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The Baliem Valley, also called Shangri-la by American pilots that first spotted the valley’s population in the 1940`s. Before then, this part of the highlands was thought to be unhabited by people, but it wasn’t before the pilots saw people here aiming with spears and arrows, they was just in for a surprise that this was a quite “developed” area of the highlands. Developed, as in having many innovative organizational and material innovations, however ofcourse being within their traditional culture.
The Dani people are one of the most populated tribes of West Papua, and today number over 220.000 people. Around 100.000 of these live in the grand Baliem valley, the rest of them to the north, south and west. The Dani people neighbour the Yali, Nduga- and Damal people. There is one city in the Baliem valley, Wamena, that is a strange mix between Papuan and Indonesian society.
I most likely have visited the Baliem valley more than 10 times over a period from 2003-2010, having lost count because of the frequency during a period when I lived in West Papua. Most of the visits to the area was primarily dedicated to trekking in the area, sometimes, among others, as far out of Dani territory as to the Yali- and Mek tribal regions in the east.
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West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, nowdays being Indonesian territory. The eastern part of the Island is the independent country of Papua New Guinea. The Capital of West-Papua is the city of Jayapura located on the north-coast. Its approximate population in 2002 was 200,000.
New Guinea is one of the least explored places on earth (almost) matching the Amazon, and being the second largest island in the world. West Papua alone is home to over 300 tribes and languages. Up until recent times, New guinea was scarcly populated, and natural boundries as thick forests, large rivers and mountains isolated populated areas. Because of this isolation people in the different regions and areas, developed cultural traits and languages – making it a special place to see living tribal culture.
I lived in West-Papua from 2003-2007, studying anthropology at the University of Cenderawasih and conducting research among various tribes in the region.