Identification. The Asmat are hunting, fishing, and gathering people who inhabit an area which they refer to as Asmat capinmi, the Asmat world. The term "Asmat" (or "As-amat") means "we the tree people." In anthropological usage, the term Asmat labels the people (collectively), the language, and the geographic area. A single individual is referred to as an "Asmatter."
Location. The Asmat live within the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya (previously known as West Irian), which in turn occupies the western half of the island of New Guinea. Scattered over an area of some 25,000 square kilometers, these people inhabit a tropical lowland, alluvial swamp, and rainforest zone. The geographic coordinates are approximately 6° S and 138° E. Irian Jaya is located at the periphery of the monsoon region, with the most prevalent winds in Asmat blowing from November through April. The hottest month is December, the coolest June. Rainfall regularly exceeds 450 centimeters annually.
Demography. It is estimated that there are approximately 50,000 Asmat people. Village size currently ranges from about 300 to 2,000. While extremely variable, the estimated average rate of growth has been about 1 percent during the past thirty years. There is very little migration into or out of the area. Demographic factors of importance in the pre- and early-contact eras included the practice of infanticide, papis (ritual wife exchange), intra- and intervillage adoption of children and widows of war, and deaths associated with warfare. During the contact era, diseases such as cholera, influenza, and yaws have impacted growth.
linguistic Affiliation. The determination of which Scattered groups constitute the Asmat is, in part, an artifact of outside intervention and classification processes dating to the pre-1963 era of Dutch occupation. Five dialects are spoken in the Asmat language, which is a member of the Asmat-Kamoro Family of Non-Austronesian languages. Bahasa Indonesia, the national lingua franca of the country, also is spoken by many.