The Asmats The Agats region of Papua on the southwestern coast bordering the Arafura Sea consists of swamps, mangroves and rivers lined with Asmat tribal villages. Perhaps one of the best-known tribes in Papua, the Asmat met with Dutch explorers as far back as 1623. The remoteness of the region meant that there were no attempts to colonize, and outsiders made only sporadic contact with the Asmat until the 1950s.The Asmat remain firmly rooted in the Wood Age, living off the rich resources of the rivers, forests and seas which are home to a rich range of wildlife. Crocodiles, grey nurse sharks, sea snakes, freshwater dolphins, crabs and shrimp abound in the water, while cockatoos, crown pigeons and hornbills thrive in the palm, ironwood and merak tree forests.The Asmat reached international notoriety due to their headhunting and cannibalism practices, which formed a core part of their spiritual beliefs. Collecting enemy heads was part of ritualized warfare, as was eating their brains. Tribesmen wore a pendant of the lower jaw to display fighting prowess, and used the rest of the skull as a pillow.Headhunting formed part of a complex set of ritualized beliefs involving cause of death, revenge and spirituality. Asmat belief holds that all deaths – apart from the very old or very young – are a result of malevolent forces, and that the spirits of the dead demand retribution. When someone in the tribe died, a relative would kill an enemy and take his head in retribution.Once revenged, the spirit of the deceased relative would be coaxed into a carved pole called a Bis measuring 4.5-6m (15-20 feet). It was then free to depart and be reborn into the tribe once again as a new baby. Headhunting was banned in the 1950s but there were documented cases into the 1980s, and some Asmat may still practice it in remote areas.