Tribal people throughout the world are defending themselves against the incursion of a modern society that scorns their rights and their unique ways of living. Here are 10 fascinating indigenous cultures that are on the verge of extinction.
The primitive Korowai have a long tradition of cannibalism, but it’s their tree houses in southeastern Papua, Indonesia that make them fascinating. A family of up to eight people will live in a wooden house with a sago-leaf ceiling that’s built 6–12 meters (20–40 ft) above the ground on a single tree. Sometimes, a house rests on several trees with wooden poles adding support.
The Korowai live in the trees to avoid imagined attacks after dark by walking corpses and male witches on the ground. Each house physically lasts about a year. But they’re so critical to each person’s identity that time is defined by the houses that a person has lived in. For example, a unit of time may be described by the number of houses that fell apart during it. An event such as a birth, death, marriage, or killing happened at the time of a specific house. An era consists of a series of events that occurred when a series of houses were inhabited.
The Korowai usually die before middle age because they lack any kind of medicine. There are about 3,000 tribe members left. Wearing only banana leaves, these hunter-gatherers eat bananas, sago, deer, and wild boar.
Until the 1970s, when anthropologists came to study them, most Korowai didn’t know that outsiders existed. But in recent decades, the younger Korowai have drifted away to settlements built by Dutch missionaries. Soon, only old tribe members will remain in the trees. Their culture is expected to disappear within the next generation.