December 1994 / January 1995
We went with Kauri Travel for 5 weeks to Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea. Kauri Travel is established by 2 Dutch anthropologists who can pay the expenses of their fieldwork by organizing each twice a year a roundtrip for small groups. This was really an impressive trip, we saw and experienced so much, it was so different of all the other travels we have made. The trip existed of 4 different parts.
The first part of our travel went to the Baliem Valley in Irian Jaya. You only can reach this valley by air, as there is no road going to this valley. Regularly planes cannot land and do have to return to Jayapura, the capital, as the cloud cover is completely closed. We had luck, in a freight plane full with oil vessels and in the back just some chairs for us, we flew to the Baliem Valley. The plane had to circle for an hour above the valley until the pilot found a little whole in the cloud cover to dive through. In the early morning you had the best chance to get through the cloud cover, so we arrived already before 8 AM at Wamena. We first visited the market and meanwhile our guide arranged the carriers. At the market you saw already the first men with penis tubes and women in reed or woven skirts with beautiful string bags at their back. During the whole trip we did not see any tourists, except here in Wamena where there was another travel group. Here you only could take pictures of the people if you paid for it, I did not mind, it is for them extra money, they hardly have anything. But during the rest of the trip, people did not mind to be photographed, many were even proud to be photographed and even posed. It was more than a compliment, you found them beautiful and special. After the Wamena market we went with the carriers and food supplies into the Baliem Valley. The Baliem Valley has very beautiful surroundings, behind every corner or mountaintop you saw completely different surroundings. The settlements were no villages, just a few cabins with an enclosure to keep pigs in or outside. Mostly a few brothers with their father and families lived together. The cabins existed of cabins for men and women separately and a lengthy community cabin.
The people here belonged or to de Dani or to the Lani tribe, we went into the direction of the Dani. In Wamena you recognized the Dani and Lani at their penis tube. The Lani had a very big penis tube, mostly decorated and open at the top, mostly kept up with a large string or belt. They put all kind of stuff in their penis tube, we saw twice a man grabbing something under out of his penis tube, a crumple package of cigarettes and some money. The penis tube of the Dania is much smaller, not decorated, mostly ending in a point, kept up with a tiny string. When we got further away of Wamena, it looked like we entered the Stone Age. The Dani and Lani are farmers, along many slopes you saw little fields with walls of stone. By some branches you scrambled over those walls. The women were working at the fields, the men were breaking up the fields. Their tools were mainly stone axes or knives made of bones. Indonesians consider Irian Jaya as their hinterland, which has to become more civilized. The Papua’s have to become Indonesians, so away with the penis tubes, they have to wear trousers, away with reed and tree cabins, cabins made out of wood with metal roofs is more civilized etc. This caused quite some trouble. Lately the Indonesians have discovered that just those ‘primitive’ people bring in money and have become a tourist attraction. So now the penis tube is allowed to stay. At many communities you see that all what is Indonesian is rejected, they want to maintain their own culture, they will not us modern techniques etc. On the way we mostly slept with the local people. The first night that we stayed in a Dani cabin, we had a complete flea attack. From top to toe we were covered with flea bites, you felt them jumping at your skin. The rest of the trip we mainly had trouble with mosquitoes. It took several days before we got rid of all the fleas, they sat in all our stuff, especially in our sleeping bag. The Dani love to sing, it sounds great, a little hypnotising, calming and mostly in catch. They are very friendly people, everywhere were we arrived they came to greet us, shake hands, sitting next to us, telling complete stories. Strange enough we understood the most, they are quite expressive, and you come far by using your hands and feet. Young women were in general a little at a distance, but the rest were very curious at us. If a father, husband or brother of a Daniwoman dies, she cuts of a bone in her finger, sometimes even a few bones as a sign of mourning and grief. The more grief, the more cut of bones. Sometimes fingerless hands were proudly shown, with whole stories. During our trip the carriers cooked for us or we cooked together. The most food supplies were brought from Wamena, and sometimes we bought some food of the locals. But at the last community where we stayed a couple of days, the locals wanted to cook for us, to show their traditional way of cooking, in an earth oven. First they gathered wood, leafs and reed and made a big fire, in the fire they threw rocks. The reed was laid out, hot rocks were caught out of the fire and were put at the reed, leafs were put at the rocks and on top sweet potatoes, vegetables, again leafs, a little pig, again leafs and hot rocks. The reed was bound together, and everything was stewed for some hours. Stewed sweet potato tastes great!
From the Baliem Valley we flew for 2 weeks to Papua New Guinea (see travel journal PNG) and for the last week we returned to Irian Jaya, to the islands Biak and Japen, at the East Coast. We visited some lake-villages, where we stayed. Not my place to live, to get to those lake-villages you had to walk sometimes 50-100 meter over very small laths, 2 meter above sea level, a few times quite some balancing. At Japen we searched for the bird of paradise. The group was split up, as it was quite a heavy jungle hike, several preferred to stay at a lake-village. With 4 people and a local guide we went by boat to Japen, followed by a heavy jungle hike. We had to cross many little streams, some a little larger and finally we reached an enormous giant of the forest. Here the bird of paradise would come twice a day for their display during mating season. For this reason the locals call those trees ‘playing’ trees. This giant was 25-30 meter high, before its branches and leafs started. After we had been waiting for some hours, the first males arrived, really gorgeous birds, with beautiful long tails. They chose visible open branches as display spots and started to dance and to spread their feathers. Meanwhile some females had arrived as well, they had chosen some more protected spots, but with good sight at the dancing males, so they finally could make their choice of the best dancing male with the most beautiful feathers. While we were watching the birds, we got stung all over by mosquitoes, we never had been stung like this, but this display ritual was so special, so impressive, it was all the itching and small sores more then worthwhile. Taking pictures was unfortunately not possible, due to the height and against the bright daylight. We used the whole time binoculars to see everything a little better. When we walked back, it had become high tide, at the way there the water in the streams mostly reached till our knees, now mostly to our chests, through the current it was sometimes quite difficult to ford, at the end even dangerous. We had to use ropes. But just before the sun set, we reached the beach, where the boat was waiting for us. Completely exhausted we arrived at our camp. The following day we returned to the lake-village from where we had started our trip. They just made preparations for a wedding. We were guests of honour, everyone wanted to dance with us. They had great musicians and we danced until dawn. Unfortunately we could not attend the real wedding as we had to return to Biak to the rest of the group, from where we flew the following day to Bali. After a flight of 12 hours with 7 stopovers, it was nice to stay in a real hotel and to relax for 2 days before flying home.
Other part of this trip, Papua New Guinea Read more...