Until the last decades the Dani tribes were some of the most isolated populations by swamps and mountains. They grew root crops, raised pig and used polished stone axes and adzes. They didn’t make pottery (which means “sign of the modernity”), but otherwise their technology was very much like that of the Neolithic of the Old and New Worlds.
There may be 250,000 Dani living in the central mountains, many live scattered among the steep mountain slopes. The Valley has one of the highest densities of population in Papua Province. The Dani Tribes build their huts in a compound nicely express both environmental adaptation and Dani’s character. The men’s and women’s huts have thick thatched roofs which keep rain, yet retain the heat from the earth, along with just enough smoke to discourage the mosquito.
Baliem Valley, inhabited by the Dani tribe, is the most fertile part of the highland covering the west of the New Guinea Island Papua (Irian Jaya). Baliem Valley lies about 1800 m above the sea level, and it is surrounded by a crest of mountians some of which reach up to 4500 m. There are even some fish in the Baliem River which flows through the valley. The area covered by the Baliem valley is not large, roughly 60ճ0 km.
Dani tribe – Papua highlands – Irian Jaya
The first missionary, Loyd van Stone, parachuted there as late as 1954. Only then did the civilization of the Baliem valley, and Dani and Lani tribes, begin. Since then, the Baliem valley has become a gate for discovering the west of the Papua highland. No road has been built there yet, but in Wamana a large airport was built, and supplies are now transported by large freight airplanes. American Hercules planes brought vans and construction machinery. Thanks to this, a large network of asphalt roads could emerge, brick houses were built, etc. Despite all these developments, the Baliem valley is still dominated by the straw roofs of the Dani tribe.
Their fondness for dressing up shows the most during the time of war. You have probably seen the famous photos of Dani tribe members with boar tusks in their noses, and headdresses made of Paradise birds feathers. Dani men only wear long and thin kotekas. The women Danis wear short skirts woven from orchid fibers, decorated with straw, and with indispensable woven bags called noken across their backs. Similar to the women of the Yali tribe, the Dani women wear short skirts below their butts.
Despite the fact that Danis were discovered quite late in 1938, they became one of the best known tribes in New Guinea. Dani occupied one of the most fertile parts of Papua. As a result they often had to fight for their territory. There were also frequent wars among the Danis themselves. They were the most dreaded head-hunting tribe on the island, which is even more remarkable if we consider that they did not eat their enemies, like the majority of other Papuan tribes did.
Dani build round or oval huts, and their villages are enclosed by fences. They are farmers, and their small fields are distinctly bordered. This is what helped Richard Archbold spot them from the plane. The Dani tribe’s customs and culture are very rich and interesting. Several pages could be written on these topics.
The main reason that the Dani tribe is so well known, is that the Baliem valley where they live, is relatively easy to reach these days. Wamena was a point of departure for many expeditions. The Dani villages are visited by virtually every tourist who sets out in west Papua. Some villages even show their original customs and hold mock wars.
Another thing which brought fame to the Dani tribe are the several hundred years old smoked mummies of famous tribesmen. Two of them can be seen in the Baliem valley in Akima and Jiwika villages.
Extracting salt by immersing banana stems in salt lakes is another relatively well known custom. The Dani tribe is also notorious for the following custom that if someone dies in the village, then each of his female relatives will have a segment of their finger cut off. The mutilated hands of women can still be seen in Dani villages, despite the fact that missionaries tried to purge them of this custom.