ITS–The Asmat people are world-acclaimed as the best craftsmen among the ethnic groups living in Papua. They live in a region of brackish swamps along the south coast of Papua. This region is about 200 kilometers long and stretches about 100 kilometers inland. It is intersected by many rivers. The population, about 50.000 people, is distributed over more than 100 villages in Merauke regency.
The people believe they were created by the Creator, named Fumeripits. The God was once stranded on the coast and then lived alone in the empty regions. In this loneliness, he crafted human wooden statues and played a tifa gong. Miraculously, the statues danced with the music. He then wondered inland and created people in the same manner in every place he stopped. Thus, according to the legend, the Asmat people were created.
Craftsmen, or wow ipits, enjoy a special status among the ethnic group. They are considered the descendants of Fumeripits.
Each village has several wow ipits. They make their living like any others by hunting, fishing, or felling sago trees for their food. When villagers ask a wow ipits to make carvings for the customary ceremonies, he receives payment in goods from them. Sometimes, those who make orders pay him by replacing him in doing his daily work until he finishes the carving.
The woodcarvings feature human and animal motifs, which express their life’s perception and religion. The carvings are mostly two dimensional and colored in red, black, and white. In the past, they used primitive utensils made of bones, hard wood, and stone in their work. They started using metal utensils early this century, after the Dutch people came to the area bartering their works of iron.
The Asmat woodcarvings have gained international recognition and are diligently hunted by collectors around the world.