The Baliem Valley and Dani Culture




Location:Central highlands, west Papua. New Guinea Island.

Photos: 20 available in format/size: JPG format. Different sizes.


The Baliem Valley, also called Shangri-la by American pilots that 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.


West Papua

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.


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. To this day there are tribes that live in a high degree of isolation because of the poor development of infrastructure. Because of this isolation many people living in the interior of West Papua still show a great variety of old cultural traits. However, Indonesian plans to expand industry and promote nationalism in the region, will for sure have major (cultural) impacts on West Papua in the years to come.




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 as far out of Dani territory as to the Yali- and Mek tribal regions.





The Baliem valley- and river, seenn from the air. (2004)


The Baliem Valley seen from the south. (2010)


Steep trails above the valley. (2005)


Some of the heigh peaks of the central mountain range, being more than 4000m tall. (2005)



The Baliem river. (2010)


Rainbow emerges over the borderlands to Yali territory. (2003)


Tribal gathering in the Valley. (2003)


Overlooking Dani territory in the West. (2003)


Attending a cultural event in the Baliem Valley (2003)






Traditional Dani compound. (2005)


The Dani people have a history of mummifying their dead. The ones who were, was important village/war chiefs according to local legend.

This custom is however not continiued until today, however the ones from the past remains. This one here being shown to tourist for a small pay. (2009)


Pigs are the most important animals for the Dani people, being a important protein source as well as cultural symbolism. (2005)



Three generations. (2005)








Probably one of the most well known faces of the Baliem Valley. The chief "Yali" of Kurulu village. (2010)


The airport in Wamena, the gateway to Baliem Valley. (2008)


Wamena as seen after departure from Wamena airport. (2004)


Řystein Lund Andersen © 2011