Papuan tree-people counted in Indonesian census

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The Independent Online

A tribe of hunters who live in treehouses in Indonesia's remote Papua province has been counted for the first time in a national census, an official said Thursday.

Around 2,868 "isolated and primitive" people from the Korowai tribe were interviewed by census workers in May, provincial census official Suntono told AFP.

"It's as if they're still living in the Stone Age. They don't wear any clothes and they live in trees in the jungles. They eat leaves and hunt wild animals for food," Suntono said.

Officials communicated with them via missionary translators using sign language, he said.

"Now that we know who they are, their numbers and characteristics, they won't be isolated anymore. We can ensure they get access to education and healthcare just like any other Indonesian," he said.

Suntono said the government had known about the Korowais for more than a decade thanks to reports from Christian missionaries.

"The census is only carried out once every 10 years and we only covered 70 percent of the Papua population in 2000 due to unrest here. The Korowais missed out," he said.

There are at least 250 tribes in the rugged Papua region, Indonesia's easternmost territory bordering Papua New Guinea.

The mainly ethnic Melanesian region has been plagued by a low-level separatist insurgency since it was incorporated into Indonesia in the 1960s following a vote widely seen as a sham.

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