The ritual war

Papua Island Indonesia, Aug. 2018

A man, to be a real man, must be a Warrior. This is what the people who live in the Baliem Valley and the surrounding mountains say.

The Dani, the Lani and the Yali are the people that have always lived in this remote and, until a few years ago unknown, Indonesianan Papua area, first called Irian Jaya. A man must know how to defend his family, his village from enemies. Invading the territory of another clan, the theft of a pig or the abduction of a woman, are valid reasons to wage war among the various villages. In fact, more often than not, in addition to the two villages directly involved in the conflict, there are also other villages that are allied to one side or the other.

Hence there are hundreds of warriors facing each other on the field, in No Man's Land. Between the various borders of the territories pertaining to each tribe, there is a part that belongs to no one, a neutral zone. And it is here that the warriors meet for the war. The battle begins early in the morning and continues until the afternoon, before it gets dark. Often the huts are far from the place of the battle, and although the warriors are all brave men, none of them wants to walk in the jungle in the dark, because evil spirits revolve in the forest at night.

With the face painted, the pig tusks inserted in the nose and the head covered by feathers of the bird of Paradise, all armed with bow and arrows or spears, the warriors move on the field with great agility following a common strategy with continuous attacks on the enemy. Then some moments of rest to study new strategies. If on the battlefield a warrior remains wounded on the ground, the attacker stops to give the chance to recover the wounded. If instead a warrior dies, the battle stops, and everyone returns to their villages. But it is only a temporary respite.

The war among the peoples of the Baliem Valley is a ritual war - made up of songs, violent screams, well-defined bodily movements, unwritten rules and codes of honor that have always been respected. That of the revenge is the strongest and most widespread sentiment between the Dani, the Lani and the Yali. It is a millenary spiral that has been handed down until a few decades ago. The clan that had suffered the loss had to avenge death with another death, and the war could last for years.