Middle Child

This is a photo of a teenage Korowai boy. The Korowai are an isolated, semi-nomadic tribe in the southern part of Papua, Indonesia. It would be hard to over estimate how primitive the people here live.

The boy here is cooking Sago “bread,” a staple for the Korowai. However, there is much more going on here.

The boy is cooking on a steel wok, something that has come from the outside. Some Korowai choose to use such things while others are hesitant to bring these things into their lives, some even condemn them. You’ll also notice the boys clothes. Again, something from the outside.

What can’t be seen in this photo is the greater context. This boy is in a village. The village was set up by the Indonesian government. The idea was to build small schools in the different tribal areas in order to teach the people the common tongue of the country. This would give Korowai people the ability to sojourn to the cities where they can seek work, and then money. They can then use the money to purchase goods to bring back to their clan.

For this village the school ended up being a failure. Why would any Papuan leave one of the few cities on the island to stay in this extremely isolated village among foreigners?

This teenage boy represents the strange phenomenon of globalization. He will live his life in the midst of two clashing ways of life, for better or for worse, and adapt.

I think of the rivers I flew over on my way out of the jungles of Papua. I’ve never seen so many oxbow lakes. They are a sign of how nature is dynamic, never still. The rivers, the forests, they are restless, always changing.

Is this boy’s life better now that he can use a wok and is bilingual?

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