How I Spent My Summer Vacation

My best vacation yet, took me to the most primitive place on earth - to the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, on the worlds second largest island, New Guinea.

Dani with Penis Gourds The Dani of the Baliem Valley

in the central highlands of Irian Jaya are among the most primitive people on earth. Unknown to the outside world before 1938, 60,000 of them lived a stone age existence when Archibald landed his Consolidated Model 28 flying boat on their lake. They still live a very independent existence, surviving on a diet consisting mostly of sweet potatoes. The traditional men wear only a penis gourd, simple jewelry such as a decorative arm band, boar's tusks through their noses, or a Cassawary feather headdress. The penis gourds (horim) are specially grown using an orchid chord and a weight to control their shape and length. They are supported by two strings, three strings in the case of an especially long one that needs extra help to maintain the appropriate angle. A wardrobe of several gourds is maintained for various occasions. The Dani men are actually quite modest and would never consider venturing out without a horim, as they would then be naked. With the modern world encroaching, fewer and fewer of the Dani men dress in the traditional manner.

The life expectancy of these gentle people was 60 years in 1938, about the same as the Western world. Dani men and women live separate lives, with the women tending the fields and performing the day-to-day manual labor. The men do the hard labor of digging irrigation ditches and erecting huts. The men (and boys over eight) sleep together in the men's hut (honnay), while the women sleep with the children and pigs in their own hut (wew umah). Wives are purchased with pigs and are deemed about equally valuable.

Dani Woman with Baby The lady

with the lovely, shy smile was walking with her mother, carrying her produce and son on her back. Living separate lives, the women seem happy, if somewhat aloof. They wear grass skirts as unmarried girls and graduate to woven skirts after they marry. The outside world, brought to them by Christian missionaries, has introduced Western clothes to many. This lady still carries her belongings in a traditional woven bag (noken) supported by a band around her forehead. The bags are woven by the women from orchid fibers. The craftsmanship is beautiful. Often the noken is a true work of art.

Children are not weaned until 4 or 5 years of age. Sex is not allowed while the woman is nursing a child. As a result, men often have multple wives. Since they live in separate huts, a man signals that he wants to have sex, and his wife then sleeps near the door of the women's hut. "Mixups" (according to rumor) easily happen and often do. Traditionally, the offending male must pay for mistakes with pigs offered to the offendee's husband.

 Get to this lovely place before it loses its innocence.

Want to see some more pictures of the Dani people? Yes, tax the bandwidth Show me the pics.

If you have any interest in some totally amateur video I shot in Irian Jaya, E-mail me for details. About two hours of VHS or DVD for $30 US.

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Page last modified August 20, 2008

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