Iki Palek, The Extreme Tradition of “Cutting Fingers” Owned by the Dani Tribe of Papua



Losing the person of the most beloved family member is sad for anyone in this world, but everyone has different ways of expressing sadness or deep sorrow. Some people express sadness by crying, being alone at home, even staying in their private rooms, and don’t want to meet others.

Did you know this before?

Apparently, expressing this sorrow can be done based on traditions or rituals that exist  around us. Some traditions are very unique and acceptable among the people. 


But, these traditions are different! ! 

The traditions belonging to the dani tribal community in Papua, Indonesia are very extreme because they cut off their fingers as a form of expressing sadness. 


The dani tribe itself is a indigenous papuan tribe that inhabits the baliem valley, in mamit village, Kembu District, Tolikara, Papua.


As a tribe that lives in the heart of Papua, the Dani tribe is one of the tribes that keep its tradition from the 1900s. They said crying was not enough to describe the deep sorrow of the loss of a family member. 


Therefore, cutting fingers becomes a tradition that must be done, because every sorrow leaves a wound. By cutting the finger, the loss will heal along with the felt finger cut wound.


For ordinary people like us, this may be a terrible activity and not acceptable, but for the dani tribe, this tradition is a sign of loyalty and a deep sense of loss left by loved ones. 


The dani tribe believes that the severed finger is considered a symbol of unity. When you lose someone, unity is no longer intact. Especially in Papua which is famous for its togetherness that is held firmly and must be maintained at any time. 


According to the dani tribe “togetherness not only existed when they were alive but also continued when they died”

Reason Behind Iki Palek Tradition


In addition, there are also other reasons that underlie why this iki palek tradition occurs. 

“Wene opakima dapulik welaikarek mekehasik”


which has the following meaning: “Basic guidelines for living together in one family, clan, house, tribe, ancestor, language, history and so on”


Extremely, this tradition is only done by women, usually mothers. 

They do various ways to cut fingers. Some wear sharp tools like traditional knives, some tie a finger with a rope until the finger breaks. 


Even more extreme, there are dani tribal people who use their teeth to cut their fingers until they break. 

We can’t imagine how the pain is, right?


This tradition will be valid if the finger is really cut off. 


The number of fingers cut off indicates the number of families who died. 

The more families who died, the number of fingers cut off increased. 

Then what about the man in the dani tribe?

Well, in addition to cutting off fingers, some men in the dani tribe sliced the skin of their ears as a sign of sorrow. Usually this iki palek tradition has no ceremony in particular, only closed with a procession of mud baths, as a symbol that all lives will return to the ground. 

Does this tradition still exist in Papua?

Over time, the tradition of iki palek, now has begun to disappear. There have been few who follow the ritual because there is an influence of the entry of religion and science into Papua. 


However, the results of this tradition can still be found, because many people of dani tribes, especially the elderly who have lost their fingers. 


You can find old mothers, who lost part of their fingers, some even lost their entire fingers.