Tour Operator: Beyond Authentic Experience Lt
SEPIK RIVER EXPEDITIONS The true Middle Sepik starts just above Pagwi and continues down to the Sepik's junction with the Yuat River. Not shown are three main roads that come out from Wewak on the coast to the north side of the river. The upper road goes to Pagwi, a middle road to Timbunke and the lower road to Angoram. The Sepik itself is a work-in-progress. Over 700 miles (1,100 km.) long, it is one of the world's great, meandering rivers like the Amazon or the Congo, similar in its floods to the Nile or the Mississippi before they were channeled and dammed. During the wet season, the shallow Chambri Lakes and the whole floodplain of the Sepik-Ramu basin fill up with hundreds of square miles of water. In the dry season, the smaller rivers and the lake shrink into narrow, shallow channels called barets. Numerous bits of cut-off river meanders form ox-bow lakes called raunwaras.
As the Sepik changes course, whole villages may move or groups split off to form new camps. The major language group on the Middle Sepik is Iatmul, part of the Ndu language family. Each village is an independent unit, although there are clan and trading links between villages. Research sponsored by the PNG National Museum shows that the development of the freshwater Sepik River, the Ramu River and their tributaries is relatively recent. In the Pleistocene, the Sepik-Ramu floodplain was a large, salt-water inland sea. In the dry season, old coral reefs are sometimes exposed along the river bank at Angoram.
The staple food is saksak, flour made from the pith of the sago palm (Metroxylum rumphii). Although the flour is primarily starch, it provides a reliable source of food which does not have to be cultivated. Large quantities can be gathered, processed and stored in a relatively short period of time. The diet is normally supplemented by fish, some wild game and temporary gardens during the dry season. This relative stability provides the time to create complex ceremonies and the art that accompanies them. Nothing lasts long in the tropics with the humidity, floods, fire and termites. Perhaps that is one reason why Sepik carvers are so prolific. Their raw materials may be mostly limited to wood, clay, feathers and shell, but their inventiveness is not. Sepiks are a tough, practical people who survive in a difficult environment and who create world-class art. It's become common to refer to much of contemporary Sepik art as tourist art. However, Sepiks are heirs to a great tradition which is going strong, changing and evolving to meet new needs while sustaining old roots. If a mask brings luck in hunting or if it brings cash to buy the luxury of tinned fish, the net result is still food in the household. Artifacts are also one of the few sources of cash income for things like school fees.
The Sepik River stretches from Telefomin in Sandaun Province to its outlet into the Bismarck Sea at Kopar village. There are many villages and hamlets in this culturally and environmentally rich area. The largest local animal is the wild pig - which is tamed and kept in the villages for use at cultural gatherings and compensation ceremonies. There are many other natural animal inhabitants, such as snakes, lizards, bandicoots, rats and above all birds. Many of the village songs and dances centre on indigenous animals and birds - the largest of which is the angry-looking flightless cassowary, a relative of the emu and the second heaviest bird on the planet. The Middle Sepik is the last remaining area where the crocodile skin cutting initiation is still practiced.
The villages in this region are more accessible and not so far apart in terms of travel time than on the more remote Upper Sepik. These villages have stood firm against the invasion of Christianity. They still retain their Haus Tambarans and practice their traditional customs including the initiation and scarification of young “crocodile men”. Also, the villages are home to famous artists and their sought-after birds’ head carvings.
The Upper Sepik villages are widely spread out with many taking a full day by motor canoe to reach. Therefore, a lot more fuel is required and consideration must be given for canoe time for the comfort of visitors (long days in canoes under the fierce sun can cause acute sunburn etc.). In the Lower Sepik region, the river is wide, with only wild sugar cane grow