Everything in West Papua is unique, from the local food to the cultural diversity to the breathtaking landscapes to the unique dances of the region. One of these dances is the Det Pok Mbui dance, which we will focus on in this article.
Traditional Dances of West Papua
Traditional dance in the Land of Papua has several forms, including battle, peace, worship, harvest, and social dances. Especially regarding their religious system, the life of their natural surroundings, and the social milieu, every movement of them has a symbol and significance.
Another uniqueness of the Papua dances is characterized by constantly having vibrant, energetic, and passionate motions. For instance, a Papuan dance has to include moves for both kicking and leaping around, and so does Det Pok Mbui.
The Significance of Det Pok Mbui Dance
The villages of Agats, Sauwa Ema, and Pirimapun within Merauke Regency, West Papua Province, are the regional birthplace of the Det Pok Mbui dance.
Two words, det (meaning “a devil-like mask”) and pok mbui (meaning “festival” or “ceremony”), come together to produce the two-syllable phrase Det Pok Mbui. This dance represents a “demon masquerade ceremonial” in its entirety.
The dancers include men and women who perform for 2-4 hours to celebrate the sago harvest.
Sago is the primary source of nutrition for people in eastern Indonesia, particularly West Papua. This plant is a type of palm that may grow in locations with plentiful water sources as one of the growth criteria. This plant is often found in lowland forest swamps and tropical freshwater.
Regarding that agricultural background, the dancers often perform the Det Pok Mbui on the riverside, depicting a sequence of movements of boarding a boat.
The Performance of Det Pok Mbui
In the Det Pok Mbui dance, the traditional or ceremonial leader stands in the center of the arena and cries out to the dancers with fu or tifa as a signal that the dance will begin shortly. As the tifa sounds, the dancers or ceremony participants congregate on stage.
While the fu is a traditional Papuan bamboo trumpet, tifa is a drum instrument native to Papua. Men and boys are often the ones who play tifa by beating them with their palms.
These two musical instruments serve as accompaniment throughout the performance, accompanied by the song ‘Jipai so’. Det Pok Mbui, like other Papuan dances, involves energetic movements such as hip movement (jiwi-ndil), buttock movement (a-ndi), and body movement (ban-ndi).
Distinctive Costumes, Makeup, and Accessories
Another intriguing aspect of this dance is the charcoal and lime makeup used on the performers’ faces and bodies. For your information, recent studies have shown the benefits of these two natural substances for the skin of the face and body. Using beneficial natural ingredients such as face makeup demonstrates Papuans’ high culture and local wisdom.
Their clothing is likewise distinctive. Male dancers use a kind of cassowary feather skirt. Cassowaries are indigenous to Papua, Papua New Guinea, and Australia. This bird is distinct in that it has a blue neck with a red wattle. Meanwhile, female dancers wear so-called ‘Awer’ costumes, which are grass skirts.
Anklets, wristbands, and arm bracelets are among the dancers’ accessories. They wear necklaces of dog teeth, pig fangs, or beads around their necks.
Even though the Sago harvest festival is no longer the norm, the local community has managed to keep Det Pok Mbui dance alive up to the present. These days, you may see this dance performed at cultural festivals.