New Guinea is situated close to the former Irian Jaya, that is now known as West Papua. It seems to be a hidden place, as though the land itself wants to retain its age old mystique. It was only in the 1930s that American millionaire, Richard Archibold, discovered this unknown and untouched world.
The Baliem Valley is not only West Papua’s high valley, it is also the home of a unique indigenous people, the Dani. In the dense and virtually impenetrable forest regions of the Baliem Valley and its surrounding highlands, there are numerous tribes but it is the Dani, who are the most populated tribe of the region.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Wamena was only a small village occupied by the Dani. However, the regular air service to New Guinea’s main harbor and capital city has now speeded up its development. Cement, corrugated iron and motor vehicles have since been flown into the rapidly expanding city. Today, Wamena has a population of around 12,000.
The most striking and characteristic attire of the men is a tubular phallocrypt, or penis covering, made of dried gourd, that in the language of the Dani, is known as a ‘koteka’. Most of their traditional dress consists of magnificent feathers and plants. A strip of material worn around their neck is meant to protect them from evil spirits.
Despite the discovery of their existence in the 20th century, the simple lifestyle of the Dani of West Papua continues to be intriguing, mysterious and totally fascinating.