Vanishing world of Papua’s Dani Tribe
(Papua, Indonesia) Wah, wah, wah! Step into the vanishing world of Papua’s Dani Tribe! Mock battles, a pig feast, unusual customs, and colorful decorative tribal clothing… Learn more about the indigenous people, their culture, and tradition under the influence of globalization, missionaries, and tourism on the verge of extinction.
Surrounded by high mountain ranges that reach more than 4.500 meters, fertile Baliem Valley is home to many tribes of which the best known and most accessible today are Dani, Yali, and Lani.
Until the last decades of the 20th century, they were completely isolated from the rest of the world!
In the middle of the valley is situated the only major town, Wamena, which is connected by air to the capital of West Papua – Jayapura.
All that comes to and leaves Wamena (from refrigerators to tourists) must be by air.
Dani lives a modest, rural life, exclusively from agriculture and some lost tourist like me. Their life is based on planting potatoes (they know more than 70 different kinds of potatoes) and pig farming. Once fearless warriors, today are peaceful and very sociable people. Well, almost all of them. 🙂
The Dani tribe has some interesting customs. One of which involves funeral ceremonies. Women cut off part of their fingers when a family member dies to show their grief. Fingers were cut off with a stone ax, and it was usually the job of the women’s closest family member.
In the past war was the main part of Dani’s life, and they were known as the biggest warriors among all tribes. War with neighboring tribes, various ceremonies, and rituals was their primary occupation.
Dani was known as one of the most decorative tribes in the whole of Papua. The colorful headdress on the warrior is made with feathers from exotic birds and tusks from wild boars.
The men of the tribe wear a penis gourd called a ‘koteka’, which is held in place by two loops of fiber, very interesting ‘fashion detail’, right? 🙂
Absolutely the most positive, funniest, noble, and craziest people I’ve ever met.
Within a village typically lives about 50 people. Honai is a traditional wooden hut with a roof made with palm leaves. Every village has one men’s honai where all initiated men are sleeping and several women’s houses. There are also separate huts for pigs which plays a vital role in the life of almost every Papuan tribe.
Children live with their mothers until they reach their teenage years. Girls wear skirts made from woven orchid fibers from the day they are born, while boys are naked till the moment they are initiated. After initiation, they wear penis gourds.
After the war, Dani, who won the battle, performed a victory dance and sang traditional songs. Let’s dance!
Dani mummified the biggest and the most fearless warriors amongst them. There is a village in Jiwika that possesses a real mummy. A group of anthropologists estimated that the mummy is about 250 years old. Today mummy is a tourist attraction.
One of the most spectacular ceremonies in the Dani world is the pig feast. The same is held for all major celebrations, weddings, births, or funerals. The ceremony begins with a ceremonial war, tribe dance, and singing, after which men cut wood as they prepare to burn stones on fire.
The ‘party’ continues by killing a pig with a bow and arrow straight in the heart.
After pig’s soul went to hang out with forest spirits, it was time for ‘pig depilation’ by throwing it in the fire. Pigs are creatures from mythology, and many believe that the world came from the prehistoric pig. They are equal to all family members and a symbol of power and real money. For Dani men, his social status is initiated by the number of wives and pigs he has.
Cutting pig’s body parts with ‘homemade’ bamboo cutters. No knives, plates, towels, tables or water. The procedure is done on a dusty floor covered only with banana leaves.
The pig meat is cooked on steam in some kind of stone pit (it’s actually a hole in the ground covered with leaves and hot stones).
When the feast was ready, the men mostly ate the meat in separate groups while the women ate the entrails, sweet potatoes, and greens.
…is this! Wah, wah, wah dear Dani! Despite their interaction with modern civilization and visitors worldwide, Dani remains faithful to their traditional way of life and its preservation. I hope it will stay that way as long as it is possible.
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