistrust towards us with 'arrows'. We were not accepted here. The Sayakh defend their area with all their means and we do hope that this unique tribe can be preserved. Up to now, the Korowai do not know what the future could bring because our values of live have not as yet travelled to their region.


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Text und Bilder  Harald Melcher 1998