High up in the mountains of central Papua at an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level, hemmed in by steep green mountain walls, lies the stunningly beautiful Baliem valley, home of the Dani tribe.
Baliem valley is 72 km. long, and 15 km to 31 km wide in places. It is cut by the Baliem river, which has its source in the northern Trikora mountain, cascading into the Grand Valley, to meander down and further rushing south dropping 1,500 meters to become a large muddy river that slowly empties into the Arafura Sea.
The first outsider to discover the valley was American Richard Archbold, who, on 23 June 1938 from his seaplane, suddenly sighted this awesome valley dotted with neat terraced green fields of sweet potatoes, set among craggy mountain peaks. This is Indonesia’s own Shangri-La.
Only recently emerged from the Stone Age, the Dani are known as the “gentle warriors”. With their simple tools of stone and bone, they nonetheless, managed to sculpt green fields that hug the hills, where they grow root crops, and raise pigs. They have also built outposts and lookout towers to defend their valley from hostile tribes.
Because of the fertile soil and their agricultural skills, the Dani together with the sub-tribes of the Yali and the Lani, are, therefore, the most populous in Papua, living scattered in small communities near their gardens among the steep mountain slopes. Today, they also cultivate bananas, taro and yams, ginger, tobacco and cucumbers.
The men’s and women’s huts (locally called the honai) have thick thatched roofs, which keep the huts cool during the day and warm during the cold nights.