June 13, 2012

0247 INDONESIA (New Guinea) - Asmat warriors

New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2, i.e. about as Germany, Poland, Austria and Switzerland together. From geographical point of view, it's located in the north of the continent of Sahul (the Australia–New Guinea continent), also known as Greater Australia, but also in Melanesia, sometimes being considered the easternmost island of the Malay archipelago. From geological point of view, in last 96 million years Australia and New Guinea were a single, continuous landmass, until about 8,000 and 6,500 BC, when the lowlands in the north of Australia were flooded by the sea, separating New Guinea and the continent.

From biogeographical point of view, New Guinea is part of Australasia rather than the Indomalayan realm, although New Guinea's flora has many more affinities with Asia than its fauna, which is overwhelmingly Australian. Although it occupies less than 0.5% of the Earth's surface, New Guinea has an immense biodiversity, containing between 5 and 10 percent of the total species on the planet. From ethnologic and lingvistic point of view, the island is populated by nearly a thousand different tribal groups and a near-equivalent number of separate languages, which makes New Guinea the most linguistically diverse area in the world.

From historical point of view, the first inhabitants of New Guinea arrived at least around 40,000 years ago, having travelled through the south-east Asian peninsula. The western part of the island was in contact with kingdoms in other parts of modern-day Indonesia. The first European contact with New Guinea was by Portuguese and Spanish sailors in the 16th century, but only in 1828 the Netherlands formally claimed the western half of the island as Netherlands New Guinea. In 1883, the British colony of Queensland annexed south-eastern New Guinea, and Germany claimed north-eastern New Guinea as the protectorate of German New Guinea (Kaiser-Wilhelmsland).

In 1905 the British government renamed their territory as the Territory of Papua, and in 1906 transferred total responsibility for it to Australia. During WWI, Australian forces seized German New Guinea, which in 1920 became the Territory of New Guinea, a League of Nations mandated territory of Australia. The Australian territories became collectively known as The Territories of Papua and New Guinea (until February 1942). In 1962, the Dutch handed over West Papua to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority, until 1963, when Indonesia took control, renaming it West Irian and then Irian Jaya. From 1971, the name Papua New Guinea was used for the Australian territory. In 1975 Australia granted full independence to Papua New Guinea.

From political point of view, the island of New Guinea is divided into roughly equal halves, across a north-south line, the western portion belong to Indonesia (two provinces), and the eastern part forms the independent Papua New Guinea (four regions).

In image are Asmat warriors, probably on the Brazza River or Lorentz River. The Asmat is an ethnic group estimated to be around 70,000, located in southwestern New Guinea, along the vast system of rivers that flow into the Arafura Sea, and well-known for his woodcarvings. Only to the mid-20th century they came into regular contact with outsiders, because of their isolation, but also of their reputation as headhunters and cannibals. The first colonial post was established in 1938 in Agats, but it was closed in 1942, and in 1953 was reestablished by Father G. Zegwaard, a Dutch Missionary. Catholic missionaries, many with degrees in anthropology, were successful in persuading the Asmat to stop cannibalism and headhunting, while encouraging the continuation of other important cultural cycles and festivals, which were incorporated into an adapted Catholic liturgy. You may have noticed that the warriors from the image wearing shorts, which says a lot.

The Asmat are well-known for his woodcarvings, which arrived in museums around the world. The culture hero Fumeripits is considered to be the very first wood carver, and all subsequent wood carvers (known as wowipits) have an obligation to continue his work. The Asmat also believe that there is a close relationship between humans and trees, and recognize wood as the source of life.

About the stamps
The first two stamps are part of the seventh issues of Indonesian Traditional Foods series, started in 2004. This series, issued on July 6, 2010, consists of 7 stamps with the same value (Rp 1,500):
1/7 Sup Lobster Kelapa Muda (West Sulawesi) – it’s on other postcard, here
2/7 Gulai Iga Kemba'ang (Bengkulu) – it’s on other postcard, here
3/7 Ayam Cincane (East Kalimantan)
4/7 Sate Udang Pentuk Asam Manis (Jambi)
5/7 Lempah Kuning (Bangka Belitung) – it’s on the postcard
6/7 Asam Padeh Baung (Riau) – it’s on the postcard, and also here
7/7 Lapis Palaro (North Maluku)

The third is also part of Indonesian Traditional Foods series, issued on July 6, 2008, consists of 5 stamps also with the same value (Rp 1,500):
1/4 Sate Bandeng (Banten)
2/4 Kaledo (Central Sulawesi) – it’s on the postcard
3/4 Ayam Cincane (East Kalimantan)
4/4 Nasi Lemak (Riau)

sender: Yanita Dwi Chairnani (direct swap)
sent from Bogor (Indonesia), on 30.05.2012
photo: Julie Campbell

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