Deep in the highlands of Western New Guinea, Indonesia, lives one of the world’s most isolated tribes – The Dani People.
The Dani remained unknown to the outside world until the 1930s. When explorers discovered a Dani tribe in 1938 they had no metal tools. They used wooden spears, bows and arrows and stone tools. The first permanent contacts were not made until the 1950s. Michael Rockefeller had been with the Dani during the last great Dani tribal war. In the 1960s the Dutch government launched a program of pacification that was continued by the Indonesian government.
The Dani have traditionally been animists who believed in local gods and water spirits. Particular attention was given to the restless ghosts of the recently deceased. A great effort was made to ensure they were placated so they didn’t cause illnesses, troubles or create imbalances, which may or may not be rectified by men with special powers.
Daily life for the Dani people has included using tools that have traditionally been made of stone, bone, pig tusk, wood and bamboo. Stone used to make axes and adze was often obtained from other groups through trading. Jale men use bows, arrows and hatchets for weapons. Hatchet also doubled as gardening tools. The Dani traditionally had no pottery or cloth, even bark cloth. Sting and material for skirts and nets were obtained from the bark of trees. Containers were made from gourds. Body armour was made from rattan. Arrows were unfletched, with notched and barbed (but not poisoned) tips. By the 1980s, cloth, metal axes, knives and shovels were widely used and thrown-away plastic bottles were used instead of gourds.
Dani men traditionally cleared the land and maintained the irrigation systems that drain off water in the wet season and supplies it in the dry season. Women plant, harvest and sell the sweet potato crop and transport items such as firewood, water and vegetables on building planks on their heads. Among the Jale, both sexes farmed while, males hunted bird and game while females trapped insects, lizards and frogs.
Dani men go around naked except for a koteka (penis gourd), and occasionally some bird of paradise feathers, cowry shells or pig tusks or a hair net as an ornament. The penis gourds are kept erect with thread that is attached to the top and looped around the waist. Jale men wear long penis sheaths and rattan skirts that look like a bunch of skinny hula hoops piled on top of one another. In the 1970s, the Indonesian government tried to eradicate the penis gourds but the effort was largely a failure.
Unmarried women have traditionally worn grass skirts while married women wore a skirt made of fibre coils or seeds strung together and hung below the abdomen to cover the buttocks. Older Dani women often go topless. Younger women began to cover their breasts several decades ago. Women of all ages are often seen carrying bark string backpacks with their heads in which they carry children, piglets, sweet potatoes or other items. To keep themselves warm on cold nights, Dani has traditionally rubbed pig fat on their bodies instead of wearing clothes. In an efforts to get the Dani to cover their naked bodies aid workers for the Indonesian government air-dropped dresses and trousers.
Fast forward to modern times and some Dani people are trying to enter the market economy by growing and selling rice and leading treks into the highland forests. In the Baliem Valley, Indonesian immigrants hold most of the good government positions and own most of the private businesses. Most Dani people labour at menial jobs or stick to subsistence farming, however, some of the Dani people make a relatively good living by posing in penis gourds and grass skirts for traveller photos, showing visitors their revered mummies and performing mock battles in front of visitors to the region.
More information about this experience can be found on our website. If you would like to make this experience yours then contact us so we can help you secure your spot on this amazing adventure of a lifetime – places are limited. We look forward to welcoming you on our Baliem Valley Festival tour.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.