Waigeo Culture of the Raja Ampat Islands

May 17, 2021 | Waigeo

Despite the large landmasses found in the western sea of Papua, between West Papua and Maluku, the Raja Ampat Islands are populated by no more than 50,000 people, that is, over a land area of 7560 square kilometers or 2900 square miles.

Waigeo, the largest of the island chain, has at least just 25,000 people who are concentrated at the administrative regency capital of Waisai. There are around 610 known islands in the Raja Ampat regency, but only 35 of them are inhabited.

Flagship Luxury Expeditions takes you on a journey among some of the wildest and uninhabited islands in the world. You will encounter ecosystems that had remained untouched, as seen through the eyes of the 19th century British naturalist Alfred Walace who explored the region 170 years ago.

Waigeo people

A melting pot of history and people

The people of Waigeo are descendants of the pioneering Papuan (who arrived 3000 years ago), the sea-faring Austronesians (the ancestors of the Polynesians and Easter Islanders), and the people of the spice-rich Tidore sultanate of Maluku.

It is evident from the languages and art that the people in Waigeo come from a diverse lineage, giving them the personality of both courageous explorers and accommodating hosts according to many early European visitors.

Worship of the old gods and the new

Islam was introduced to the people of Waigeo and the surrounding islands through the influence of the Tidore sultanate. This is evident from the Biak folklore of Kurabesi, a Papuan warrior who married a Muslim daughter of a Tidore sultan, who sired four children — each destined to become the four kings — hence the name Raja Ampat (literally “the four kings”).

Later, Christianity was introduced by Spanish missionaries during the age of the spice trade. Although both religions were accepted by the people of Waigeo, the practice of animism remained alive, even to this day. Some believers of modern religions do not reject the philosophy of their ancient religions, but harmonically combine their old and new beliefs.

Dance as a way to transcend life

In the islands of plenty, the thriving populace developed art around dance rituals that remain alive to this day. Visual art is rarely made for abstraction, but rather to accompany dance and songs. Hence, their art is often practical and reflective of daily life. For example, the Bintaki dance is inspired by the daily routine of fishing, while the Wor dance, once reserved to greet nobles, is now held to greet visitors from faraway lands.

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