The Tree Dwellers

Fantastic in the Everyday

Amazing as it may seem, elves and various other fantasy races that dwell in trees, may be more well known than the tree-dwellers of our world–the Korowai tribe of Papua New Guinea.  Though their homes hardly compare to the striking images of elven flets accessed by slender ropes or the palace-like city  of Caras Galadhon, interwoven with mighty trees, they’re fascinating nevertheless.

A hunter-gatherer people group living in swampy lowlands, the Korowai construct their homes in trees or up on stilts for defensive purposes. Their homes may tower as much as 160 feet above the ground, accessed only by ladders or a single notched pole. Though they work to make them sturdy (a necessity since a dozen or more people might reside in a single home), the houses usually only last about five years before needing reconstruction.

In many ways, the Korowai provide a glimpse back into ancient cultures, as until the 1970s, they lived in complete isolation. Since that time, their cultural practices have remained largely intact–possibly even their cannibalistic habits and certainly their methods of living off the land and their unique dwellings. They adorn their bodies with bone jewelry and bear weapons, but wear virtually no clothing (consider yourself forewarned if you do any googling). And they seem content in their lifestyle, though some predict it may only last one more generation, as the outside world presses in on them.

Though their tree houses are primitive, I’d love to see them in person. And there’s a small part of me that thinks tree-top living might be fun–especially if the homes resembled those in Lorien rather than those in the jungles of Papua. What about you? Can you imagine making your home in the thick of a forest, living among the trees?


  • Emily
    October 27, 2010 - 5:39 pm · Reply

    Wow, that’s really interesting! I’d never heard of such people until now. I think living in a treetop would be awesome, provided there was a whole treetop community. =) I believe I would get far to lonely all alone. Also I’m not sure if I could stand it all the time, I might have to venture back into the real world once every now and again.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 28, 2010 - 3:20 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Emily! I have to agree, it wouldn’t be pleasant to live in complete isolation. If, on the other hand, all your family and friends formed a community, it would be quite nice. 🙂

  • Rachel Petersen
    October 28, 2010 - 12:17 pm · Reply

    That is fascinating! Thanks for the wonderful article.

    I think living in the forest would be gorgeous, but it would have its own challenges. I’m not very outdoorsy, and I can be a bit of a city girl, so I’m not sure how well I’d do in reality!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 28, 2010 - 3:22 pm · Reply

      To be surrounded by the beauty and serenity of a forest would definitely be incentive for treetop living, but I agree about the challenges. Inclement weather, insects and wildlife of all kinds, a long way to fall after a misstep…it’s not for the faint of heart! I think I would enjoy it as an event, but not as a lifestyle.

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