The easternmost gem of Indonesia or widely known as West Papua offers you not only a myriad natural tourist attractions, but also uniquely diverse ethnic cultures that can blow your mind. From Bakar Batu to Tah Was, here are 10 mind-blowing indigenous rituals in West Papua that you should be familiar with.
Bakar Batu ritual (stone burning) is aimed to express gratitude to God by gathering with family members and neighbors as well as crowning the tribal chief. The process mainly involves a cooking tradition done by the locals inhabiting areas such as Baliem Valley and Nabire. The stacked stones over hot flaming pit are burnt along with various sources of food, such as wild boar meat, fresh vegetables and sweet potatoes.
West Papua is rich in indigenous tribes that remain holding war dance rituals. Papuan people regard the dance as part of their valuable cultural products to represent bravery, patriotism and selflessness. It is generally performed by a group of people wearing tribal attributes including cassowary crowns, root skirts, koteka covers and chestnut beads.
The performance is usually accompanied by the unique sound of traditional musical instruments that include Tifa, Butshake and Fuu.
Moi tribe in Sorong Regency, West Papua Province still holds a tribal tradition called Teh Bless to find a solution to any disputes that take place in the local society. In its technical implementation, Teh Bless is carried out at a river. Generally, the chosen river has water discharge as high as a foreleg of an adult. When the day comes, the quarreling parties and the elders go together to the river to execute the ritual.
The ritual starts with a sign, like prayers, symbolically conveyed by the elders. Then, the people who act in the stead of the warring sides will drown their heads in the river or what the locals call molo ritual. While drowning their heads, their hands are holding on to a wooden stick. When proceeding molo, they must not move their submerged heads. The representative that moves their head, in any ways or directions, loses and has to pay the agreed fine (in a form of giving away some valuable goods, such as clothing, food, etc.)
In a Papuan local language, the word Mansorandak really means “stepping on a plate,” just like the process of the ritual itself. There are 3 steps on the ritual procession: greeting by the whole family members and relatives, going around some plates, and eventually stepping on a clay figure of a wild animal.
The one-of-a-kind ceremony is carried out to welcome a family member back after leaving their hometown for long. This ritual is also aimed to get rid of some evil spirit around.
Another ritual dance West Papuan tribal people offer is the holy Musyoh dance. The sacred performance is commonly held to prevent the wicked spirit and the dancers usually perform it energetically with some joy in their captivating traditional outfit.
Tattoos are common to the youth these days, but for most West Papuans—especially those of Moi and Mayakh tribes, tattooing has been part of their culture and legacy inherited by their ancestors since many decades ago.
As one of the rich ethnic rituals in West Papua, their tattoo designs are extraordinary. The pattern combines between geometrical shapes and tiny dots as well as circles. The locals also use natural “ink” mixture instead of chemicals to apply the tattoo on their skin.
Elha is a ritual of animal hunting in West Papua that has been going on for decades. There are some specific rules to obey before one becomes eligible to hunt, i.e.: they are not allowed to have an intercourse, eat breakfast and greet the other people before hunting. The hunting weapons they use are mostly spears instead of bows and arrows, and then they hunt down hogs and wallabies (small variety of kangaroos).
When in the land of Papua, stop by at Biak Numfor Regency to witness Iyakyaker ritual, a marital ceremony held within the dowry giveaway procession. The brides are usually called Ararem while the grooms should present worthy items such as cattle, money, crops and especially Ben Bepon, some famous porcelain plates in the area.
During the ceremony, some relatives of the groom are asked to hand over an Indonesian flag along with the dowry to the family members of the bride.
Another special ritual done by Moi tribe in Sorong Regency is Sirih Pinang held on a traditional mat. Commonly carried out by the elders, the ritual is a way to have direct contact with their ancestral spirits.
As the procession takes place, the elders put beads from bamboo and put down their tribal cloth, which symbolize a permission request sent to their ancestors to use the forest where they live for a special event. In addition to that, a typical Moi dance is also performed as a symbol of the tribe’s commitment to maintaining the preservation of the forest where they live.
Tah Was customary ritual is believed to be a way to prevent all types of diseases, including Corona virus. The ceremony was held in Yumame Village, Aitinyo District, Maybrat Regency, West Papua within the local government’s declaration event against COVID-19 outbreak.
There are many more ethnic rituals held in West Papua. Visit the region to get involved better with the local communities.