Raja Ampat local culture

Raja Ampat local culture - Arborek Island's Eben Haezer church

To make sure you have the best time in the islands, you’ll want to be sensitive to Raja Ampat local culture. No surprise there – that’s the same wherever you may go!

Raja Ampat society, as elsewhere in Indonesia, is a mix of indigenous cultures and the descendants of successive waves of migration from outside the area which began in ancient times and continues to this day. If you’re interested in the history and ethnology of Raja Ampat, this appendix to a Utrecht University publication provides a fairly detailed overview.

In the islands where the majority of homestays featured on this website are to be found, the culture is predominantly Papuan and Christian. The people are among the friendliest and most welcoming you’re likely to meet, usually having a carefree attitude and a ready smile. You’ll have the best time if you adopt a similar approach!

Language: English is not widely spoken, but you should always be able to find someone with enough to communicate. Bahasa Indonesia is of course widely understood, but most people use their “mother tongue” (one of the many Papuan languages) in day to day conversation. We noticed an apparent preference for English over Bahasa Indonesia among the people who had both – but maybe that was only because our Bahasa Indonesia isn’t very good…

Dress: This is important. We’ve been asked by local people to make sure visitors understand the issue: Be aware of how your hosts and local village people dress and adopt a similar attire if you want to be sure not to give offence. Just because nobody seems to mind seeing a lot of your skin doesn’t mean it’s so. Local people more than likely won’t say a word, but it’s definitely offensive to them to see you wandering around their village in swimming gear. Don’t do it. A minimum of t-shirt and shorts that cover your knees should be worn whenever you’re in public. It’s a different matter when you’re in the water of course. Nude and female topless bathing though, should definitely be kept utterly private – something that’s almost impossible to be sure of in the islands!

Sundays: Boat trips, tours and other activities dependent on service from your hosts are not available on Sundays. We’ve also been asked to do our best to make you aware that Sundays are a day of rest and religious observance for the Christian folk of Raja Ampat. Please resist the temptation to pressure your hosts into taking you anywhere on Sundays – there’s plenty of swimming, snorkelling and exploring to be had around your accommodation. Meals will be served as usual, but apart from that and departures to Waisai for the ferry, your hosts will be spending the day with their family and community. If you’d like to be truly considerate, avoid scheduling arrivals and departures for Sundays so as to allow your hosts to participate in their traditional community and family life.

Places of worship: Never enter a church or mosque without seeking permission first and always ensure you are appropriately dressed before doing so. It’s best to only visit places of worship in the company of a local villager after consulting them as to whether your dress is suitable. (You need to be better dressed than on average – especially if a service is taking place.)

Food: The staple carbohydrate in Raja Ampat has traditionally been sago, which is prepared in a variety of ways from the pith of the sago palm. The potato-like root of the cassava plant and rice are also widely eaten.  Fish provides the bulk of the protein in the Raja Ampat diet with chicken, tempe and tofu also featuring. A variety of jungle greens and vegetables and the judicious use of spices (predominantly chilli) rounds out the cuisine. Desserts aren’t neglected – there’s a surprisingly large number of ways to create sweet delights from sago! Surprisingly, with the exception of banana, there doesn’t seem to be much tropical fruit available in the islands. Traditional Raja Ampat cooking provides a wide array of tastes and dishes, but unfortunately there’s a perception among many homestay providers that western tastes don’t extend to appreciation of traditional fare. Consequently, most homestays stick to the basics and present a few trusted westernised versions of the real thing. If you’re not staying at a busy homestay with lots of guests to serve, you can always ask that your hosts prepare more traditional food for you. See our Raja Ampat food and drink page for information about homestay food and the availability of halal and vegetarian/vegan food.

Service & Facilities: Raja Ampat is an adventure. It doesn’t provide the level of facilities and service found in more developed holiday destinations. Be sure to read our Raja Ampat Homestays page so you’re aware of what to expect. The relaxed local lifestyle and lack of experience of the expectations of time-poor foreigners means there might be times when you’ll find yourself frustrated. It might be due to an occasional lack of punctuality. Perhaps by the no-show of a promised guide or boat pickup. Quite possibly by an over-optimistic expectation of your willingness to part with cash.

Dispute resolution: If you encounter a problem, stay cool and keep smiling while you make your point. A domineering or aggressive approach that you might resort to to resolve an issue at home won’t work here. Shouting or berating somebody will almost certainly guarantee a negative outcome. And not only for you: your attitude will determine local people’s expectations of those who come after you.

That’s about it really – there’s not a lot to worry about. Keep the dress, service and dispute resolution tips in mind and you’ll enjoy the perfect stay in paradise.