Although living in the Highlands, Hewa language belongs to the Sepik family, and their culture is very different from other Highlanders. The majority still live in scattered households, in relative isolation from other families. However, with the modern influence, many people live now in villages.
The Hewa are known for their love of wild fowl eggs (hundreds or even thousands of wild fowl eggs are collected during the wild fowl season) and a local delicacy called “kuka”. Kuka season is very important season for the Hewa people. Kuka are the special tree nuts, which are very toxic to eat until properly prepared. Kuka requires a lot of preparation – the nuts must be boiled, broken open and the inside must be soaked in water for one month to get rid of the toxins. After this long preparation process, kuka looks like a thick soup with a very strong foul smell.
The Hewa people are animistic believing that the spirits around them, both good and evil, can control their lives. They build their huts with a few fire pits but with no windows in order to prevent the evil spirits from entering their house.
In the traditional Hewa culture, when a person dies, his body is not buried in the ground. Instead, the people build a tiny house on stilts, place the body inside this house in a sitting position and leave it to rot. After the flesh of the corpse becomes rotted, the relatives burn the bones in a big fire, except for the skull bone and the jaw bone. The skull is hung up on the wall in the communal house, and the jaw bone is put inside a little string bag (bilum). When a man relative goes hunting, he takes this bilum with him as it’s believed that the spirit of the jaw bone announces the danger. If the life the man is in danger because of a bad spirit or an enemy, the jaw bone’s spirit causes the bag to jerk or makes it very heavy. If the man is in extreme danger, the spirit even transports the man to a different place for safety.