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Lepeadon, the "fierce man" of the Letin clan. (Paul Raffaele)

Raffaele Among the Korowai

Paul Raffaele describes his adventures (and misadventures) in Indonesian New Guinea, reporting on the Korowai

Paul: Thanks mate. I'm up reading, first time in days. This afternoon, the antibiotics seem to have kicked in, the arm seems to be healing quite well and I've been spared the terrors of 'soccer ball stomach' for some hours. The scabies has also cleared up, and so once again I seem to have escaped the horrors of the jungle. Maybe I should go looking for a desert for the next story.

Truly, I don't take the nasties of the jungle lightly, and that's why I always go there armed with a solid medical pack. That said, you have to take some risks in these places. Very few Korowai ever get to meet their grandparents, because the grandparents are usually dead by the time they're born, either from warfare or disease. The prevalence of disease in the jungle forms the basis of the khahkua cannibal cult, a Stone Age rationale for death by disease. The Korowai believe death is caused by a sorcerer, called a khahkua. The khahkua is killed and eaten in revenge—payback is one of the dominant cultural imperatives in most Melanesian cultures.

April 25th, 2006

Carey: It's going to be an amazing story.

May 3rd, 2006

Paul: It's evening and I'm about to begin writing the Korowai story. I apologise for taking so long to start, but I've been through mini-hell the past sixteen days, though nowhere near as bad as hell in the jungle. Because I'm still not 100% OK, I'll probably restrict the writing to about four hours a day, as against my usual eight to ten, and that means I won't have the finished first draft to you until the Friday after next, 12th May. I'm raring to go, and so I'll be fine.

There have been other Korowai stories, but I can assure you that this one will be way out ahead of them. I did a Korowai story for Reader's Digest in 1996. But, this one is many times better because I go into up-river territory my Korowai guide would not take me into last time for fear of our being killed. This time I had a peerless guide, and Korowai porters and boatmen all armed with bows and arrows.

I learned yesterday that my guide has tested positive to amoebic dysentery, and my doctor today thinks that might be the clue to the dizziness, bloated stomach and diarrhea I've been suffering from since my return. Better I find out now if it’s dysentery because the bloody thing can be really dangerous if you don't know about it and the months pass. I'm told it's relatively easy to cure.

All things considered, I've got off relatively lightly once more. I'm not fussed because I can't think of a worse jungle for disease, etc, than the one I've just come out of, but somewhere down the track if I have to go into such a place again to get a story like this one then who am I to say no.

May 4, 2006

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