Posted on January 9, 2009

Jungle Diary, Part 4: Cannibals, Hunters, and Home

Danna Harman, Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 2009

“So, tell me, do you really eat humans?” I ask Jacob, a Korowai tribesman whose family—the Dayos—we stay with on one of our last nights in the Papuan jungle.

Isak translates from English to Bahasa, and Lakor translates from Bahasa into Korowai. “I have eaten three,” comes the answer, taking the same three-tiered translation journey back to me. Jacob gestures nonchalantly to his left to indicate the direction from which the latest dinner came.

My fellow traveler Adam raises an eyebrow. I wonder if someone along the translation line has made this up for the benefit of us visitors.

Although the Korowai are often considered to be some of the last remaining cannibals in the world, reportedly eating male members of other tribes they consider to be witches or kahkhua, there is no first-hand outsider account of such behavior. University of California, San Diego, anthropologist Rupert Stasch, who spent 18 months with the Korowai in the 1990s, never saw any such activity—though he heard accounts of it occurring.

Cannibals or not, however, it’s clear they can hunt. And if I were a kahkhua, I would head to town.