November 16, 2012

0386 INDONESIA (New Guinea) - Traditional huts in Papua

The traditional houses of each ethnic group are different, with its own characteristics, primarily due to the environment, but also to the lifestyle and to the social structure. Therefore the 300 distinct native ethnic groups who live in the more than 17,500 islands which form Indonesia have a very diverse range of traditional housing, so it wasn't easy to find information about the houses in the picture, especially that the explanation is very vague. "A traditional hut in an Indonesian mountain village". Which mountain on which island?

To my satisfaction, I finally managed to find out that is about Central Highlands of Papua, probably the famous Baliem Valley, discovered by Richard Archbold’s third zoological expedition to New Guinea in 1938. Even if today this valley it has much changed, the cannibalism being replaced by Christianity, the grass-skirts and penis-gourds by cheap, western-style clothing, the stone axes by steel ones, and the shell money by the rupiah, it seems that traditional values and lifestyles remained very strong. Villages are still mostly made up by traditional, thatch-and-wood round huts where the women take care of their pigs and the men gather in smoky men's houses, even if tourism is now a regular part of the local economy and in a few more popular areas nearby.

The most prominent ethnic groups which live in Baliem Valley are Dani, Lani and Yali, closely related to each other. The men and women sleep separately in different huts, the men in Honai, the women and the children in Eweai. Round in shape, made from planks of rough wood with the sago palm roof-top, a Honai is approximately 4-6 meters in diameter,  with woven bamboo arranged circling the interior walls, and have no ventilation, because is very cold at night. Honai is also a place to store sacred objects, and women are forbidden to enter. The third kind of huts is Leseai, a square shaped unit used for family gatherings, cooking and eating. Together the Honai, Eweai and Leseai form an Osilimo. The aboriginal's villages are surrounded by fences (as can be seen in the picture) or stone walls. They are farmers, and their small fields are distinctly bordered.

These aborigines have a short life expectancy, and the indonesian authorities concluded that the cause is pneumoconiosis, provoked by breathing the smoke in their traditional huts. Therefore the government built Western style, square houses, but the aboriginals largely rejected this kind of dwellings, erecting right next to them traditional round huts, and leaving the square houses for animals, because were too cold and draughty.

About the stamps
The first stamp, depicting Denau Kelimutu, is part of the Golden Years of Friendship Indonesia-Japan series, a joint issue Japan-Indonesia about which I wrote here.

The second stamp is part of the series Year of the Rabbit, issued on 25 January 2011. The illustrations belong to Teguh Wiyatno, and the stamps show:
1/3 Golden Rabbit (1.500 IDR) - it's on the postcard
2/3 Rabbit Running (3.000 IDR)
3/3 Rabbit in group (4.000 IDR)

Baliem Valley - Wikipedia
The Central Highlands: Rugged Mountains & Traditional Villages - East Indonesia Info
The Dani Tribe, Papua - Trek Papua
Planet Geography, by Stephen Codrington - Google Books
Honai, Exotic House in Baliem Valley, Wamena, Papua - Archi Nusantara
Stamps Issue Series, Year of The Rabbit 2562 - Indonesia Stamps

sender: Larissa (direct swap)
sent from Bandung (Indonesia), on 23.07.2012

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