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The Lepki people live in the interior of the western part of the island of New Guinea, which is commonly referred to as West-Papua. The area is located in the lowlands on the western side of Sogber River, a river which flows into the larger Idenburg River. The Lepki inhabit a rather small area compared to other tribes in the vicinity, their territory being approximately 400 sq. km of land. The area is 170km south of the provincial capital Jayapura. There are a few hilltops within the area but elevations higher than 400m are not found. Coordinates of the approximate centre of the Lepki area is S4 08.0 E140 26. The Lepki people in 2007 numbered only 328 people, compromising them also to one the less populated tribes in the region.
I conducted research on the Lepki people over a period for almost 6 months in 2007. This was the first ethnological study of this tribe. The result was an account of the Lepki culture, and if you want to learn more about the Lepki, you can read my report here (.pdf): The Lepki people of Sogber River
Day of departure to Lepki, with my research fellow Maximus Kandam (left) and friend Alfares (middle) who came to see us off.
Enroute from Sentani (jayapura) airport to Terablu airstrip in a TARIKU missionary Cessa (PK-RWD)
Took many aerial photos enroute to Terablu
Approacing Terablu, the mighty Sogber river appear piercing trough the lowland rainforest. A traditional house can also be seen here.
Sogber, left side if Lepki territory and right side is Yefta territory, I got to learn later in my fieldwork.
Terablu airstrip and village. Terablu was the area with the highest density of Lepki people within its territory. The further you moved to the north in the territory, more people with background from the Ketengban culture had settled.
The TARIKU cessna (PK-RWD) returning to Sentani empty.
I arrived during a period of mourning, and a funural was in preparation.
Preparation of a feast
Stones being heated to be used in a earth-owen (commonly known as, `bakar batu`, in Papua)
Village meeting. The man in blue was the village head during my stay at Terablu. Since many Lepki in the area dont stay in villages, like Terablu, many had walked far to reach Terablu from their houses within the forest.
Heading towards the funural site. This funural was held for a child who had died from a disease. There was no clinic in Terablu during my stay.
Traditional Lepki attire. The attire, altough simple, differs from the attire that has traditionally been worn my the tribes of central-highlands (for example: Ketengban, Mek and Kimyal tribes), who wear a longer sized penis-gourd (Regionally now known as a Koteka in Papuan). The lepki have traditionally used a short-one, like the man who are photographed on this photo. The penis-gourd is made of a dried-out gourd.
Canoe on one of the small rivers leading to Sogber river.
Traditional Lepki house. Most (over 90%) of the total Lepki population lives outside the few constructed villages (Terablu, Aboy, Murme and Luban). The Lepki have traditionally lived in small hamlets, containing only 1 to a few houses in the forest. They have not traditionally lived in villages, like for example the highland people of the neighboring Ketengban tribe.
Domesticated pigs owned by a Ketengban family. The Lepki does not typically domesticate animals, as they are hunters and gatherers.
Domesticated Cassovary bird
Preparing baked meat
Not only meat were prepared, also vegetables and greens.
In a small settlement called Askei. Only a few houses were present here, all owned by the Kwelkwapra family.
Head of the Kwelkwapra family, that I stayed with in Askei
Pig to be transported
Preparing baked sago. The sago was placed around a pre-heated rock and wrapped in certain green leaves. Then placed under the hot ashes in the fire.
The sago is baked and ready. Tasted quite good actually, altough they didnt prepare them with any salt or other spices.
The Lepki people have relied heavily on the extractation of Sago from the Sago-palm. According to the knowledge I obtained, people and families tend to live in areas rich is sago-palms. They also decide to move when resources are depleted, leaving old settlements behind. It was impossible to during my relatively short stay in the area to know exactly how long this normally is, but I would guess in between a few years.
Mountains to the north of the Lepki territory. Somehow the Lepki people in Terablu feared this mountain.
Tefra, a known as feared warrior of the Lepki
Me and my friend in the field, Maximus Kandam.
Trekking days trough the lowland rainforest was the toughest thing ive done, I think.
Lepki Elder at Murme village. He claimed to never have seen a “white foreigner” before..
Murme. Most people in Murme was highland people from the Ketengban tribe. The houses in the photo are Ketengban style houses.
Aside from spending the majority of my time in the Lepki area around terablu, I went to the northern part of the Lepki territory. I flew with a YAYASI missionary plane (PK-UCB) to Aboy.
The lowland forest in Lepki territory is pristine, as the Lepki and other people in the lowlands traditionally havent cleared large areas of land. They have not been known to live in villages either. This have ment that land was only cleared in small hamlets, consisting of a few houses at most.
Flying over areas where I had trekked trough the last months.
Enroute to Aboy, a 15min flight.
Approaching Aboy, and we are now closer to the mountains and near the closest villages belonging to Ketengban tribal area.
Traditional Lepki house on the outskirts of Aboy.
Aboy village. Apart from having a “regent” who had some interesting data on the Lepki, there werent too much of interest here for my studies. Not many Lepki people resided here.
Village of Yupli further east from Aboy. The people in this area are called the Kimki tribe. The Kimki, Yetfa and the Lepki culture resemble eachother a lot. But the languages are different.
Mountains in the west from Aboy.
Ketengban house in Aboy. Most inhabitants of Aboy were newly arrived Ketengban people.
On the riverbed of Sogber close to Aboy village.
“The long way back home”. Having lived months with the lepki, without electricity, without any contact with the outside world, my friends and family – it was kind of strange but nice as well going back.
Approaching Jayapura Sentani airport.
Touchdown. If im not mistaken, it was with a AMA Cessna Caravan missionary airplane.