Karim tribe

On the banks of the Karawari River, members of the Karim tribe hunt crocodiles and fish and live in traditional houses on stilts. The tribe is divided into smaller clans, each with its own totem. Karim legend says that each clan was created out of the body of its totem animal.

Yimas, Papua New Guinea, S 4 40'45.9" E 143 32'33.7"

700 people

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Bonnie's family

Hornbill totem

Adopted names, adopted children

Bonnie’s family includes loops of the same two names over and over again: a father named Takimal, who names his son Taunmal, who names his son Takimal, and so on. This is because each family in the Karim tribe owns a small pool of names. The names are inherited from generation to generation.

Naming can be a complicated process: when the missionaries arrive every few months, they give all of the new babies Christian names. Then the family sits down to debate what the child’s local name should be. When disagreements arise, the elder decides on the name.

Adoption is very common in the community, and it is conducted outside of the legal system and without documentation. Bonnie adopted his son Raphael in 1976, before he married his wife Joane, and his daughter Persilla Makai after his marriage.

Family Tree
The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.

His father was in debt, so

he had to give the boy as payment.

Adopting is simple: you just take in the child and provide for him. Now I am his parent.

We couldn’t have children. We were heartbroken. My sister saw our sadness,

so she gave us her baby girl to be our daughter.

The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.

A cursed branch

Bonnie’s relative Paul has had a hard life: he lost his wife and two of his children to disease. An uncle adopted Paul’s surviving child, and Paul never remarried.

My wife died, and I knew that the second choice won't be the same as the first choice.

I did not want to marry again

so I decided to become a preacher.

Ambrose's family

Cassowary totem

A connection to the past

In generations past, Karim tribesmen fought against neighboring tribes. Ambrose’s grandfather, Yambunangut, was trained in the ways of traditional warfare.

When he was a young boy

he was sent to live in the spirit house

for eight weeks and he was trained to be a head hunter. After, he killed three people from the other tribes.

Sing sing ceremony

In Papua New Guinea, tribes gather to showcase their cultural dress, dances, and songs in the “sing sing” festivity. Sing sings are an opportunity to show off the strength of the tribe, to mark an upcoming marriage, and to make peace between warring tribes.

Sing sing is so important, because it’s when

our young people can take pride in traditions from the old days.

Raymond's family

White parrot totem

Old ways, new ways

Raymond was adopted at age one and received several names: Raymond is his Christian name, while his biological parents had called him Akumbri and his adoptive father, Bruno, gave him the name Mapat.

Due to difficult economic circumstances faced by his family, Raymond struggled to stay in school during his childhood. With limited education, he struggled to hold on to the traditions his parents taught him.

Family Tree

We forgot a lot after the missionaries came.

Now we try to get it back. With outside culture, mess and corruption came. It is important to look back to the old ways to make order.

Chewing betel nut

The betel nut is the seed of the areca palm tree. Known to cause a stimulating effect, chewing betelnut is part of the tribal spiritual practice. Chewing betel nut reddens the mouth — and can cause severe dental problems.

You have to chew betel nut and

the spirits come to you and you can talk to them.

They come into your body and make you do what you need to do. The spirits are our ancestors.

Crocodile skin

At age 25, Raymond’s son Douglas was sent to the spirit house to receive patterned cuts to his skin as part of a rite of passage undertaken by all men in the Karim tribe. Douglas stayed in the spirit house for six weeks to prepare, and then his eldest paternal uncle applied the cuts. The pattern is known as “crocodile skin”.

Jack's family

Crocodile totem

Every village needs a genealogist

Jack is the local genealogist and keeper of the legends of the village, including its foundational story, which starts a long time ago, before the Karim people had fire.

A great eagle flew off to Manam Island, where there is a volcano. It scooped up some fire in a coconut shell and flew back here.

He dropped it on this land, and it became Yimas.

The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.
The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.

I’m glad we are building a family tree. It allows us to prove to the authorities that

the land belongs to us, and will belong to our descendants.

Mitchell’s family

Looking to the future

Mitchell’s father was very educated, and he wrote a book of the family’s history. Mitchell himself inherited his father’s passion for education, completing school and becoming an elementary school teacher. Despite his education and interest in the family’s history, Mitchell doesn’t know his own clan’s totem. It has been lost to history.

It's bad that I don't know what my totem is. I want something different for the children that I teach.

They should know their history.

But they should also learn about the world outside.

Harvesting sago

Sago is a starch extracted from the trunk of palm trees. It is a vital element in the diet of tribal people in Papua New Guinea. Sakarias extracts the raw sago sawdust, his wife processes it into starch, and she then cooks it over an open fire.

The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.

We chopped this tree down in the jungle, and floated the trunks down the river to the village. The first step is to peel back the bark to get to the center of the trunk.

Then I’ll grind up the sawdust with this tool with a carved crocodile, my family totem.

There is a protein bonus inside this trunk: sago worms. The children all gather around to try to get a snack.

We can eat the worms raw, or fry them up and eat them with the sago pancakes later.

The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.
The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.

I put the basket of sago sawdust on a bench inside this canoe, and pour water from the river on it with this coconut shell. Then, I squeeze out the liquid.

The sawdust stays in the basket, and the starchy water pours down into the canoe.

The leftover starch is now sago flour. I’m using it to make sago pancakes on a metal pan over the fire.

Finally, it’s time to eat!

The language will be lost. The culture will be lost.