Telly Nathalia — A tribe of hunter gatherers living in trees in the remote forests of Indonesia’s easternmost Papua region has been discovered for the first time by the country’s census, an official said on Thursday.
The nomadic tribe, called Koroway, numbers about 3,000 people speaking their own language and living off animals and plants in the forest, census officials found during the country’s 2010 census survey.
“Their houses are in trees, their life is stone age,” said Suntono, head of Indonesia’s statistics agency for the Papua region, adding the tribe built ladders to huts in tall trees.
After receiving reports from missionaries, census officials needed to walk for up to two weeks to find the tribe, after travelling by boat from the nearest permanent villages, but still only reached the fringes of their territory.
The nearest city to the swampy southeastern corner of Papua is Merauke, the site of a planned giant food estate attracting interest from investors such as Singapore’s Wilmar (WLIL.SI) to grow sugar.
Scientists said last month they had found new species in Papua, including the world’s smallest wallaby. The discoveries come as scientists warn of the threat of species loss as the planet warms and forests are destroyed to feed humans.
Suntono said the tribe, naked except for banana leaves to cover their private parts, protected their area from outsiders as they said they depended on it for food, such as deer, wild boar, sago and bananas.
A secessionist movement has smouldered for decades in politically sensitive and resource-rich Papua, with attacks in the past year on workers at Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc’s (FCX.N) Grasberg mine that has the world’s largest gold reserves.
There are more than 2,500 tribes in Papua and all have different languages, Suntono added.