Wood, masks, drums, and art are the four elements essential to the Asmat people of Papua. Asmat, another name for wood, was chosen as the name of the people because they believe they were created from it. Masks, a beautiful form of artwork in the Asmat culture, offers a great sense of culture. There are two types of masks for the Asmat, one representing ancestors and fertility, the other representing the community. Drumming is significant to the way of life, and very simple music is played on the drums during any sort of festival or event. Lastly, and probably the most famous is the art of the Asmat family. The Asmat artists, referred to as wow ipits, only use three colors: white, the basic color; red, to detail tattoo marks or bone structure; and black, used only for the hair. Most of their art is two-dimensional, along with round figures and large protrusions. These elements combined with the people of this community bring together a beautiful sense of culture, respect and meaning to the word Asmat.
The Asmat people are not cruel, their actions and beliefs have deep meaning and are a significant part of their culture. The Asmat do not chop down Sago trees to hurt their earth or kill nature’s gifts, in fact, the Sago tree is known as the “tree of life” and is considered a human being, a woman to be exact, to the Asmat people. Just as a woman bears children, the tree bears sago, an edible starch, and the main source of food for the Asmat. To show reverence to the Sago tree, there is an important initiation and ceremony that is held frequently. A tree is picked out at random and dressed with a woman’s skirt, a skirt made out of the same leaves a woman wears around her waist. The skirt is then decorated with masculine symbols, to represent men as well, and once it is fully dressed it is called the “mother tree” of the feast. Then, to initiate this tree as one of their sacred Sago trees, the decorated tree is cut down, another important ritual to the Asmat, which closely represents the slaying of an enemy. Once opened, if it contains the precious sago, it is initiated as a Sago tree, and screams can be heard miles away. An enormous feast follows this joyful initiation of the Sago tree.