Dani Tribe - Indigenous to Western New Guinea

If you want to learn about the Dani Tribe - indigenous people of Western New Guinea, this page contains lots of useful information, including how they are affected by the actions of humans from outside their environment.

Dani Tribesman from the Indonesian province of Papua

The Dani people, also spelled Ndani, and sometimes conflated with the Lani group to the west, are a people from the central highlands of Western New Guinea (the Indonesian province of Papua, comprising the larger Eastern part of the former province Irian Jaya). They are one of the most populous tribes in the highlands, and are found spread out through the highlands.

The Dani are one of the most well-known ethnic groups in Papua, due to the relatively numerous tourists who visit the Baliem Valley area where they predominate.

Linguists identify at least four sub-groupings of Dani:
Lower-Grand Valley Dani (20,000 speakers)
Mid-Grand Valley Dani (50,000 speakers)
Upper-Grand Valley Dani (20,000 speakers)
and the Western Dani (180,000 speakers)

The Dani language differentiate only two basic colours, mili for cool/dark shades such as blue, green, and black, and mola for warm/light colours such as red, yellow, and white. This trait makes it an interesting field of research for language psychologists, e.g. Eleanor Rosch, eager to know whether there is a link between way of thought and language.

The pig features very strongly in their local culture, being the most important tool used in bartering, especially in dowries. Likewise pig feasts are extremely important to celebrate events communally, the success of a feast, and that of a village "Big Man" (man of influence) or organiser, is often gauged by the number of pigs slaughtered.

The Dani have a preferred method of cooking pig, and other staple crops such as sweet potato, banana, and cassava. They heat some stones in a fire until they are extremely hot, then wrap cuts of meat and pieces of sweet potato or banana inside banana leaves. The food package is then lowered into a pit which has been lined with some of the hot stones described above, the remaining hot stones are then placed on top, and the pit is covered in grass and a cover to keep steam in. After a couple of hours of broiling, the pile is opened and food is removed from the pile and eaten.

Ritual small-scale warfare between rival villages is integral to traditional Dani culture, with much time spent preparing weapons, engaging in both mock and real battle, and treating any resulting injuries. Typically the emphasis in battle is to insult the enemy and wound or kill token victims, as opposed to capturing territory or property or vanquishing the enemy village.

Changes in the Dani way of life over the past century are tied to the encroachment of modernity and globalization, despite tourist brochures describing trekking in the highlands with people from the 'stone age'. Observers have noted that pro-independence and anti-Indonesian sentiment tends to run higher in highland areas than for other areas of Papua. There are cases of abuses where Dani and other Papuans have been shot and/or imprisoned trying to raise the flag of West Papua, the Morning Star.

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