Asmat people who live along the remote
southeast coast around Agats are famed for their artistic "primitive"
woodcarving. Modern civilization did not reach this area until recently.
Agats has an interesting museum filled with woodcarvings and other
objects. The area however is still largely untamed wilderness. Asmat
crash received a boost in late 1960s under a United Nations supported
project to encourage local craftsmen to keep alive their art.
The Asmat homeland comprises the rugged
and isolated southern coast of Irian Jaya. It is an area of approximately
10,000 square miles and comprises mainly swamps and mangroves.
Ancestor figures were traditionally made only for the festival honoring
Fumer-ipits. They wear a unique costume. Tourists demand, however,
is as resulted to change to this custom. Previously, after the festival,
the figure is discarded into the forests near a sago tree because
it was believed that as the wood of the carving is deteriorated,
the power of the ancestor was transferred to the sago palm. Other
ancestor carvings are designed as elements in larger carvings, such
as canoe prows, paddles or ancestor poles.
The Asmat believe that all things have
a spirit whether humans, animals, plants and even special locations
such as a whirlpool or the bottom of a river. They also believe
that the world is divided between that which can be seen and that
which is unseen which is the realm of the spirits. It is considered
important to maintain a proper balance between the seen and the
unseen. In this respect, birth and death balanced the population
between the seen and unseen realms and one cannot take place without
the other. This would manifest itself in disease, hunger, death
and misfortune that will be caused by the unsettled spirits.