Stone axe "Yogosimo"
Dani people, Bailem Valley, Western New Guinea, Indonesia, early 20th century.
The Dani are a people from central highlands of Western New Guinea (the Indonesian province of Papua). The "Ndani" is the name the tribe was given by the Moni tribe, a neighboring people to Baliem Valley. The Dani are one of the most populous tribes in the highlands, with related ethnic groups Yali, Moni and Lani. Their habitat is formed by V-shaped valleys stretching from the Grand Valley of the Bailem westward beyond the Ila Valley and northward to the fringes of the Highlands. Dani villages are scattered around the whole valley, along river banks and on hill sides. In traditional Dani village are three different kinds of cottages: Honai, Eweai and Leseai. Leseai is an oblong square kitchen house used for family gatherings, cooking, talking, eating. Honai and Eweai are round sleeping huts. Honai is for men, while Eweai is for women. Following the discovery of the Dani by Westerners at the end of the 1930's, the Dutch established their first colonial post in the remote area of the Bailem Valley in the mid-1950's.
Prior to contact with people other than their own, the Dani were a basic, agricultural, hunting and gathering society. About 90 percent of the Dani diet is sweet potatoes. In addition to sweet potatoes, Grand Valley Dani grow small amounts taro, yams, sugar cane, bananas, cucumbers, edible thick succulent grass, ginger and tobacco. Fields are controlled by men, not women. The men prepare the fields with fire-hardened digging sticks, and women do most of the planting, weeding, and harvesting. Pandanus, fruits and other items are gathered from the forest. Pigs are a symbol of wealth and major source of protein. Until the 1960's, when metal tools were introduced by outsiders, the Grand Valley Dani tools were stone, bone, pig tusk, wood and bamboo. Stone used to make axes (kapak) and adzes. The Dani traditionally had no pottery or clothes, gourds were used for water containers. String rolled from the inner bark of local bushes was used extensively to make carrying nets, women's skirts, and ornaments. Dani men go around naked except the for a penis sheath (koteka), and ocassionally some bird of paradise feathers, cowry shells or pig tusks or a hair net as an a ornament. Unmarried women have traditionally worn grass skirts (Sili) while married women wore a skirt made of fiber coils (Yokal) or seeds strung together and hung below the abdomen to cover the buttocks. Women of all ages are often seen carrying bark string backpacks (noken) with their heads in which they carry children, piglets, sweet potatoes or other items.
The Dani have traditionally been animists who believed in local land and water spirits. Particular attention was given to the restless ghosts of the recently deceased. These ghosts are potentially dangerous and cause misfortune, illness, and death. Thus, attempts are made to keep them far off in the forest. The Grand Valley Dani conceive of a soul-like substance "seeds of singing" (edai-egen), which is seen throbbing below the sternum. It is believed to be fully developed by about two years of age. Seriois sickness or wounds can cause it to retreat towards the backbone, whence it is recalled by heat and by curing ceremonies. At death, this feature becomes a ghost/spirit (mogat), and it must be induced to go off into forest where it cannot harm living.
Dani have no real art other than their clothes and body adornments made of furs, feathers, and shells. Dani crafts include intricately woven rattan bracelets (sekan), arm and head bands (milak), necklaces made of cowry shells, feathers and bone (mikak), and the head decorations often made with pig tusks (suale). Western Dani use wide range of wealth items. These included pigs and pork, oblong polished stones (ye), slabs of salt, looped carrier bags (bilum, noken), strips of tightly looped thread, often decorated (used in women's skirts), cowrie shells (both odd shells and shells set in long, narrow, tightly looped bands). The cowrie shell bands (jebarip agale) was used as currency or as a ceremonial transfers of wealth.
Among the traditional tools, there is this magnificent cross-cutting-edge axe, made rather for workers than offenders. This primitive axe was used also in traditional rituals, mainly in funeral ones. As a matter of fact it is tradition that the widow or the mother cut the first phalange during the funeral ritual. The massive stone is set in an hard wood, cutted in the twining. Then it is assembled with natural fibers, similar to rattan, probably rotang or sago palm. Good condition. Age-related wear. Gorgeous patina. Dust and dirt. Size approx. 50,0cm x 28,0cm. Part of ex-collections of the closed museum/foundation, Netherlands
References, sources and citations:
Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Oceania, Karl Heider, edited Terence Hays, G.K.Hall & Company, 1991.
Wealth Items in the Western Highlands of West Papua, Anton Ploeg, Ethnology, Vol.43. No.4 (Autumn 2004), pp. 291-313.
Papua blood: An account of West Papua, Peter Bang, BoD, 16 Apr 2018.
Dani tribe, Indonesia, Atlas of Humanity
Who are the Dani People of Bailem Valley?, Crooked Compass, 3 Oct 2018.