INDONESIA,PAPUA By Jimmy Nelson
One of the tribes inhabiting the Baliem Valley region, in the midst of the Jayawijaya mountain range of Papua Indonesia, is the Yali ‘Lords of the Earth’. They live in the virgin forests of the highlands. The Yali are officially recognised as pygmies, with men standing at just 150 cm tall. “If the hand does nothing, the mouth does not chew”Papuan tribes, different in appearance and language, have a similar way of life. They are all polygamist and conduct rituals for important occasions at which reciprocal exchange of gifts is obligated. The Koketa, penis gourd, is a piece of traditional clothing used to distinguish tribal identity.
WOLO VALLEY, SUNGAI BALIEM, PAPUA INDONESIA
Two of the tribes inhabiting the Baliem Valley region are the Dani in the
actual valley and the Yali (‘Lords of the Earth’) in the virgin forests of the
highlands. Though ‘neighbours’, each tribe has a distinct language and
culture. Physically, the Yali are remarkably smaller than the Dani. With
men standing at just 150cm tall, the Yali are officially recognised as pygmies.
Yali settlements are usually located on ridge-tops, where they were established in a time when war between the tribes made high vantage points necessary for defense.
Though different in appearance and language, the two tribes of the
Jayawijaya mountain range and the Korowai have a similar way of
life. Both the Korowai and pygmy Yali are hunter-gatherers,
practice less sophisticated cultivation techniques and keep fewer
pigs than the farmers of the Dani, who use an efficient irrigation
system and enjoy huge harvests of their staple sweet potatoes.
The Yali supply the Dani with decorative bird feathers, tree
kangaroo and cuscus pelts and fine rare woods that have long since
disappeared from the valley.
BALIEM VALLEY FESTIVAL
Mock battles are held yearly at the Baliem Valley Festival in Wamena during the month of August (see Calendar of Events). At this feast, which has as its highlight the mock battles among the tribes, the Dani, Yali, and Lani send their best warriors to the arena, wearing their best regalia. The festival is complemented with a Pig Feast, Earth cooking and traditional music and dance.
DANU HABBEMA LAKE VALLEY, WEST BALIEM, PAPUA INDONESIA
Papuan Yali tribe belonged to the most dreaded cannibals of the western part of the New Guinea Island (Irian Jaya). They are ranked among the pygmy group of nations (dwarf nations), and more precisely among pygmy negrits.
DANU HABBEMA LAKE, WEST BALIEM
The koteka, or penis gourd, is one of many distinguishing features as far as traditional clothing is concerned. The Yali and Dani men tend to the growing of the calabashes with both tribes meticulously cultivating a different style. The koteka of the Dani is much smaller than the long and slender one that the Yali men wear.
The Yali people did not come into contact with the modern world until the 1960’s and 70’s when the missionaries began penetrating these remote regions.
WITHOUT THE KOKETA THE MEN FEEL NAKED
Although now modernized, the Yali still strongly adhere to their traditions and customs,
most notably the dress of the men. Even in this cool mountain climate, men wear only a penis gourd.
They do not go beyond bones and pig or dog teeth for decorative purposes.
Yali build round or oval huts made out of straw and wood, with thick thatched roofs.
Yali men, women and children sleep separately in different huts (honai).