The Baliem Valley festival has become the highlight of tourism in West Papua. The annual event is a tourist magnet coming from all over the world. The exclusive experience and the extraordinary trek to the valley make it more special.
Every August, the tribes residing around come to Baliem Valley in West Papua for the festival. They reenact a mock war that has been happening between the three tribes: Dani, Lani, and Yali tribes. Though in the past they were involved in the battle to defend their tribe from raids, now it is just a reenactment or a show of culture.
Baliem Valley Festival 2022
Start from 8th Aug to 10th August
The first Baliem Valley festival was held in 1989. Before it became a tourist destination, the rundown of the festival was to make a war reenactment, prepare a food feast, and celebrate prosperity for the year’s crops and harvest.
When the men are preparing for war, the women prepare the feast by making an earth oven. They make a large hole down in the ground to cook the pigs and sweet potatoes. They cover the large hole with leaves so that it works as an oven underground.
Usually, each tribe and village bring their crops as a contribution or gift. In the festival of Baliem Valley, men and women come from different tribes and villages. They work hand in hand to create a festive event. You can see the tribe’s differences from their accessory.
Before they feast on the food, they will dance and sing about fertility and prosperity. The youth will perform their best songs that tell stories about the life of the tribes using an instrument called witawo. Many of the songs have a sad theme in a minor tone, but some are also upbeat songs that tell stories about happiness and war spirit. The stories have moral messages, used to teach the youth about spirituality, wisdom, and ancestor’s story.
The Story behind the Baliem Valley Festival
The tribes in the Baliem Valley are very sensitive towards kidnapping, theft, and murder. In ancient times, they may raid each other’s village to take women or pigs. The raided village would then avenge the deed and attack back.
The Baliem Valley festival also starts with the same scenario, where the tribes decide to war after someone is kidnapped or their crops are raided. The moral story of the scenario is not to avenge what others do to you but more about how tomorrow should be better than today.
The dresses and accessory worn by the men show their power and skill. They also paint their body and face with white and red clay to look more threatening. They add animal tusks and teeth as an accessory and proof of hunting competence, though in fact, they have high respect for wild animals.
Now, the mock war is only for a competition that involves story-telling and choreography. Each village should perform its mock war with different background stories or scenarios. The weapons are no longer made to be dangerous and only used as story properties. Some judges will score the performance, and the competing village would get an award for winning.
Experiencing the Baliem Valley Festival
Besides the mock war and food feasts, the Baliem festival is becoming more open to tourists. They also have an arts and crafts exhibition. As a display of culture, the arts and crafts in the festival are not just coming from the three tribes residing in the Baliem Valley but also from other tribes in Papua.
The Baliem Valley festival is also one of those rare times you would find the tribesmen in their war attire and regalia. For some tourists, it is the perfect time to take pictures of the tribesmen contrasting with the beauty of nature. To keep the ethics, take the pictures from a reasonable distance so they can still practice the ritual in the right manner.