Walk on the Wild Side
Every year or so I join a group of friends, intrepid freaks, to head out into some remote tribal terrain to ‘go native’…to experience different lifestyles and cultural norms, to trek across impassable terrain and to generally ‘get lost’ from the world. Our basic mission statement: to push the envelope and have an extremely good time doing so.
This trip we were off to Irian Jaya, (Indonesian Papua New Guinea). It is the world’s second biggest island but also one of the least explored places on the globe, with uncharted areas glaring blankly out of the map, and new tribes still being ‘discovered’.
After a short hop in a time machine, we arrive in the highlands of Irian Jaya, where we are greeted by the Dani people; proud warriors sporting bows and arrows and wearing gourds, elongated calabashes covering their genitalia, and precious little else. This is where on a previous expedition I had found amazing self-healed double-terminated three-phase included quartz adorning the chief’s ceremonial headdress.. an impressive man with a wild boar’s tusk through his nose and a keen interest in my supplies of remedial tequila.
Our first stop is to be the Stone Age… literally! A genuine encounter with the Neolithic Una tribe. They are known as the last remaining stone axe people and their heritage of polishing stones into the first sophisticated tools dates back unbroken to prehistoric times. This skill, called knapping, is considered to be a spiritual work of mythic significance, learned after years of apprenticeship. The craftsmen have a tribal status as high as that of their shamans as they commune with the spirit of the stones.1
These stone tools are chipped away from cryptocrystalline basalt in a process known as lithic reduction. Low-grade metamorphism of basalt produces chlorite, actinolite and epidote, often giving the implements a green hue, resembling nephrite.
After visiting these axe wielding warriors we spend weeks tripping across the island, passing forests of giant tree ferns, squelching through marshlands and over vertical mountain passes slippery in the mist, accompanied by the overtone chanting of our porters and the mosquito harmonic choir. This is a strange land indeed… Magical Black Orchids and Mythical Birds of Paradise tease through the shafts of sunlight. A feast of Cassowary meat is an amazing jungle treat, and a single egg from this incredulous creature makes an omelet for us all.
6 foot high flightless dinner
We are wedged into a tiny aircraft with a pious pilot who prays prior to take off (we understand why when we see the tiny roughed out football fields on impossible mountainsides that serve as runways) and then we are back to walking some more…
Our journey leads on through swampy grasslands to the shy Korowai tribe. They are hunters and collectors, reported to still practice ritual cannibalism. They live in small family groups in tree houses high in the forest canopy, well protected from both man and beast. These are definitely no little cubbies for kids and it is somewhat nerve racking climbing nearly 40 yards up on flimsy stick ladders, to their leafy domain. The women have bones from the wings of a flying fox piercing their noses and look suspiciously like bugs. The men have done away with the obligatory gourds and have replaced them with leaves. They wear precious necklaces of dog teeth; there is a little nervous tension in the air, especially at meal times. The envelope has definitely been pushed.
Talking of food, we are invited to join a Sago ceremony with them, which involves chopping down one of the massive palms, and rinsing and stomping on the pulp for many hours, chanting nasal melodies, until a nearly pure carbohydrate paste is made. A wonderful delicacy of weevil larva, Grubs the size of my thumb, that live in the bark is gingerly snapped up raw by all (including our token vegetarian). They are gooey but somewhat nutty too…protein certainly is precious here!
We trek off again thru shoe sucking mud until we reach the River (?). We slide downriver, mere inches above the water, in a motorized dugout canoe, its motor a machine gun after the weeks of silent forest….. It is a well needed chance to rest our blistered feet before arriving at the estuarine mangrove swamps inhabited by the Asmat, with their renowned appetite for Caucasian cuisine. They lead us to their long dark communal houses, raised on stilts above the greasy river and show their appreciation of us by licking the sweat from our limbs, to the rhythmic pounding of lizard skin drums. The slightly menacing mangrove swampland is home to giant crocodiles and other man eaters. We are somewhat relieved when our wooden Bugi sailing boat (from the same people who bought you the Bogey man) meets with us to float away to the fabled land of the Dragon, Komodo.
As we sail along the southern coast of
The pyramid, that sits at the foot of an equatorial glacier, is mostly known only to a select group of altitude freaks as being the highest peak between the Andes and the
but, unfortunately, the whole mountain and mine area is hermetically sealed by an ingenious mix of para-military and mercenaries..boys with bigger toys than mere stone tools, and there’s no way to get close, let alone to grab any mineral specs.
Then it dawned on me that this was none other than the fabled eye in the pyramid. Spoken of softly in conspiratorial whispers.. the pyramid, the eye and the gold owned by an American company in the mountains of an island half way round the world.4
William Blake's Ancient of Days, 1794, relief etching with watercolor.
"It is the desire to do something adventurous, at a time when frontiers, in the real sense of the word, are disappearing."- Michael C. Rockefeller.
1. The technical archeological terms used to describe this type of stone tool manufacture sound like something from Star Wars….The Oldawan, The Acheulian Tradition (if one can pronounce them at all). Whatever, these people never reached the use/manufacture of metal tools until the missionaries mysteriously appeared to improve their lives.
3.Since its inception, the mine has been a tale of bloody conflicts, ecological devastation, incredible engineering and terrible publicity. It is run by Freeport-McMoRan, with the support of the Indonesian military, whose heavy-handed tactics in dealing with local Papuan communities (leading to approx 1000 deaths) has attracted the adverse attention of human rights organizations globally.
It is estimated that during the life of the mine, 3.2 billion tons of waste rock, which generates toxic acids, will be dumped into the local river system, polluting the groundwater, and onwards into the
On the other hand, the
One cannot help but wonder why the
Have I spent too long in the twilight zone, or is there a weird co-incidence between the Rockefeller family’s foundation of Standard Oil, which not only totally monopolized the American oil industry but which later became an integral part of Freeport McMoRan, and the mysterious disappearance of one of their family at the hands of the Asmats …
first published as "The I in the Pyramid" in The Metaphysical Guide