Photo Essay: Vanishing world of Papua’s Dani Tribe

Dani warriors
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Vanishing world of Papua’s Dani Tribe

(Papua, Indonesia) Wah, wah wah! Step into a 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 that is under the influence of globalization, missionaries and tourism on the verge of extinction.

Baliem Valley in West Papua
Baliem Valley in West Papua

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 from Wamena (from refrigerators to tourists) must be by air.

Dani woman
Dani woman

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. 🙂

Woman’s fingers
Woman’s fingers

The Dani tribe have some interesting customs. One of which involves funeral ceremonies. When a family member dies, women cut off part of their fingers as a way of showing their grief. Fingers were cut off with a stone ax and it was usually job of the women’s closest family member.

Dani warrior, beginning of the battle
Dani warrior, beginning of the battle

In the past war was the main part of Dani life and they were known as the biggest warriors among all tribes. War with neighboring tribes, various ceremonies and rituals were their main occupation.

Dani warrior, colourful decorations
Dani warrior, colourful decorations
Dani tribal warrior, colourful decorations
Dani tribal warrior, colourful decorations

Dani was known as one of the most decorative tribes in whole Papua. The colorful headdress on the warrior is made with feathers from exotic birds and tusks from wild boars.

Dani warriors
Dani warriors

The men of the tribe wear a penis gourd called a ‘koteka’ which is held in place by two loops of fibre, very interesting ‘fashion detail’, right? 🙂

I kissed a... Dani warrior
I kissed a… Dani warrior

Absolutely the most positive, funniest, noble and craziest people I’ve ever met.

Dani tribe near Wamena
Dani tribe near Wamena

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 house. There are also separate huts for pigs which plays an important role in the life of almost every Papuan tribes.

Dani children
Dani children

Children live with their mothers until they reach the teenage years. Girls are wearing skirts made from woven orchid fibres from the day they were born while boys are naked till the moment they are initiated. After initiation, they wear penis gourds.

Dani woman dancing
Dani woman dancing

After the war, Dani who won the battle performed victory dance and sang traditional songs. Let’s dance!

Mummy
Mummy

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 mummy is about 250 years old. Today mummy is a tourist attraction.

Beginning of a pig feast
Beginning of a pig feast

One of the most spectacular ceremonies in Dani world is pig feast. The same is held for all major celebrations, weddings, births or funerals. The whole ceremony begins with a ceremonial war, tribe dance and singing after which men cut wood as they prepare to burn stones on fire.

Killing a pig
Killing a pig

The ‘party’ continues by killing a pig with a bow and arrow, straight in the heart.

Pig 'depilation'
Pig ‘depilation’

After pig soul went to hang out with forest spirits it’s time for ‘pig depilation’ by throwing it in the fire. Pigs are creatures from mythology and many believe that the whole world came out of the prehistoric pig. They are equal to all members of the family and also a symbol of power and real money. For Dani men, his social status are initiated by the number of wives and pigs he has.

'Operation' in progress
‘Operation’ in progress

Cutting pig’s bodies parts with ‘homemade’ bamboo cutters. No knives, plates, towels, tables or water. The whole procedure is done on the dusty floor covered only with banana leaves.

The Papuanese way of cooking
The Papuanese way of cooking

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).

Bon Appétit
Bon Appétit

When the feast was ready, in separate groups, the men mostly eat the meat while the women eat the entrails, sweet potatoes and greens.

Happiness...
Happiness…

…is this! Wah, wah, wah dear Dani! Despite their interaction with the modern civilization and visitors from all over the world, Dani remains faithful to their traditional way of life and its preservation. I hope it will remain that way as long as it possible.

Also Read: Bali Travel Guide

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