Near the border between West Papua and Papua New Guinea lives small group of approximately 800 people called the Sawiyano who speak their own unique language. They live in an area of mountains and swamps. They have been in contact with outsiders since World War II. Some Sawiyano learned to read and write in the short-lived government school at the airstrip and missionaries also taught literacy. Within the last 50 years, many things have changed in the tribe. Cannibalism was abolished, tribal rivalries and fights were mostly stopped. Houses are no longer as high off the ground when fear of attack from other tribes was prevalent. Some tribe members adopted a new religion, a few continue to follow the old ways, while many mix a new faith with the ancestral traditions, myths and superstitions.
Despite the changes, many old ways of the tumbuna (ancestors) continue, especially in regards to crafts. Food is gathered and prepared in a similar manner each day as it was 50 years ago. Some houses now have nails but the main traditional methods and materials are still utilized except that steel axes and bush knifes now fell the trees instead of stone axes.
BEHIND THE CAMERA Bethany “Betni” Kalk is an artist, designer, and professor of art and design. She was born in Canada and at age three her missionary parents moved the family to Papua New Guinea (PNG) where they lived for 10 years. Her childhood and subsequent return visits fostered the deep love and respect she has for the Sawiyano people, culture, and land. ////// The Sawiyano culture is changing, and Betni understands the importance of capturing traditional elements on film and in photos before more of the elders die. In 2009, she was given permission from the elders of the Sawiyano to photograph and film their lives. In the summer of 2012, Betni brought cameras for herself and her Sawiyano friends to do their own documentation. Photos by Betni Kalk, Mera Brothers and Brian Nigus