A group of hunter gatherers living in a remote Indonesian forest are thought to have become the first tribe to be officially recognised as tree-dwellers.
The Korowai, or Koroway, from Indonesia‘s easternmost region of Papua, live in tree houses, speak their own tribal language, and live off forest animals and plants.
Almost 3,000 members of the nomadic clan, whose people wear only banana leaves, were recorded for the first time in the country’s census this year.
Members of the tribe skilfully climb ladders to their wooden homes often as high as 164ft (50m) from the forest floor where they usually live in a family of up to eight.
Homes are built at different heights depending on how well they get on with their fellow tribe members.
The horticultural tribesmen excel at hunting and fishing.
Until the late 1970s, when anthropologists embarked on a study of the tribe, the Korowai were unaware of the existence of any peoples other than themselves.
They have engaged in cannalbalism but anthropologists believe that exposure to the outside world has put an end to this practice in recent years. Korowai people mainly eat wild boar, deer, sago and bananas.
Only a handful of Korowai are thought to be able to read and write. A total of 2,868 of them were interviewed by census workers through missionary translators using sign language.
Suntono, the head of Indonesia’s statistics agency for Papua, said: “It’s as if they’re still living in the Stone Age. They don’t wear any clothes and they live in trees in the jungles.
“They eat leaves and hunt wild animals for food,” he added.
“Now that we know who they are, their numbers and characteristics, they won’t be isolated anymore. We can ensure they get access to education and health care just like any other Indonesian.”
There are more than 250 tribes in the rugged Papua region, bordering Papua New Guinea, and all have their own languages.