It never ceases to amaze us that there are still traditional people on earth. It is estimated by Survival International (see their website for interesting reading) that there are still over 100 uncontacted tribes in the world. Papua has a large share of these tribes. While the Dani tribes that we visited in Papua's Baliem valley have been in touch with the outside world for several decades, the remoteness of the region where they live has largely interrupted attempts to change their culture.
Papua is yet another incongruous island in largely Islamo-Asian country of Indonesia. Like the people of Vanuatu (see our previous blogs), native Papuans are mostly considered to belong to the racial group of Melanesians. As such, Papuans look somewhat African in appearance, which led the early Dutch explorers to name them "Papuans," which roughly translates to "fuzzy heads." After a period of Dutch rule, the newly formed Indonesian government tried to change the name from Papua to Irian Jaya (which supposedly has a grandiose meaning something like glorious mountain rising from the sea), but the Papuans would have nothing of it. They strongly opposed Indonesian rule and stubbornly refused to adopt the new name, preferring instead to stick with the name Papua and remain the "Fuzzy Heads."
We opted to save some money and make our journey by hitch hiking around the area, so before heading out to the remote areas of Papua's Baliem Valley, we stopped off at the local market for some food and to find transportation. We loved the rich blend of aromas, colors and food. We were even surprised to see some traditional people running around in their traditional dress. It is probably a good time to mention that you might find some of the following pictures strange, but they show the traditional dress which consists of penis gourds for the men and grass skirts for the women. Kelsi had visited Papua before and even purchased one of the penis gourds. Her dad was fond of fooling his friends into trying to play it like a flute before he showed them a picture of what it really is. Needless to say, these pictures could be straight out of National Geographic, which is why we loved Papua!
Our first stop in Papua after we left the market place in an overflowing van was a small tribe of Dani people. They were proud to show us a their village mummy which has a small pock mark on his scapula (see just below the hand in the picture below.) This hole is from the arrow which killed the now mummy man in tribal war some 250 years ago.
The picture below shows a similar arrow wound on a living man's scapula from a tribal war a few decades ago. Lucky for him, he survived.
Funerary rituals are always interesting, and one of the more interesting ones in Papua is that when a family member dies, the women remove the top one or two joints from their fingers. Notice the left hand of the older woman below, who has obviously lost a number of close kin. We saw other women who were missing even more of their hands, which must make life rather difficult... The practice has been outlawed by the Indonesian government, but we still noticed some relatively young women who had continued the tradition. (image from google)
Even though traditional tribal culture is still alive in Papua, this is changing rapidly. This inevitable push from traditional culture to modernization wipes out much of what is interesting in these cultures, which is one of the primary reasons we chose to travel now before the Western world influences changes so many of the places we have seen forever.
We also had a great story about the airport security. The local military had all flights on one carrier booked out for 3-4 days due to elections. We found it amusing watching the soldiers put their bags through the security screening just before they walked through the metal detectors wearing semi-automatic machine guns. So, what, there might be some weapons hidden in their bags?
This reminded Kelsi of a similar incident when she was in Papua a few years ago. Her friend, Natalie, forgot to put some spears she purchased into her checked luggage. The airport security motioned for her to put them through the screening belt and we all laughed once we made it through. Again we thought, "what, are they worried there might be some weapons hidden inside the spears?"