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Hewa people

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Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Papua New Guinea2,000[1]

The Hewa are an indigenous people that live in the Koroba Lake Kopiago Electorate of Hela Province of Papua New Guinea near the junction of the Strickland River. They were one of the last peoples in Papua New Guinea to come into contact with the outside world. They number about 2,000 persons, and their rugged rainforest terrain comprises about 1,000 square miles (2,590 km2),[2] some of which was unexplored until 2008.[3] Their language belongs to the Sepik Hills family.

They hunt birds, reptiles and mammals for food, adornment and trade with neighboring tribes.[4] Having learned that fruit- and nectar-eating birds, such as fruit-doves and lorikeets, are vital to forest regeneration, the Hewa slash small gardens out of the dense jungle and allow about 20–25 years for the tilled once-used land to be reforested naturally.[4] Their language is not related to any neighboring culture [5] as their culture is a Sepik Basin one, unlike that of the other Hela Province (formerly Southern Highlands) tribes.[6] They have some limited trade with those neighboring tribes, exchanging the Hewa's animal skins, spears and tree bark fiber for shells and boar tusks.[7] They make paintings on flat sheets of bark but these paintings, done for magical purposes, are never traded or exhibited.[8]

They are one of the few tribes in the fringe highland area never to have practised cannibalism,[9] perhaps because their belief associates cannibalism with dangerous sorcerers.[10] It is not uncommon for women accused of witchcraft to be killed.[11] The Hewa have been extensively studied by anthropologists Lyle Steadman[12] and William H. Thomas.[13] The Hewa were also featured on the final episode of the Discovery Channel program Survivorman and in a later program called Beyond Survival.

The Hewa were one of the last peoples in Papua New Guinea to come into contact with the outside world. Many Hewa people north of the Lagaip River were uncontacted until 1975, when the Officer in Charge at Lake Kopiago braved arrow attacks and led what probably was Papua New Guinea's last "first contact patrol", bringing steel axeheads to an area where stone axeheads were the norm.[14][15] Even south of the Lagaip, many Hewa families were first contacted by Steadman in the late 1960s.[16] He found that the typical family (which averaged seven people) lived in relative isolation from other families, with their nearest neighbors living from five minutes' walk up to half a mile away through dense jungle.[16] After darkness envelops their isolated realm, the families often stay awake for hours, the men telling myths and stories around a fire, and the women, gathered around a separate fire in their section of the house, often interrupting with well-timed quips and jests[17] as they create grass skirts or weave stringbags. Sometimes, historical tales are sung or chanted.[18]

In recent decades, change has come to the region. Many Hewa wear Western clothes instead of the traditional grass skirts; though the majority still live in scattered households,[19] some now live in villages and travel agencies fly tourists to newly constructed airstrips to visit them.[20]


  1. ^ Heckler (2009-05-30). Landscape, Process and Power. p. 144. ISBN 978-1-84545-549-1.
  2. ^ Heckler, Serena (2009). Landscape, Process and Power: Re-evaluating Traditional Environmental Knowledge. Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-1-84545-549-1.
  3. ^ "In pictures: New species discovered in Papua New Guinea". The Guardian. 2009-03-25.
  4. ^ a b "Back to the Future by Thomas, page 87" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
  5. ^ P. Vollrath, Hewa Phonemes: A Tentative Statement
  6. ^ Highland Peoples of New Guinea by Paula Brown, page 13
  7. ^ Papuan Borderlands by Aletta Biersack, page 8
  8. ^ Gascoigne, Papua New Guinea, page 100
  9. ^ Death and the Regeneration of Life by M. Bloch page 131 note 8
  10. ^ Humors and Substances by P.J. Stewart, page 71
  11. ^ Stewart, Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors and Gossip, page 126
  12. ^ His PhD thesis "Neighbours and Killers: residence and dominance among the Hewa of New Guinea" was cited in Stages of Thought by M.H. Barnes The first chapter is available at this link
  13. ^ Landscape, Process and Power, by Heckler et al, page 140ff
  14. ^ OIC Kopiago post 1
  15. ^ OIC Kopiago post 2
  16. ^ a b Steadman, op. cit.
  17. ^ Brian Schwartz, A World of Villages, page 54-5
  18. ^ Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea highlands, page 29
  19. ^ Mammal Fauna of Wanakipa
  20. ^ Goway Tours tour itinerary