West Papua Diary

Explore West Papua Culture & Cuisine of the Dani Tribe

The Indonesian people have known the name of the Dani tribe as heirs of the West Papua culture. This tribe existed hundreds of years ago and inhabited the Baliem Valley area.

The Indonesian Anthropology journal entitled “Understanding the Cultural Knowledge System of the Central Highlands Community, Jayawijaya, Papua in the Context of Disasters” reveals that the Dani people are farmers and adept at using various tools.

West Papua Culture of the Dani Tribe

Quoting the Tanah Papua Expedition, most of the Central Highlands of Papua people live by traditional farming. They grow ipere, a sweet potato, as their main crop.

The Dani also grow other tubers in the fields. Others also grow vegetables, such as mustard greens, cabbage, oranges, and red fruit.

Some locals sell harvested agricultural items to the city in addition to using them themselves.

In 39 Jayawijaya districts, 10,000 people from 322 different tribes still live this manner, according to the Jayawijaya Regency Indigenous Peoples Institute (LAM), which cited the Tanah Papua Expedition.

Hastuti added that the Jayawijaya Mountains border the Baliem Valley. The slopes of this mountain have rugged terrain with narrow and steep river valleys so that the Dani have their way of using the land for plantations.

According to Husni and Siregar, this West Papua culture of Dani people refers to themselves as nit baliemega, which means “we are Balinese.”

Meanwhile, according to Hastuti, the Dani prefer to be called the parim.

“Most of the Dani tribe embraces Protestant Christianity but cannot escape their customs as adherents of the belief in the spirits of the dead,” Hastuti wrote in his journal. They continue to regularly conduct ceremonies to honor ancestor spirits.

As reported in the Meaning Behind the Niki Paleg Tradition of the Dani Tribe in Papua by Putro and Nadira, the Dani tribe has a fairly extreme way of showing grief over the death of a close person.

“The Dani symbolize their sadness not only by shedding tears but also by cutting off their fingers,” wrote Putro and Nadira.

If a family member or close relatives—such as a parent, a sibling, a brother, or a sister—dies, one must cut their fingers. The Niki Paleg tradition is the name of this custom.

The Dani tribe also interprets this West Papua culture as a deterrent to calamity. It’s thought that further family members perished in the catastrophe.

All fingers—except the thumb—can be cut. Two knuckles have often removed the section.

The Dani people process sago as a basic ingredient for making food, especially papeda, the most famous typical food from Papua. To make sago flour, squeeze the sago tree’s trunk until the starch leaks out.

Papeda is a typical Dani dish popular among international visitors to Papua. In Papua itself, sago is a significant staple crop. 

Regarding bargaining, especially for dowries, sweet potatoes are the most important item in the local West Papua culture. The number of pigs plain sometimes judges the success of a feast and that of a local big man (man of influence) or organizer. Pig feasts are equally significant to commemorate events communally.

The Dani prepare their basic foods in earth ovens, including pig and sweet potato, banana, and cassava. They prepare specific stones by heating them over a fire until they are boiling before wrapping meat, sweet potato, and banana chunks in banana leaves.

The food container is then put into the previous pit with heated stones. The hole is filled with grass and a cover to block out steam after the Dani Tribe placed the last hot stone on top.

After a few hours, the food is withdrawn from the pit and ready to eat. Pigs are too expensive to serve frequently.

Wrapping Up

Despite travel brochures portraying highland hiking with people from the “Stone Age,” changes in the Dani way of life during the past century are related to technological and globalization advances. Now, this tribe has developed yet still preserved its West Papua culture.

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