Papua New Guinea Birdwatching
Choose where you sleep
The Sepik River is one of two vast tropical rivers in Papua New Guinea, that meander through the densely forested lowlands of the world's second largest… and the world's tallest… island. Along the banks of the river and its many tributaries live sparsely scattered, remote villages, scarcely contacted by the outside world, where people live a lifestyle that has changed little for thousands of years.
Revering the crocodiles that inhabit the rivers, the people of the Sepik have traditions and customs that can be found nowhere else, building large and elaborate spirit houses (has tamboran) in their villages to house the good spirits - and at times the menfolk of the village - and producing intricate wood carvings to ward off the evil spirits. The staple foodstuffs are fish and sago flour, extracted from the pith of the sago palm.
A cruise through the Sepik Basin is both a cultural discovery of National Geographic proportions, and a retreat to a world where mankind still lives bound by, and at the mercy of, nature.
During your adventure, you will have the chance to visit and encounter the village people of the Sepik Basin, explore river systems that drain some of the densest and most inaccessible rainforests in the world, look out for Birds of Paradise and many other bird species, and collect some of the exquisite wood carvings that Sepik villages are renowned for.
The people of the ecologically diverse Sepik region speak more than 250 languages and are knitted together in systems of trade and cultural interaction. Ritual, genealogical and historical knowledge defines one group from another and maintains the distinctions that facilitate trade.
Life in the Sepik area revolves around the river, with men paddling narrow dugout canoes full of goods for trade, women fishing or making sago and children joyfully swinging from trees to splash down in the river. The Sepik is a gallery of tribal art, each village boasts a unique style and every villager is an artisan.
Head hunting was a river culture practice in the Sepik area. The fact that young men could only come of age in these regions by taking a head, suggests how incessant warfare must have been. The Iatmul people of the Sepik would take the heads in battle, boil away the flesh and hang the painted and decorated skulls as trophies in the men's houses. The head hunters were not necessarily cannibals, but many were. Human flesh was eaten until fairly recently and some of the older men from villages remember tasting it as children, they will tell you that it tasted a little bit like chicken.
The men's house is the place where important decisions regarding the village are made, where boys are initiated and become men and ceremonies to please the spirits are performed. Here the crocodile is worshiped as the water spirit. In excruciatingly painful ceremonies young men have their backs cut to resemble the markings of the crocodile, which is a symbol of strength and power.
Karawari Lodge and the MV Sepik Spirit are ideal places to stay to explore all of the mystery and mystique the remote Sepik area has to offer.