Photos of Baliem Valley - the land of the Dani, West-Papua

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Baliem Valley - the land of the Dani

The Baliem Valley, about 80 kilometres in length and 20 kilometres wide, is in the highlands in the heart of West Papua, at an altitude of between 1,600 and 1,700 metres and has a population of around 100,000, mostly Dani people, with Lani (or western Dani) in the west and Yali people to the east and south of the valley. The main town in the valley is Wamena

Baliem River
Coming from market
Carrying vegetables
Dani homestead
Fish and vegetables
Bridge over the Baliem
From Pikhe to Aikima
Dani farm life
Werapak Elosak mummy
Women of Aikima
Longhouse, Aikima
Aikima entrance
Small lake, Pikhe
View to Pikhe
Crossing a bridge
Houses of Minimo
Dani compound
In Minimo
Dani compound
Climbing over the fence
New houses of Minimo
Farming fields
Preparing the ground
Sweet potato farming
A Yali man
Sweet potato beds
Wamena-Napua road
Women of Wakatu
Wakatu to Napua
View to Wamena
Carrying cabbages
View at Megapura
Huts, Hepoba
Huts in Hitigima
Church of Hitigima
Along the road

The Baliem valley was discovered during a reconnaissance flight by Catalina flying boat, as part of an expedition by American zoologist and philanthropist Richard Archbold on 23 June 1938. This was a complete surprise, a densely populated valley, and was named "Groote Vallei" (Grand Valley) by a Dutch soldier on board. In August that year two expeditions were dispatched into the valley, consisting of Dutch soldiers, convicts and Dyak tribesmen from Borneo. On 13 May 1945 a sightseeing flight over what they then called the "Shangri-La Valley" crashed into a mountain; three people survived and were recovered, using gliders that were then captured by a towplane and towed back to Hollandia; this made world news.

Although now it is easy to fly into Wamena airport and trek in the valley and the Dani people are throughly familiar with the outside world, they have not given up their culture and many still wear their minimal clothing; men and boys wear the "holim" (also called "koteka"), a penis sheath made from a gourd that is cultivated especially for this purpose; these can have widely differing shapes and sizes and are attached with a string around the waist and another round the scrotum. They often grease their bodies with pig fat and soot, for warmth and may wear ornamentation like shell necklaces, string hair nets and sometimes feathers from birds of paradise. Girls and unmarried women may wear grass skirts while married women wear "yokal", low hanging skirts of fibre coils or seeds strung together. Most small children go naked. In 1970 a campaign to clothe the Dani of the Baliem Valley, "Operasi Koteka", was carried out under military supervision when 6,000 kits containing clothing, an Indonesian flag and a picture of president Suharto were delivered to primary school students. This was aimed at making rapid changes and inculcate Indonesian "civilisation". But it had the opposite effect: the teaching of Bahasa Indonesia, forced identification as Indonesians and over-clothing were repugnant to the Dani.

In the month leading up to polling for Indonesian elections on 2 May 1977 actions against the regime began to mount across Irian Jaya and late May 1977 the Dani revolted: government buildings were attacked with spears (mission buildings were left untouched), airstrips dug up and stakes driven into flat ground near villages to prevent helicopter landings. Crack Indonesian paratroopers of the Special Army Strategic Forces stationed in Jayapura were then flown into Baliem Valley on a search-and-kill mission. Indonesian sources admitted 250 people were killed. Villagers fled following intimidation when they refused to vote for the ruling Golkar party. The Dani were considered "primitives" by the Indonesian authorities but they have been capable of courageous resistance to arrogant and racist rule, albeit at great cost: it was reported that in April or May 1977, when local police demanded that the Dani people make a show of loyalty to Indonesia, 80 people came down from the mountains; 20 of them were shot by Indonesian officials and the other 60 ran away. On 2 June 1977 seven Dani villagers in civilian clothes lay dead near a village in the valley, "identified" as members of the OPM by the Indonesian soldiers who killed them: the TNI in action, teaching villagers who protested "a good lesson".

But for the tourist this is a great place to walk to the different villages and the Dani people are very friendly; "nayak" is the greeting between men and "la-uk" the greeting from a man to a woman and between women. There are the family compounds and farming fields: agriculture has been practiced here for thousands of years. These photos were taken in 1979 when transport was by foot or maybe motor bike; now there are roads and public transport.