Forest Warriors - West Papua
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
As much as being an explorer in 2019 is still a concept, I call myself one. Planes, boats and cars can bring anyone to anywhere today, but actually going out there, out of the comfort zone, calls for a different type of traveller. To me, travelling is not the same as going on a holiday. When visiting remote places, you need to have tougher skin and a wider gaze than when being a tourist. However much comfort you can afford for yourself, actually going out there takes the courage to be humble. Visiting the most remote places and tribal people requires looking at yourself with relativity. The biggest challenge in this is probably acknowledging that however much you are right, you are probably more wrong in what seems “normal” or “acceptable”.
When visiting the Baliem Valley in West Papua New Guinea, a part of Indonesia, this reality struck me once again.
The Dani Tribe
I took three planes from the island of Bali to get to the breathtaking home of the Dani people who have only been “discovered” by Western society in 1938. They are known as a tribe with a violent history living in the Baliem Valley between peaks of up to 4500m. Waging war was an important part of the tribe, today their battles are merely ceremonial. When the Dutch colonialists ruled the island, they declared tribe wars illegal.
The Dani are great farmers. Traditionally the men work the land and the women sow and harvest. There are signs of farming in New Guinea that date back 9000 years and it’s possible that this region was one of the first in the world where agriculture started. Originally the Dani grew mainly sweet potatoes, but later rice farming was introduced by the Indonesians, and this is now their main produce. Their sweet potatoes are now food for the pigs they farm, which is their main source of meat. Also, this tradition was not much liked by the Indonesians, as pork is considered not Halal in religious Muslim cultures.
The Catholic and Protestant missionaries, as well as the Indonesian government, have tried over the course of several years to convince the Dani to start wearing clothes rather than their penis tubes and to become religious. The Dani people have proven their cultural strength by refusing to convert on many levels. They are a proud tribe that sees themselves as better off than the cultures who visited them. As well as being persistent in resisting their visitors’ intentions, the Dani also used to wage war as a symbol of fertility and power rather than to conquer land. Today the tradition of warfare is only kept alive during festivals when they also wear their famous clothing. The inner force of the Dani people, however, is still their pride and they don’t show any signs of abolishing their culture.
The Dani people don't eat a lot of meat, but occasionally they enjoy pork. There aren't many mammals on the island, and pigs are of most value to the Dani. Owning a pig is a sign of status, any kind of service or debt can be paid off with a pig or pork meat. Even women are bought with it. The more pigs you own at the Dani's the more you are "worth". At special occasions such as weddings, funerals etc, they slaughter one of the animals in a ritual way and enjoy every part of it for nutrition. Apart from these occasions, the Dani live mostly as vegetarians and show an enormous respect towards animals. They even care for them as they do for their children, including breastfeeding little pigs.
Below you can find a short video of the pig slaughtering ritual. It's not for the faint of heart to watch. We in the West are not used to seeing the meat that we eat when it's still an animal, but we can be sure that the animal in this video suffered much less than those we eat every day. Specifically for me as a vegetarian, this was another example of how this trip took me out of my comfort zone.
Inez Travels Tribes
Just like the Himba in Namibia and the Omo tribes in Ethiopia, visiting the Dani was a breathtaking experience for me. One of those that holds up a mirror in front of us and allows to see our own life in a different perspective.