Saturday, October 17, 2009


Lately I've been watching the documentaries of Mark Anstice & Olly Steed living among the primtive peoples of West Papua - the Kombai and the Mek tribes. In most respects these peoples still live as there ancestors did hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. They wear little clothing, chop down trees using stone axes, have essentially no written language, and live as hunter gatherers off of the bounty of the rainforest. One thing I noted is their use of rattan, a climbing type of palm with a long strong stem, to literally lash their world together. The Kombai live in treehouses, 30 to 40 feet up in the canopy, made with uncanny balance and skill, by lashing stone axe hewn limbs with rattan cords. The same fibers haft an ancient axeblade to a wooden handle. The Mek tribe worked as village to lash a new hut and construct a 100-foot long "monkey bridge" across a raging river to join two villages. Today lashing is considered of makeshift or temporary use, but it is among one of the oldest technologies of man. James E. Gordon in, The New Science of Strong Materials, said: "In pure strength, apart from their flexibility, the lashings, sewings, and bindings used by primitive peoples, and by the seamen down to recent times, are more efficient than metal fastenings." (Pictured are spear and adze hafted with rawhide cordage...which do not do justice to the simplicity and efficiency of the Kombai & Mek.)