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The main tribes inhabiting the beautiful Baliem Valley in the central highlands of Papua are the Dani, the Yali and the Lani.
Although now modernized, the Dani still strongly adhere to their traditions and customs, most notably the dress of the men. Even in this cool mountain climate, men wear only a penis gourd, known as koteka, though complemented with elaborate headdress of bird of paradise or cassowary feathers, while the women wear grass or fern fiber skirts (sali or saly) slung around the waist. And to carry pigs or the harvest of sweet potatoes, women carry a string bag, called noken, slung from their forehead.
To defend their villages or to raid others to avenge for tribe members killed, the Dani practiced regular warfare. However, anthropologists note that the “Dani wars” are more a display of prowess and opulence of dress and decoration rather than an all out war to kill the enemy. Dani warfare displays competence and exuberance, rather than the wish to kill. Weapons used are long spears, measuring 4.5 meters, and bows and arrows. Most often, therefore, there are more wounded than killed, and the wounded are quickly carried off the field.
Nowadays, Dani mock battles are held yearly at the Baliem Valley Festival in Wamena during the month of August (see Calendar of Events). At this feast, which has as its highlight the mock battles among the tribes, the Dani, Yali, and Lani send their best warriors to the arena, wearing their best regalia. The festival is complemented with a Pig Feast, Earth cooking and traditional music and dance.
There are also arts and crafts exhibited or for sale.
Each tribe will come with their own identity, and one can see clear differences among them and identify tribes according to their costume especially the penis gourds each wears. The Dani men usually wear only a small koteka (penis gourd / penis cover), while the Lani tribesmen wear larger koteka’s, since their bodies are bigger than the average Dani, while the Yali wear long slender kotekas held by a rattan belt, strapped at the waist.
By attending the massive Baliem Valley Festival, visitors will have a rare chance to learn and experience firsthand the different traditions of each tribe participating in the Festival without having to make the difficult trek to their compounds deep in the hinterland of West Papua.
It is highly advisable that you stock up on Indonesian Rupiah when travelling outside of Wamena. You can withdraw cash from the ATM at any banks in town. Note that there is nowhere else in the valley that you can change your currency. So, while in Wamena, do exchange your currency at either:
Bank Mandiri (Jalan Trikora 92), which only change US dollars in cash.
Bank Papua (Jalan Trikora 45). The exchange rates and endless lines can be a bit challenging.
Bank BRI (Bank Rakyat Indonesia); Jalan Yos Sudarso & Jalan Trikora.
Take a flight from Jakarta, Makassar or Bali to Jayapura, capital of the province of Irian Jaya/Papua, then, a connecting flight to Wamena will take you to the heart of Baliem Valley within the very same day.
A number of travel agencies regularly organize tours to the Baliem valley. (Click on Find Travel Agents)
For your own safety, when intending to trek alone into the interior, you are advised to first report your itinerary to the Police upon arrival at the airport.