Amungme tribe is a branch of Papuan race that occupies several great valleys between the grand mountains in Mimika and Puncak Jaya Regencies. The big valleys they occupy are Tsinga, Hoeya and Noema valleys. They are also live in several small valleys like Bella, Alama, Aroanop and Waa. Some other populates Beoga valley (here, they also called as The Damal, as Dani tribe named them), the lowland of Agimuga and Timika city.
Literally, Amungme made of two words, “amung” which means prime, and “mee” which means man. The legend tells that The Amungme came from Pagema area of Baliem valley in Wamena. This is indicated by Amungme words like “kurima”, which means gathering place and “hitigima” which means the first place where Amungme ancestors erect their first honai (house) that is made of weeds.
The Amungme believes that they are the first descendant of the first born of man. They live on the northern and southern side of the central mountain that is always covered by the ice, which they call “nemangkawi” or white arrow. The Amungme came from Damal Tribe of Eogam-e Family and Delem sub-tribe who lives along Memberamo River.
Amungme’s behavior and character are identical with their habitat. They consider themselves as conqueror, master and heir of Amungsa Land which was handed over to them by Nagawan Into (God). They live in a hostile environment which has formed their character as hard, rigid, fair, and chivalrous and always take preventative measures in all activities.
They use two different languages, Amung-kal which is being used by southern Amungme and Damal-kal which is the language of northern Amungme. Aside from those languages they use in daily communication, The Amungme also owns a symbolic language, Aro-a-kal. Aro-a-kal is a symbolic language that is very difficult to use and to comprehend. Another symbolic language of The Amungme is Tebo-a-kal, which can only be used on a sacred ground.
The Amungme’s concept of the land, human and the environment is that they play an integral meaning in daily life. The land is described as a Mother who provides their food, nurture, educate and raise them from infancy until their old age to their death. The land, along with its living environment is not only perceived as their habitat where they live, grow food, hunt and as a burial ground, but also as the home of the spirits and their ancestors. That is why they consider some locations like caves, mountain, waterfall and burial ground as sacred. Magaboarat Negel Jombei-Peibei (ancestral land that we adore, the source of our food), that’s how they call the land their ancestors gave them to live.
There are several leadership classes that exist among the Amungme. They are Menagawan, Kalwang, Cultural Council, Wem-wang, and Wem-mum. To become a leader, someone does not have to come from a leader’s lineage. A leader may emerge naturally through the process of time. Social condition and ecological environment play a major influence upon their traditional leadership behavior on their cultural level.
Their first contact with the foreigner happened in 1936 when Dr. Colijn’s Carstensz expedition visited them. Then in 1954, Pastor Michael Cammerer, a Catholic Priest, came with the help of Moses Kilangin, an Amungme who lived in the lowland. Then the Catholic Priest, with the help of Dutch government, relocated most of the Amungme to the coastal area of Agimuga. They did the relocation because they think their religious mission and their services to the Amungme are impossible to be done in the highland.
Some of the Amungme live in Timika city and its surroundings because of the relocation project of PT. Freeport Indonesia. The restriction to establish a residence near the mining site caused them to migrate to Timika. They are also move to Timika because they have to look for a job. Amungme people, especially who came from Jayawijaya Mountain, received housing and farm land from PTFI. Some of the Amungme choose to stay near the mine in villages like Banti, Waa, Tsinga and Aroanop.
Generally, Amungme people are now using the official currency (rupiah) as a tool of payment, and no longer using the barter system. Goods they are selling is still limited, like staple food, sweet potato, malanga, various cormels, cooking oil, vegetables, basic sweing kit and household general needs like salt, soap and cigarettes.
These days, barter culture and Eral have never been used anymore in trading by most Amungme people who live in the city or live next to the urban culture. That differs than the Amungme who live in the rural area on the north, in the mountain, who are still using Eral as a currency.
Eral is the currency which the Amungme recognize. It’s made of the shell of “bia” (a species of mollusk). The Amungme got their “bia” shell from their trading with the people who live in the coastal area. After they got their “bia” shell, they take them home and shape them into their currency.
Amungme tribe gathers their food by hunting which is because of their habitat provides them with various animals like boar, cassowary, Victoria Crowned Pigeon, etc inside a jungle where we can find various plants. Now, some of them has turned into farmers and husbandry, while small numbers of them has become a merchant, government worker, or a worker for a private company.