Momuna tribe: Faith and the way of living

Momuna people in Yahukimo District. -Jubi/Piter Lokon

Momuna tribe, who live in the lowland of Dekai City, has in common with Korowai tribe, a tribe who spreads in the three administrative areas of Boven Digoel, Mappi and Asmat. The most common between these two tribes is the shape of their traditional house, which is built on a tree. Momuna people call their tree house buku subu.

However, it has changed as the time flies. Currently, Momuna people are rarely living in the tree house. They live in regular houses that were provided by the government of Yahukimo District as part of their social development program. Yet, people still build the buku subu in order to attract some local and domestic tourists to visit their village in Dekai.

Regarding to faith, Momuna tribe always own their belief about creation since long time ago. “We don’t believe in trees or rivers. We believe that there is the One who creates us,” the Momuna tribe chief Ismail Keikera recently told Jubi in his house.

Momuna people believe in the existence of the Creator, and it must have its own place. Therefore, there are some places that regarded as the sacred ones. “In the past, there are some sacred places or prohibitions from our ancestors. These are still believed until now by this generation,” said Keikera.

He made an example. There is a prohibition from the elders for not cutting down or even touching the redwood or in Momuna language is called koweni. Once it is touched, people who have done it could lose their mind. “Many patients that we’ve seen in the hospital were thrashing like crazy, a madman. It is because they touched the koweni tree. If it happened to us (Momuna tribe), there is no need to be taken to the hospital, just give it a blow for a while. They must be cured,” he said.

Given to this fact, however, Momuna tribe has never worshipped trees, stones or rivers. “We only worship the Potmadito (God the Creator) who rules the heaven and the earth. It’s almost similar to the story in the Bible. So, we believe in the existence of God the Creator.”

Gathering and hunting for food

Momuna people do fishing or in their language it calls ci, ploughing sago or mbi, and collecting wild yams or mate for survival. In addition, they also hunt for a living that usually for wild boar, cassowary, crocodile, turtle and so on.

Ismail said sago and yams have always become their staple food. “Not eating sago makes people weak. Rice is just coming recently.”

According to him, only certain people are allowed to cutting down the sago trees. As it is Momuna’s staple food, cutting down the sago trees is clearly to killing Momuna people. “Anyone who’ve caught out cutting down the sago tree could be fined up to Rp 50 million. So, don’t dare to mess with our sago trees because it’s our staple food. Cutting down the sago trees is equal to killing one life,” he said.

However, he did not deny that the government has distributed rice under the rice for poor or rice for prosperous programs, which was a direct assistance of Yahukimo District Government, through PD Irian Bakti to village apparatus.

Since long time ago, Ismail said, their ancestors were always moving around. When the source of food was run out, they had to move to other location for opening a new planting field.

Anthropologists say there are three kinds of nomadic lifestyle, namely hunter-gatherers, pastoral nomads, and peripatetic nomads.  Hunter-gatherer, according to experts, is the longest survival method in human history. They move to other places to follow the season of the wild plantation and hunting animals. The rotation of swidden cultivation will last for 20 years, and people will always return to their original location for gardening because the land is already fertile.

Shifting cultivation actually fit with real conditions in the field. If soil fertility begins to diminish, people will leave the land in order to improve the cycle of fertility. It is much different to what has been applied in permanent cultivation because the tropical lands are not always fertile if not fertilized.

Indonesian anthropologist Prof. Dr. Subur Budi Santoso stated in his research that the work ethic of the hunter-gatherer people is very strong in a way to achieve the best possible results without destroying the environment. It is an example of the patterns of human adaptation.  (*)


Reporter: Piter Lokon

Editor: Pipit Maizier