Photo. A crocodile is not a pet animal you can play with, especially not the big ones.
The canoe almost turned us all off. One man felt out in the water. The crocodile plashed in the water and we all got muddy and soaking wet, but my travel mate Geir managed to videotape the most dramatic part of the incident before the camera stopped working. I still thank him daily for this!
Few places in the world have more to offer than Papua New Guinea. On our expedition last year we experienced impenetrable jungles, strong rivers, deep valleys, huge swamps, high mountains, smoky volcanics, wild animals and strange tribes - far away from civilication. This land must be a real "treasure" for anthropologists, missionaries, adventurers and crocodile hunters.
In the middle of the deepest jungle in the mighty Sepik, we joined the ferocious Insect tribe on a crocodile hunting. They are probably the world's best crocodile hunters who still hunts in their own traditional way. Our meeting with the Insect tribe was something we never forget, especially not their croc neighboroughs.
Photo. A hut in the the Insect tribe village.
This tribe lives in the Upper Sepik in a place called Swagup. It`s a typical swamp area with swarms of insects, which emerge especially in the dark. Some of the tribesmen practice polygamy.
The Insect cult's huts were made of Sago palms, and stood on poles.
Meeting with an big evil croc
Our first meeting with a crocodile in natural surroundings was a shock we never forget. Late in the evening we lay out in a canoe together with the natives. Surrounded by the dark we couldn't almost see anything. We lightened up the shore with our torches.
After a while we caught a fleeting glimpse of a reflection that we suspected could be a crocodile. We were not absolute sure, as frogs` eyes also reflected a light, although they were much lighter. Soon we learnt to distinguish the difference, as crocodiles were distinctly red.
When we ventured out in the swams, we were of course aware that the crocs don`t ask politely: please, can I eat you? The croc`s only law is: eat first, ask questions later.
Then suddenly there it was, the unmistakable, evil-looking eye of a crocodile. Silent we approached the crocodile, and we were ready for the big caught. The time has come. One native threw a spear in the crocodiles` neck, but to our big fright we discovered that it was a larger crocodile than we were prepared for. Raging by wild anger, the monster splashes its big body, rocking the canoe with enormous power.
One native fell into the River. Still shivering in the dark, the lens from the video camera blanked from the sudden movements, with the splashing sounds and the scream from the man who fell over board, still ringing in our ears; we thought this was it. My heart beated like a pumping machine and I got a strange feeling during the dramatic incident: a flashback experience. I saw some glimpses of my earlier life. It was like a replay that made me very confused for a while.
Fortunately for us the crocodile was not hungry and the monster disappeared. We shooked like a leaf in the strong wind for a long time afterwards. We searched later for the crocodile for a while without any result. The only thing we found was the remains of the broken spear. Anyway it was the same. We would not like to meet this monster again. But later in the evening and on the tour, we caught some small "crocs". I think that was better for us after the terrifying incident.
Photo. Back in safe surroundings again: in a hut in the Insect tribe village. Salami, the sweet daughter of our excellent guide Phillip, shows our "big" crocodile caught. © Travel Explorations.
These crocs were the only we dared to play carefully with.
This photo was taken in the Insect tribe village the day after the dramatic croc hunt.
Photo. Salami, shows more of our "big" crocodile caught. © Travel Explorations.
Even crocs are small or big, the they are definitely not pet animals. They are big in their mouth and their theet are sharp.
Thanks to our excellent boat driver Adam, we didn`t have to swim or end up as an dinner snack for the crocs. Our great Captain kept our canoe stable whole the time.
Instead of that the crocs catched us, we catched the crocs!
If you would like to participate in crocodile hunting with local tribes, the Upper Sepik is definitely the best, especially Swagup where the Insect tribe lives. These hunts are not without risk. The crocs have big jaw. Be aware of that crocs can`t chew. They have to swallow each party of the body!
The Insect-tribe and other tribes
Some places are like travelling back in the Stone Age. Most people live primitive, but they seem to live a good life. The tribes we visited in the Upper Sepik had their own strange customs and rituals. For example the Insect tribe had insects and crocodiles as an integrated part of their culture. They carved out crocodile heads on their canoes. In general their woodcarvings were very impressing.
I got a fantastic present from one of the chiefs; a big colourful wood carved dragonfly. This really made my day, and gave me a strong memory for life.
Photo. The chief in the Insect Tribe. He was a real nice person. © Travel Explorations.
The tribesmen still go hunting with spear, bow and arrows, and they eat pigs, chickens, fish, birds, snakes and frogs. The rumours say that the Insect tribe still lives up to their reputations as a ferocious tribe. Some rumours said also that cannibals and head-hunters still exist in the area.
Fortunately we avoided to be cooked in the black pot, but instead a big crocodile almost ate us.
The tribesmen showed their greatest hospitality and friendliness, and they also invited us in to stay overnight in their private homes.
The big chief in the Insect tribe was a very friendly, wise and a well-respected man. I gave the chief some cigarettes and tobacco, and then he shone like a sun, and gave me the warmest thanks.
Be aware of the crocs don`t ask politely: please, can I eat you? The croc`s law is: eat first, ask questions later.
What to bring for the unexplored - the Upper Sepik area
Photo. An crocodile head carved out by the Insect tribe on a dugout canoe. © Travel Explorations.
Look at the teeth!
Sepik is probably one of the most interesting areas in Papua New Guinea. It is still a very isolated area where you wouldn't meet any western tourists or other kind of tourists. Detailed planning is wise before you enter the area. Take your own food with you and many big bottles with purified water. A cap, sunscreen, sunglasses and a lot of insect repellent are necessary.
We dressed up in light cotton clothes from top to toe, both to protect against the hot sun and the bloodthirsty mosquitoes. When darkness set we sat down by the bonfire to avoid the mosquitoes, but it was impossible to avoid them all. Some mosquitoes give never up anyhow. Watch up for snakes, scorpions and spiders too. But first of all you need to follow this advise: "Don't insult the crocodile until you cross the water."
The Upper Sepik is for real explorers, travellers who will experience the untouched. You have to go there before is too late. It will not take too long before these natives will be influenced by the modern world too.
Stein Morten Lund, 31 July 2000
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Facts about Papua New Guinea:
Formal country name: The Independent State of Papua New Guinea.
Area: 462,840 sq km.
Population: 5.29 million.
People: 95% Melanesian, 5% Polynesian, Micronesian and Chinese.
Religion: 44% Protestant, 22% Catholic and 34% pantheistic beliefs.