Hubula, Balim, Parim
A Dani man with custom accessories
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Indonesia (Highland Papua)
Dani languages, Indonesian language
Christianity (especially Protestant), Islam
Related ethnic groups
Hupla people, Lani people, Nduga people, Walak people, Wano people, Yali people

The Dani (also spelled Ndani) are an ethnic group from the Central Highlands of Western New Guinea in Baliem Valley, Highland Papua, Indonesia. Around 100,000 people live in the Baliem Valley, consisting of representatives of the Dani tribes in the lower and upper parts of the valley each 20,000 and 50,000 in the middle part (with a total of 90,000 people). The areas west of the Baliem Valley are inhabited by approx 180,000, representatives of the Lani people, incorrectly called "Western Dani".[1] All inhabitants of Baliem Valley and the surrounding areas are often called Dani hence they are also sometimes conflated with other highland tribes such as Lani in the west; Walak in the north; Nduga, Mek, and Yali in the south and east.[2]

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 best-known ethnic groups in Papua, due to the relatively numerous tourists who visit the Baliem Valley area where they predominate. "Ndani" is the name given to the Baliem Valley people by the Moni people, and while they call themselves "Hubula", they have been known as Dani since the 1926 Smithsonian Institution-Dutch Colonial Government expedition to New Guinea under Matthew Stirling who visited the Moni.[3][2]


Linguists identify at least four sub-groupings of Dani languages or Baliem Valley languages:

The Dani languages 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 the way of thought and language.

First contact with Europeans

A small fringe group of the Dani (technically Nduga), living south of Puncak Trikora and presenting themselves as the Pesegem and the Horip tribes, were met on 29 October 1909, by the Second South New Guinea Expedition led by Hendrikus Albertus Lorentz, who stayed several nights in their village. First contact with the populous Western Dani (Lani) was made in October 1920 during the Central New Guinea Expedition, in which a group of explorers stayed for six months with them at their farms in the upper Swart River Valley (now Toli Valley, Tolikara Regency). The Grand Valley was only sighted on 23 June 1938 from a PBY Catalina by Richard Archbold, who stumbled upon the valley while studying high-altitude vegetation in the Jayawijaya Mountains.[4]

The first white people to live among the Dani were John and Helen Dekker,[5] under whose ministry the Christian population among the Dani grew to 13,000.[6]


Dani warriors from the central highlands
1995 ABC news report on the impact of migration on Dani culture

Sweet potatoes are important 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 use an earth oven method (called bakar batu or barapen) to cook pigs and their staple crops such as sweet potato, banana, and cassava. They heat stones in a fire until they are extremely hot, and line a pit with some of them. Cuts of meat and pieces of sweet potato or banana are wrapped in banana leaves, the food packages are lowered into the pit, more hot stones are placed on top, and the pit is covered with grass and a cover to keep steam in. After a couple of hours, the food is ready to eat. Pigs are too valuable to be served regularly and are reserved for special occasions only. Ritual small-scale warfare between rival villages was an integral part of traditional Dani culture, with much time spent preparing weapons and treating resulting injuries. In 1966, there was a massacre in which 125 people were killed in an attack by an enemy clan.[7] 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. Such fighting is no longer done.

Ethnographic studies

In 1961, as a member of the Harvard-Peabody study, filmmaker Robert Gardner began recording the Dani of the Baliem River Valley. In 1965, he created the film Dead Birds from this experience. Gardner emphasizes the themes of death and people-as-birds in Dani culture. "Dead birds" or "dead men" are terms the Dani use for the weapons and ornaments taken from the enemy during battle (wim). These trophies are displayed during the two-day dance of victory (edai) after an enemy is killed.

See also


  1. ^ a b Remigiusz Mielcarek (2012). "Ginąca kultura papuaskiego ludu Dani i wpływ turystyki na jej zachowanie". Studia Periegetica. pp. 53–72. ISSN 1897-9262. Retrieved 20 August 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Ap Kaintek Model Kepemimpinan Masyarakat Hubula di Lembah Balim, Papua". STFT Fajar Timur. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  3. ^ Jennifer Bensley, 1994 The Dani church of Irian Jaya and the challenges it is facing today Archived 10 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Chapter 1, p.17-18
  4. ^ Leny, Veronika (July–December 2013). "Memahami Sistem Pengetahuan Budaya Masyarakat Pegunungan Tengah, Jayawijaya, Papua dalam Konteks Kebencanaan". Indonesian Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology. 34 (2): 134–151. URL to English abstract, with link to downloadable text in Indonesian.
  5. ^ Felming, Ann-Marie (1 February 2000). "Indonesia is calling for Montrose missionary". Montrose Daily Press. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  6. ^ "Support John Dekker". Partners International. 2020. Archived from the original on 24 September 2020.
  7. ^ Diamond, Jared (2012). The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-02481-0.

Further reading