Last weekend Hugo, Marc, Brynne and I went for a 5 night visit to the remote village of Sinimburu. Located in the south, below the mountain range that stretches across the middle of Papua, it is a very flat, hot, densely forested part of Papua. We flew over miles and miles of jungle until we came to a river snaking it’s way through and on one of the bends of this river, the village of Sinimburu is located. This is the area of the famed Korowai tribe, the tree house people. They are a stubborn, semi-nomadic lot. The government encouraged them to make their village (even giving each home a small solar panel) but many prefer to live in their traditional tree houses in the jungle. While there we stayed with the missionaries working there, the DeVries family. The only feasible ways for them to get in and out of their village is by floatplane or helicopter. They prefer to use the floatplane as it carries a lot more loading than the helicopter can.
On one of our days we trekked through the dense jungle to one such home. It was an interesting experience. One is required to climb up a large notched pole to reach the “front door”. The house had a slat floor with many rather large openings. Stepping cautiously was important. They also had pet baby pigs inside and the skulls of pigs they’d eaten hang in clumps from the roof. There were about three different cooking spots in this particular house. When we were there, two of them were being used to make sago for us to try. Sago is their staple food. It is a very glutinous, rather tasteless starch made from the inside of a sago palm. Some tribes make it into papeda, a glue-like consistency that you must swallow whole as it is not chew-able. We also tried our hand at pounding the sago and then saw how they filter it with water to get the “flour” out. The people who live in the home we visited were happy to sell us a mouth harp, bow and arrows, traditional axe and a pipe. And we were happy to get “real” artifacts rather than those for sale in the tourist shops.
Another highlight of our time was going to church with the people. Before the service one of the men announced that we were not just outsiders visiting, but that we were of the same church as them (this is a reformed church), therefore one with them. That was very moving to me, to worship together with these new believers in one of the most remote places in the world. The songs we sang t had verses in Indonesian and in their own language.
Each day from 4:00-6:00 Maaike DeVries runs a clinic on her front porch. She has trained some of the local people to be health workers so that when their family is in the city, the health work can continue. She has devised a system that the local people can make sense of as many of them do not read or write. Each person gets a card (a re purposed piece of cardboard box) and they use little drawings to tell which medicine is being taken and how much of the pill is needed and for how long. Some people tuck their cards in the walls of the DeVries home instead of taking them home. There’s no need, they will just come every day at 4:00. It is a great social time and the ladies love to hang out and talk on the right hand side and the men do so on the left hand side. The DeVries’ have fabricated a homemade Sorry board game and the people love to play it. It helps them with their counting which is of benefit to them as there is no school in the village.
I could write much more about our time there but I will keep it succinct. We had an amazing time with the DeVries family, seeing up close and personal how their family lives in the jungle and how they work for and with the people. I observed that they make very intentional choices on how they will do things to best keep the people independent instead of dependent on them. The most important thing that one can do for such a people still being pulled to the old dark ways is to show them the light of Christ. And this is precisely what the DeVries family is doing in their little corner of the jungles of Papua.