The Asmat region comprises the tidal swamplands of West Papua's (Irian Jaya's) south coast. This is a remote riverine world of narrow waterways and spreads over an area of shallow mud flats and extensive mangroves with village houses built on stilts. Wooden walkways, raised above the mud, link one village area to the next.
The Asmat tribe are renowned amongst tribal art experts world wide as woodcarvers of the highest order. They were previously notorious as head-hunters and cannibals. Although now by and large a peaceful artistic people, the Asmat have a particularly strong relationship and regard for the human skull, hence the history of head-hunting, and particularly the skull of a revered ancestor. Skulls are used as pillows or hung as a pendant forming a potent contact point with the spirit world.
Asmats are widely considered by collectors and scholars to be among the world's finest carvers. The Asmat Wowipit (wood carver) has a truly spiritual approach to carving and each piece made is imbued with the spirit energy of their ancestors. An Asmat carving can therefore be regarded as a bridge between the material and spirit worlds. The Asmat believe that their creator - Fumerapitjs - carved their ancestors from trees and gave them the blessing of life, so from the very beginning the relationship of carver to wood is totally sacred.
Visit the local village and regional capital of Agats where you may have the opportunity to purchase carvings directly from village artisans. A walk along elevated wooden boardwalks leads to the Catholic cathedral with its superb carvings, and the Agats museum, which holds many fine examples of the regions carvings.
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