The Amungme of West New Guinea (PDF)


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Aside from the Dani of the Baliem Valley, the Amungme are the best-known highlands tribe in West New Guinea. This is largely due to some of their lands having been taken by the mining company Freeport Indonesia for the development of their mining complex, first around the Ertsberg, then the Grasberg. This second ore body holds the world’s largest gold deposit and the third largest concentration of copper.

The Amungme, live to the south of the steep central mountains, while their linguistic brothers, the Damal, spread just to the north of this range. During the early years of the Freeport mine operations, the company paid little attention to the Amungme. Their lands were used with scant compensation as the company paid its taxes to the central government, with no obligation to start any social programs for the Amungme.

The various chapters cover the essential aspects of the Amungme culture, including their origins, their distinctive language, the kinship structure, social organisation, the importance of cowry shells, and females in exchanges, leadership, and the various ways of subsisting: hunting, farming, and gathering. The results of the contacts with the outside world begin with the section on Christianity and the pre-contact mystical concept of ‘h’ai’, and early paradise that can be attained without first expiring. The effects of the large-scale mining operations are described from the early history of Freeport Indonesia and the effects of the discovery of the huge ore body in Grasberg (Grass Mountain). The concluding section describes the current improvements in the treatment of the Amungme by Freeport, including education, health programs, and job training.

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22 March, 2023

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