The Papuan Korowai tribe live in the dense jungle in the southeast of the Indonesian province of Papua on the island of New Guinea. Until the 1970s, they did not know that there were other people besides them.
Korowai are often called “the last cannibals on Earth” because they still practice eating their own kind. And not because of hunger, but purely for ritual reasons.
The Korowai way of life, even after almost 50 years of contact with advanced civilization, still remains almost primitive. They still hunt only with a bow and arrow and wear almost no clothing. And their customs cause shock and bewilderment among the world community.
From time to time, curious enthusiasts venture to visit the Papuan tribes, which are not particularly welcoming to strangers, and some even manage to live among them for some time, observing their way of life.
Last year, one such adventurer named Drew Binski lived among the Momuna tribe, neighbors of the Korowai. And they told him something interesting about the practice of Korowai cannibalism.
“I learned that the Korowai don’t eat humans for pleasure or their nutritional value,” he explained. “It’s simply a form of punishment. If you steal something, you’re burned at the stake and eaten.”
The Korowai also believe that people’s bodies can be possessed by an evil demon called hakua, which “eats” a person from the inside and turns him into a sorcerer.
The Korowai believe that mysterious deaths, such as illnesses, are due to Hakua or evil demons taking human form,” explained Drew. “The Hakua are said to disguise themselves as friends or family members in an attempt to gain the trust of the tribesmen so they can kill them later.
“The Korowai tradition is to eat anyone they find Hakua. This is done to protect the members of the tribe. For them, it is part of a justice system based on revenge.”
It happens like this: After someone’s unnatural death, a shaman or a medicine man of the tribe studies the body of the deceased, and then, with the help of special rituals, finds the person whose body has been possessed by the hakua demon.
It is believed that to prevent further unnatural deaths in the tribe, this possessed person must be killed. The tribe collectively kills him and then eats his body.
In this case, the tribesmen do not kill the possessed person in order to punish him. Ritual murder is seen as an act of mercy, freeing the possessed from the power of the inner demon.
“By consuming haqua, the tribe believes that they are destroying an evil spirit and preventing it from causing further harm. Killing haqua is considered a solemn and necessary act, done for the protection and well-being of the community.”
The body is eaten almost completely, only hair, nails and genitals are not eaten. Children under 13 years of age are prohibited from eating the meat of a possessed hakua, as they are considered to be too weak and at risk of becoming possessed themselves.
It is not known whether the Korowai are faced with the unpleasant consequences of cannibalism, such as the Kuru prion disease among another Papuan Fore tribe.
Kuru is caused by the accumulation of infectious, misfolded proteins called prions in the nervous system. The disease is spread through cannibalism of infected tissue (i.e. when an individual eats the human tissue of an infected individual).