Raja Ampat is an archipelago of 1411 islands spread over 4.6 million hectares of islands, cays, shoals and lagoons. It’s rich waters provide a source of income, food and livelihoods for approximately 50,000 people spread across 117 villages, as well as providing protection and shelter for the community during tropical storms.
Local communities in Raja Ampat have very strong cultural links and traditional ownership rights over their territory of both land and coral reefs. The Raja Ampat Marine Park Authority works closely with these local communities, and aspects of cultural and traditional management practices have been adopted into law, for the long-term protection and management of the region and it’s natural resources.
Much like anywhere else in Indonesia, Raja Ampat is home to a mix of people; communities are a blend of local indigenous cultures, as well as people who have arrived in the area through domestic and international migration, from a variety of different cultural, geographical and historical backgrounds. See Culture & Heritage.
Villages typically have a population of around 200 people, and are located close to the sea. A large percentage of village populations are children, and many adults work in informal sector; supporting their families and communities by gathering and preparing food, and participating in community activities such as the construction and maintenance of village infrastructure. However, with a rapidly developing tourism industry, some local people are able to take jobs as dive guides or at resorts or homestays.
Each villages contains a school, a church around, local homes and some have small gardens within the forest nearby. Some villages will have a very small and basic local shop. And much like any community small or large around the world, daily life has it’s own rhythm of activities, in this instance revolving around fishing, building, working on community activities or ceremony, school, or church. All villages posses a strong sense of community and family, and locals are typically friendly, welcoming and are always ready with a smile and laugh.
English is not widely spoken, and whilst Bahasa Indonesia is widely understood and spoken, many local people, particularly adults and older people, will speak amongst themselves in their local language/dialect for day to day conversation.
When visiting villages, or interacting with the local community, it is important to remember that as visitor to these villages, you must respect the local people and local custom – as you would expect of visitors to your home town.
Being Culturally Sensitive while visiting
Raja Ampat Marine Park Authority would like to inform all visitors that cultural sensitivity is very important when visiting a local village, community or important cultural site. Please be aware of these sensitivities, and respect the local culture, practice and beliefs.
Dress / Clothes:
Please take note of how local community members are dressed, and in order to be certain you will not cause offence, wear something similar in style. Although no-one will say anything to you, it is considered offensive – in particular for females – to be walking around in your swimwear or showing a lot of your skin; at a minimum wear a t-shirt or singlet, and shorts are not ‘too short’. For females, topless swimming or sunbathing is considered offensive and is not permitted.
To ignore modesty in dress shows disrespect, and can reinforce negative sterotypes about tourists and tourism, and can also potentially lead to a less welcoming response in local villages over the short and long term.
The church is at the heart of all local communities, and not just as places of religious observance, but as a means for community consultation and celebration.
Christianity and Islam are the main religions in Raja Ampat, and visitors to Raja Ampat are expected to be considerate and respectful of the relevant practices of each faith. For example; Sunday is an important day for Christians, whilst in Islam Friday is considered and important day of worship. It is critical to respect these days of rest and religious observance. If you are in a local community on a religious day, please respect any local and/or religious custom that is occurring and avoid loud, disturbing or disruptive behaviour. If you are staying in a local homestay or hosted by local community members, avoid making requests or applying pressure for activities, please remember your host will be participating in community ceremonies or activities, and spending time with their family.
Never enter a church or a mosque without first asking permission and always ensure you are appropriately and respectfully dressed. It is best to seek permission first then visit these places of worship accompanied by a local community member, in doing so being respectful but also gaining a richer experience of local community life.