ETHNONYMS: Wonti, Worpen

The Waropen are an Austronesian group in the Vogelkop of Irian Java, New Guinea. They numbered some 6,000 in 1982 and are located along the eastern part of Geelvink Bay, on the south coast of Yapen Island, and on the mainland from the Kerome River, south of the Mamberamo, to the mouth of the Woisimi River at Wandamen Bay. Waropen is classified as part of the Geelvink Bay Subgroup of Austronesian languages. The people live in some fourteen Villages along various watercourses, just inland from Geelvink Bay. Houses are built in the tidal forest, on stilts over the water. Most dwellings are large multifamily buildings, each with several apartments for couples and children. There is also a young men's house for boys and unmarried men.

Subsistence is based on the cultivation of sago and coconuts, fishing, and swine herding. Hunting is much less Important. The women typically collect firewood, carry water, gather mollusks, and produce sago. Men generally build canoes and houses, hunt, and fish (with lines and hooks, nets, spears and arrows, poison, and traps). Formerly, a large trading network extended over all of Geelvink Bay, and pottery was an important import item for the Waropen. Travel was most often by sea.

The Waropen are organized into clans, which are localized, nonexogamous kin groups, and localized patrilineages, which are exogamous. The preferred marriage partner for a man is a mother's brother's daughter. For each patrilineage, some lineages are considered wife givers and others wife takers. At the wedding, marriage gifts are exchanged by both parties and bride-price is required. Polygyny is quite common, and children are greatly desired. Divorce is somewhat unusual and can only be concluded after the bride-price and all Wedding gifts have been returned. A group of related brothers lives in one longhouse (ruma). There is an apartment for each of the resident males' wives. It also happens that some families live alone, away from their affiliated longhouse.

Several lineages are affiliated with a particular clan. Certain clans and lineages are recognized as senior to the others and so are more influential and respected. Many lineages are also linked through patterned marriage exchanges. Each Lineage has a headman; and the oldest male descendant of the oldest lineage in a clan is recognized as a chief ( sera). Both of these leaders are respected and quite influential. Personal distinction and influence are acquired by virtue of age or by possessing the quality of being kako (rough, hard, cruel). The Waropen also formerly had many honorific titles, acquired mainly through acts of warfare (i.e., killing people and taking slaves). Finally, there were non-kin-based leaders, or chiefs ( serabawa ), who were mainly from the senior lineages of their clan. The serabawa were primarily military leaders, and most acted in consultation with other influential men.

The Waropen worldview is dualistic, dividing the world into sacred versus profane things and situations. Ancestor worship is also an important part of Waropen religion. Initiation ceremonies exist for both sexes, involving piercing of the ears and septum. Sorcery can be practiced by anyone, and all of the men of a patrilineage are responsible for the worship of their ancestors. Shamans ( ghasaiwin ) are most often old women, and one of their primary responsibilities is the recovery of stolen souls; the theft of a soul is believed to be the primary cause of sickness.


Held, Gerrit Jan (1951). The Papuas of Waropen. Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Landen Volkenkunde. Translation Series 2. The Hague: M. Nijhoff.

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