Climate and Geography
The term "Asmat" refers to a people, a language, and a region. The Asmat region is located on the southwestern coast of the island of New Guinea and, today, forms part of Papua Province in the nation of Indonesia. Its coast borders the Arafura Sea and it covers approximately 7,336 square miles (19,000 square kilometers). Daily temperatures range from 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) in the early morning to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) at noon. The Asmat area is warm and humid year round. Much of the environment consists of alluvial swamp with numerous rivers and their tributaries. Due to the daily tide cycle and the region's heavy rainfall, the ground is typically muddy, limiting transportation options. Within Asmat villages, people get around primarily by walking on raised walkways. Beyond the villages, nearly all travel is done in dugout canoes or other vessels.
The rich rainforest environment supports a great variety of different animal species including crocodiles, wild pigs, flying foxs (large fruit bats), cuscus (possum-like marsupials), lizards, snakes, turtles and shellfish. The region's diverse bird life includes king cockatoos, hornbills, cassowaries (large ostrich-like birds), crowned pigeons, and several species of bird of paradise. The forests also support groves of sago palm trees, whose pith is processed to make a starchy substance, also called sago, that is a staple of the Asmat diet.
Like other coastal areas in the Pacific and beyond, the Asmat region today is experiencing rising sea levels caused by global climate change. One way to address this situation is to build structures higher off the ground, as the current Crosier missionaries are doing for their new monastery buildings in Agats, the region's main town and administrative center. However, this can not be easily done for existing structures and, during the months of December and January water now seeps up into buildings, where it can cause significant damage as well as inconvenience.