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Living in Tree Houses

Updated on June 18, 2013

The Tree People

Deep in the rainforests of West Papua, in one of the remotest areas on the planet, lives a tribe of of extraordinary people called the Korowai- The Tree People. They are among the last hunter-gatherers on earth and have developed a very impressive resiliency to their environment. Until the 1970's the tribe wasn't even aware that the outside world existed, since their isolation had meant that they had had no contact.

The tribes have adapted to the extremely harsh living conditions of the rain forest by building their homes in the trees; some as high as fifty metres (150 ft) above the ground. Yet the tribes people are perfectly comfortable living among the forest canopy and seem remarkably relaxed when it comes to their young children, who wander about up there without any barriers.

Looks incredibly vulnerable...a Kowal tree house.Image from
Looks incredibly vulnerable...a Kowal tree house.Image from


Just building the trees is a feat of engineering, as well as bravery and is a testament to the ingenuity and adaptability of humans. Everyone pitches in to make the houses, which protect against the torrents of the rainy season and gaurd against attacks from rival clans. The Korowai, which number around 3,000, have learnt how to thin out the trees to create stability and flexibility for the houses. The frames for the houses are made from trees which they fell themselves and the floor and walls are made from bark and sago palm leaves which they must carry up in bundles.

I encourage you to watch the beautiful video excerpt below from the BBC documentary The Human Planet. Perhaps modern parents, who tend to be so overly-protective over their children might find it a bit hair-raising but then again perhaps too, we are missing something in our high-stress, over anxious modern lives. These rainforest people seem remarkably content with their lot. As one who is less than comfortable with heights, it's mind boggling to me that people could live like this.

~Looking at the view, with the fire burning, we are so content, living in this beautiful forest~ Korowai tribesman

A Community Effort

Remote tribes like the Korowai have formed a close, respectful relationship with their environment - they are at one with the ebb and flow of the rainforest. They are in fact, the only tribes in the world to live in tree houses, so that alone makes them unique. In the trees they can escape biting insects, floods, attack and also, it allows them to display their extraordinary jungle skills...the Korowai are proud of their treehouses.

All the cutting of the wood for the treehouses is done using primitive, stone age tools and before any work can be done on the house, a ladder must be built- no mean fear when you're going up 30 to 50 metres. The whole process from beginning to completed house takes around two weeks of solid effort from everyone in the tribe who is able. For the house above, forty-two worked on the project . According to the BBC documentary, the materials required to build the treehouses include:

  • countless felled trees
  • 30 bundles of palm leaves
  • 16 rolls of bark
  • 5 kilometres of twine

You couldn't afford to suffer from acrophobia in this environment
You couldn't afford to suffer from acrophobia in this environment

A Lost World: Uncontacted Tribes

The Korowai have somehow managed to maintain a tribal lifestyle that has probably been around for thousands of years, in spite of ouside contact. Incredibly, there are still people on earth who remain isolated from the modern world - the uncontacted tribes, whose way of life reminds us of how we once lived.

Although tor a long while, sceptics refused to accept that such people still exist, recent aerial video evidence has emerged showing uncontacted tribes living in the jungles of the Brazilian-Peru border. It's amazing footage and as the commentator suggests, there would be little to gain for such people to be introduced to the 'benefits' of the modern world -apart from their vulnerability to disease, in all likelhood their quality of life would decline drastically:

In reality, the future offered by settler society is to ‘join’ at the lowest possible level – often as beggars and prostitutes. History proves that tribal peoples usually end up in a far worse state after contact, often dead.

Uncontacted Tribes


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