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Jakarta Post

Carving by eye, Kamoro style

  • Markus Mardius

    The Jakarta Post

Timika, Papua   /   Wed, July 2, 2014   /  01:20 pm
Carving by eye, Kamoro style

Unique: '€œWe just observe what is around us, then channel it in the form of carving,'€ one Kamoro says.

The wood carvings of the Asmat people of Papua are famous throughout the world. However, the Kamoro people who live near Timika, the capital of Mimika regency, have a tradition of carving that rivals their peers in other parts of the province.

A Hungarian named Kal Muller, 76, has been a longtime promoter of the Kamoro carvers working in Kekwa village. '€œTo get actual Kamoro woodcarvings, I have to visit the villages in the interior of Timika Pantai, including Kekwa village. It can be covered in a three-hour drive to the south of Timika in a wooden longboat,'€ he says.

'€œThe uniqueness and beauty of the Kamoro carvings made me interested in coming to Indonesia, especially Papua. However, it took a long time for me to be able to visit Papua and see the typical wood carvings of the Kamoro,'€ Muller, who has written more than 20 books on Indonesia, said.

People have been grateful for his help, carver Yoseph Ukapuka says. '€œ[Muller] is our pioneer in introducing our carvings to the outside world. All the Kamoro people consider him as the savior and father of Kamoro woodcarvings,'€ said the 60-year-old, who has been carving since he was 17.

Carver Herman Kiripi says that the Kamoro have never employed drawings or sketches.

'€œWe just observe what is around us, then channel it in the form of carving,'€ the 21-year-old says. '€œOutside carvers usually make their carvings based on a sketch or a drawing. We rely only on chisel and hammer.'€

Lucrative: A single auction can reap up to Rp 70 million, although pieces are also on sale at galleries in Timika (above photo).Lucrative: A single auction can reap up to Rp 70 million, although pieces are also on sale at galleries in Timika (above photo).
'€œEach type of carving has its own navel,'€ Oktovianus Etapoka, 54, the former head of Kekwa village, said. '€œThis is far different, as compared to other tribal carvings. One type of product is carved by one person alone. The time it takes to carve depends very much on carving motifs and complexity, as well as the type of wood.'€

Ironwood and cork are favored, Yoseph, says. '€œCork wood is very light and easy to carve, unlike the ironwood, which needs extra power because of its strength. It needs patience, thoroughness, and perseverance. Ironwood can last for years.'€

According to Herman, the paint used to make finished pieces is comprised of water mixed with a lime made from burnt shells, green leaves and a kind of red rambutan fruit.

After painting, carvings are dried over a local type of wood-fired furnace called an utameyamuk.

Luluk Intarti, who has worked with Muller since 1998, says that Muller typically makes a down payment of Rp 50,000 (US$4.17) to Rp 300,000 for pieces that he typically auctions for from Rp 200,000 to Rp 10 million, depending on size, intricacy and type of wood.

A single auction can reap up to Rp 70 million, Luluk says. '€œProfits from the sale are given back to the carvers. Most of the buyers are expatriates and nationals who happen to work for world giant mining Freeport Indonesia.'€

Luluk said there were three typically Kamoro wood-carving exhibitions a year '€” in Bali, Jakarta and Surabaya, East Java.

He rattles off the types and prices of carvings favored by the Kamoro.

Prices for a yamate shield standing one-and-a-half-meter'€™s high start at Rp 1.2 million, while a 15-meter tall imbitoro totem, intended to invite a powerful spirit to a ritual to ask for its blessing, costs at least Rp 10 million.

A wemawe representing the carver'€™s ancestors '€” familiar to outsiders from its elbows-on-knees position '€” can take three days to carve and cost upwards of Rp 5 million, and a pekoro sago bowl adorned with geometric motifs and human and animal pictures can be had for as little as Rp. 300,000.

The best selling items, Luluk says, are iware fish carvings and eme drums covered in lizard skin, both ranging from Rp 300,000 to Rp 600,000.

'€œWe hope that the local tourism department of Timika will help promote Kamoro carvings to other cities,'€ Oktovianus said.

Works from the carvers from Kekwa mentioned in this article can be found at the Kamoro Art Gallery at No. 22, Kampung Nawaripi Baru in Timika.

'€” Photos by Markus Mardius

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