The wonders of the Asmat Cultural Festival in Papua

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The floorboard of the stage at the Yos Sudarso Field in Agats in the Asmat Regency rumbled as no less than 140 dancers from various villages in 7 districts danced passionately to the beat of the tradi

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The floorboard of the stage at the Yos Sudarso Field in Agats in the Asmat Regency rumbled as no less than 140 dancers from various villages in 7 districts danced passionately to the beat of the traditional Papuan percussion known as tifa. The fascinating performance marked the opening of the Asmat Cultural Festival on Thursday, October 10, 2013.

No less than 400 participants showcased their skills in wood sculpting, weaving, traditional dances, and Papuan distinct music. Almost a thousand spectators packed the 2,100-square-meter Yos Sudarso Field to enjoy the cultural features of Asmat.

More than 200 sculptures, 62 weavers, and 18 traditional boats made it through the selection process. From 19 districts in Asmat, 7 participated, represented by 20 dancers. On Friday, October 11, 2013, each district performed traditional dances accompanying the art of wood sculpting.

On the same day, the Asmats gathered at the dock of Agats on the bank of the Aswet River. As 17 traditional boats finally showcased the magnificent features of speed and balance, they cruised the river in front of the audience that included no less than 5 foreign countries. Led by the ethnic leader, the ritual caught the attention of locals as well as the foreign audience and the media.

Afterwards, attention returned to the Yos Sudarso Field where 200 wood sculpting artists showcased their fascinating skills. According to Committee Chairman, Erick Sarkol, the number of participants has grown rapidly by the year. In 1981, the number of sculpture artisans recorded only 36, now entering its 29th editions, the number has grown to 200.

There were several categories in the sculpture and weaving competitions. The myth category became the most interesting since it presented not only the art of sculpture but also deep philosophical thoughts and values from each sub-ethnic group. There was also the decorative category which was taken from the daily life of the Asmat.

The beauty of the Asmat wood sculpture is undeniably recognized as one of the best in the world. Unique in this particular sculpture is that artisans never plot a sketch first. Everything is designed in the head, which they directly carve into the wood. Aside from that, not two sculptures are identical, thus their continued originality is guaranteed.

Carrying the theme “Balancing the boat to maintain the true identity of Asmat and preserve the wisdom and values in sustaining cultural development,” the cultural fiesta was also attended by the representative of the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Maria Mayabubun.

Yuvenius A. Biakai BA.SH, Regent of Asmat, reminded the people of Asmat that in spite of their remoteness, the Asmat people should not feel inferior. On the contrary – as the cultural fiesta has shown, the Asmat are known to the world and this the people should be proud of themselves.

Where is the home of the Asmat?

The wide southeast swath of land of the Indonesian part of the island of Papua comprises flat plains overgrown with mangrove forests serrated by many rivers. These plains lie so low that at high tide during the rainy season, sea water penetrates some two kilometers inland and flows back out to two kilometers to sea at low tide. This is the largest alluvial swamp in the world, a low-lying territory of bog forest and meandering rivers emptying into the Arafura Sea. In such an inhospitable landscape, the Asmat have made this their home, next to the Marind-Anim and the Mimika tribes.

Asmat is located at the eastern end of the south coast of the island of Papua. It spreads across an area of 119,749 square kilometers. To its north are the regencies of Jayawijaya and Yahokimo. Whereas along its southern border are the Mappi regency and the Arafura Sea. To its west, are the Arafura Sea and Mimika regency, and to its east, Tolikara and Boven Digul regencies.

To reach Agats, you can take a flight from Jakarta or Bali to Timika or Merauke and then continue by smaller plane to Ewer. From Timika the flight takes around 45 minutes, while from Merauke around 90 minutes. From Ewer you must take a speed boat to reach Agats in about 25 minutes.

The Mozes Kilangin Airport at Timika is served by Garuda Indonesia from Jakarta and Denpasar, Bali, and Merpati Nusantara Airlines from the capital of Papua, Jayapura. Other airlines serving Papua are Sriwijaya Air and Lion Air. Susi Air operates flights to local destinations across Papua including from Timika to Ewer.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.