Monthly Archives: April 2012

Our Connection with Carstensz

About Alex’s Carstensz Connection

In the early 1990s, while guiding on Mt. Rainier in Washington State, I met Amy Meredith. Amy had grown up as a missionary kid in the jungle highlands village of Hitadipa, very near to Carstensz Pyramid, in what we know today as West Papua. The friendship between our families grew over the years and she has been an unbelievable resource in the development of this adventure.

As we collaborated to build this adventure, it was important to all of us (me, Amy, our Papuan friends) that we create a program with high regard for the indigenous peoples, their ways of life, and their native lands. Our program truly does this. The many programs where foreigners come in only to grab a summit, seemingly without those regards, were viewed in less than endearing terms by the Papuans. We wanted no part of that!

Our decision to utilize a Moni tribesman as tour operator highlights our value to highly regard the indigenous culture. Masmus, as he is affectionately known, is currently the only indigenous Papuan tour operator and we are his only client from the Western Hemisphere. According to Masmus, I am “Amy’s little brother from the same net as she,” and as Masmus honors me through his service on this trip, he also honors Amy, whom he has known since childhood. This is a significant relationship which has taken years and years to foster.

About RMI’s Carstensz connection

RMI has been setting the standard in mountain guiding excellence since 1969 and getting safely up and down mountains is just the beginning of our story. RMI has built a four-decade long legacy of safe, successful, and enjoyable mountaineering adventures and now we bring our standard of excellence to Papua.  From the beginning, we have desired to build long-term relationships with local indigenous peoples, relationships which would respectfully balance our visit with the Papuan’s traditional ways of life.

Masmus is the perfect choice as a commercial liaison. He is soft-spoken; a peace-maker, not a warrior. He has a good heart for the Ugimba Moni people. As a young boy, Masmus began working at the Grasberg copper and gold mine. He worked his way up from watering the gardens of ex-pats, to operating super-heavy equipment, and later to serving on the operational safety and education teams. He has both the capacity to connect with local tribes-peoples as we trek through Papuan villages and at the same time be in-tune with the ways of the visiting tourist.

We are in the best hands possible, hands that welcome us in the most traditional Moni greeting, “Amakane!”


Visiting Papua (Part 2: The Moni People)

The 25,000 Moni live in the highlands east of the Paniai Lakes and Enarotali, which was the first Dutch post in the central highlands. Despite this proximity and that the Moni are one of the highlands’ largest groups, little has been written about them.  The Moni have proudly resisted assimilation. Western encounters with the group seem always to produce strong reactions: “sarcastic,” “a tribe of all chiefs and no Indians,” and even “treacherous,” are often heard. Other observers find much to admire: “they have such gentle features,” and “they have inherited all the good points of the tribes around them and blended them into one.” Having grown up with the Moni, I can only say that none of these is accurate. Or perhaps, they all are.

The first documented meeting between a European and the Moni took place in 1937, when Dr. J. W. Cator, the Assistant Resident at Fakfak, flew from the coast to Lake Paniai and trekked to the village of Kugapa. In 1939, Controleur Dr. Jean Victor de Bruijn mounted an expedition to Kugapa and continued on into the heart of Moni country to the village of Sanepa in the Kemandoga Valley. His first impressions were condescending (in the habit of the time), but positive:  “The Miganis [Monis] are a superior race and are very conscious of being so. Not only are they superior in warfare, but ordinarily conduct themselves with better manners and greater dignity. They are a proud people, more reserved.”

The Moni can seem intimidating in part because they speak loudly in clipped, guttural tones. In reality they are kind and highly intelligent with a wonderful sense of sarcastic humor.  They appreciate the curious outsider and enjoy teaching the “how to’s” of Moni culture.

Although western clothing has largely replaced the traditional grass skirt and  penis gourd, it is not unusual to see both, even in larger towns and villages. Interestingly, seeing exposed lighter skin is considered immodest. Nets woven of string made from tree bark are a must for all adult women.  The adult men also wear smaller nets.

Historically the men waged war, hunted small animals, traded goods (which included women) and cowrie shells. The women worked their gardens and tended to the children. Their culture and home is changing at a riveting pace.  The Moni’s are trying very hard to preserve their culture and customs. They are striving to maintain their individualism and their dignity while at the same time they know they must assimilate to new ways.  Amakane!

Many thanks to Amy Meredith for this contribution.