Asmat People and Culture

Culture & Spirituality

Connections with the Ancestors 

In villages and urban communities people foster connections between themselves and ancestor spirits on a regular basis. Communication can take take the form of a loud vocalization that is sung more than said, an encouraging and lively dialogue, or a soft more self-focused communication such as a murmur to oneself. Connectivity with the ancestors is sought for many reasons: to obtain encouragement or courage, to offer thanks when resources such as sago pulp are about to be harvested, or to affirm the loss of a loved one.

Similarly contact with the spirit world can be triggered by a range of concerns. It will happen when an individual is seriously ill or when an unexpected but minor incident occurs such as falling in the jungle or slipping in the mud. In these latter cases, communication takes place to acknowledge supernatural forces and communicate the hope that supernatural forces do not encourage more serious events.


Kristina Curuw at the annual Asmat Cultural Festival and Art Auction. Photo by Julie Risser, Oct 10, 2009

Weaver Kristina Curuw came to the central festival site in Agats with the other women who had art selected for the festival auction to demonstrate her skill. This event occurred at the same time that carvers gathered to prove their sculptural skills. Curuw's headdress, face paint, and necklace reflect the significance this event can have.