After the beautiful beaches and unforgettable snorkeling in Raja Ampat path led me into the inland of Papua. Thought that in Baliem Valley live tribes who until the last decades of the 20th century were completely isolated from the rest of the world attracted me irresistibly.
Although I was not prepared to go on a professional expedition in the unexplored parts of the Papuan jungle (I will do that when I rob a bank or marry a rich sheik), I wanted, as much as I can, to learn more about the indigenous people, their culture and tradition that is slowly but surely on the verge of extinction.
Wah, wah, wah
We were sitting on the dusty floor trying to communicate somehow. Movements of the hands which should indicate a question “Do you have a cigarette?” were the only thing I understood.
“Wah, wah, wah”, said an elderly Dani gentleman who was sitting next to me. He was dressed only in a gourd which covered his genitals. Well, pants are overrated anyway. Beside gourd he was wearing one more strange ‘fashion detail’. Big pig tusks in his nose. Luckily my fashion awareness is equal to Kim Kardashian’s so I perfectly fit into the environment where grass skirts and dried group are the only fashion imperative.
Once I realized that ‘Wah wah wah’ on Dani language means greeting and thanks I replied to them equally. We all started to laugh hilariously. They because some silly white woman is trying to fit into the tribal community and I because about 20 naked men, women and little children around me were laughing from the bottom of their heart. Honest smile apparently still exists. Nice!
Lady in the Baliem Valley
Ok, let’s start from the beginning.
Where, when, what and how?
Papua, the western part of the island of New Guinea, which is under the Indonesian governance since 1963. New Guinea, the second largest island in the world after Greenland, is located north of Australia, in the southwest Pacific. The eastern part of the island belongs to the independent state of Papua New Guinea.
What, when, how?
50.000 years ago this tropical paradise on earth was inhabited by the powerful, muscular and hairy inhabitants of Melanesia. These early Papuans have lived from hunting, fishing and collecting various fruits.
Although they were extremely primitive and didn’t know nothing about the ceramics, metal, wheel or letter, they were one of the first farmers in the world! They planted sweet potatoes (which are still the their main food), taro, cabbage, corn and raised pigs.
They lived strictly territorial in small villages. War with neighboring tribes, various ceremonies and rituals were their main occupation. Some of them were head hunters and practiced ritual cannibalism.
Due to inaccessible territory of remote villages and constant wars between tribes today on the whole island live about 11 million people distributed in more than a thousand different tribal groups and as many different languages, which makes New Guinea one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world (the number of individual languages listed for Papua New Guinea is over 850 languages)!
Trekking in the greenest scenery ever! Baliem Valley
Introducing Baliem Valley – first expeditions & people
Surrounded by high mountain ranges that reach more than 4.500 meters, the fertile Baliem Valley is home to many tribes of which the best know and most accessible today are Dani, Yali and Lani.
In the middle of the valley is situated the only major town, Wamena, which is connected by air to the capital of Papua – Jayapura. All that comes to and leaves from Wamena (from refrigerators to tourists) must be by air.
The Baliem Valley was first spotted and found in 1938. by Richard Archbold, American zoologist and philanthropist who sponsored numerous expeditions to New Guinea. He landed in the valley picked up many plants and animal samples for his researches and flew away to America. He was not interested in local people.
So even 50 years ago when the first real expedition came to island the inhabitants of the valley didn’t know the white man. They constantly ran the tribal wars and had pompous ceremonies.
Beautiful Dani people living in the Baliem Valley
Baliem Valley today
Today, under the influence of globalization, missionaries and tourism in Wamena live many members of those tribes. They possess mobile phones, TVs, live in houses made of bricks not in the small wooden huts in the villages, they don’t believe in tribal myths of forest spirits but in Jesus Christ. And dried gourd is replaced with ‘Kalvin Klajn’ underwear. The only thing that is still the same is that they still walk around barefoot, without shoes. Town or jungle, it doesn’t matter.
Because of everything I mentioned today is almost impossible to find “uncivilized” people in Baliem valley. People who still live, like many travel agencies like to say to potential clients, in ‘Stone Age’.