West Papuan Lowlands - Kurt Friehauf

The flat jungle lands surrounding Timika are crossed by wide, sediment-laden rivers.  The rivers are braided due to their sediment load (amount of sand, silt, and gravel being washed down the channel).  These rivers carry a lot of sediment because they start in very high, steep mountains where the water flows quickly and erodes the bedrock. 
Freeport Indonesia uses one of the rivers to get rid of ground rock flour byproducts of mining called "tailings," which is one of the most controversial issues related to mining there.  The basic premise is the Ajkwa River is naturally very full of sediment due to erosion and so will carry what sand it can and spread the rest out downstream.  Studies show that very little of the tailings make it all the way down to the Arafura Sea and that dissolved copper concentrations in the river water meet Indonesian drinking water standards, but not the standards of Australia/New Zealand/U.S.  (Freeport response to report)   In the lowlands, I could not tell by just looking at different rivers which river transported tailings and which was wholly natural and was surprised when shown which was which! 
The Kamoro Tribe lives on the river in the lowlands.  They build houses on stilts over the water and fish the rivers for food.  When one thinks of cannibals in New Guinea, the Kamoro were not as aggressive as the Asmat Tribe to the south, but you get the point.  Kal Muller's website is the place to go if you want to know about the Kamoro, because he worked/lived with them for almost 10 years (1995-2004).
Although the Kamoro Tribe may have traditionally been nomadic hunters/gatherers, many of the Kamoro living near the port make their living working for Freeport (and making/selling carved wooden statues).  The development of mining in West Papua brought a lot of change to the region - new opportunities and wealth, and loss of some of the traditional culture. 
These fellows had just got off work when I was visiting the shipping container facility.  They were amused that someone would want to photograph them and so naturally hammed it up a bit.  Friendly folks, although the language barrier prevented us from swapping our life stories. 
As one travels north, the flatlands give way to the foothills of the New Guinea Highlands.  The jungle is just as dense, but the topography starts getting steep.  I imagine that on a clear day one might be able to see for miles out to sea, but it was always overcast when I was on the road up to the highlands. 

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