Baliem Valley Fest. 07 - PAPUA

Warfare as a Tourist Attraction
Text and Photos by Sari Widiati

The various regions throughout Indonesia employ many different techniques to attract tourists. Even warfare between tribes is conducted to excite visitors, though obviously it's not actual warfare that leads to loss of life. These mock battles are performed by the community of Wamena in Papua to enliven the 2007 Baliem Valley Festival.

Mock Warfare – the Main Attraction
A large grassy field in Wisilimo Village, Kurulu District, surrounded by green hills and with weather that switches rapidly between blazing heat and chilly rain, serves as the arena where the people of Wamenadi, Jayawijaya Regency, vent their warlike feelings. This year, 29 groups competed to vociferously demonstrate that they were ready to challenge their opponents.
The only weapons in their hands are sege (spears) or bows and arrows, and the battle strategies are simple. Yet each group is confident that armed only with that, they can defeat their enemies. Maintaining the solidarity of their dozens of members, the groups go to war to deal with various cases such as land disputes, raids to open up new agricultural land, failure to pay tribute, livestock theft, kidnapping, murder, or adultery.
The mock battle attraction typically features two "teams" in each event, following a particular sequence. It starts with a dramatic presentation of the case in question. Those who play the roles in this are not expected to perform like professional film stars; their acting often provokes laughter from the audience, particularly when the tale is one of adultery; they can't resist portraying this in a really vulgar way.
After explaining the casus belli through this skit, they start to display their anger and enmity, shouting challenges and preparing their battle strategies. When the two groups are face to face, they start running and attacking one another. Suddenly the sky is full of flying spears and arrows, some of which nearly pierce their victims. The spectators also need to remain alert so they are not hit by any of the weapons flying about.
If one of the enemy is captured, the captors pretend to stab the victim with their weapons; the side that has the most members "stabbed" is the loser. However, the winning team in the overall competition is chosen based on appearance and battle strategy. In the 2007 event, the six best teams were Imagarea from Kurulu District, Wim Naik from Assologaima District, Yalengga from Yalengga District, Air Garam from Kurulu District, Isaima from Asolokobal District, and Holiok from Hubikosi District.
These mock battles are very exciting and constitute the main attraction in each year's Baliem Valley Festival. The warriors' vivid and emotional acting makes this a thrilling spectacle. This is the "war" the tourists have been waiting for.
The Baliem Valley Festival is a vehicle to express the traditional customs and values of the Dani tribe who inhabit the Baliem Valley, including mock warfare, even though in daily life they are actually farmers. Nowadays, resolution of actual conflicts is left to the authority of the local government; these "battles" are performed solely for the benefit of spectators, including tourists and government officials, and to preserve the local culture.
Foreign Tourists Get Involved in the Action
The mock battles that comprise the main attraction of the Baliem Valley Festival are not the only item on the entertainment menu; there's plenty more for tourists to see and do to become better acquainted with the local culture.
Yet what impresses visitors the most is that they discover a unique local culture not found elsewhere in the world. The local people still adhere strongly to their traditional customs. For example, they still wear almost no clothing; only a koteka (penis sheath) is worn to cover the male genitals, and a kind of netting made from plant roots to cover up the women's private parts. This custom shows how strong their traditional culture remains, though it may seem primitive to outsiders.
Visitors can also witness the local people's daily life—bakar batu (roasting local foods such as pig, taro and yams on hot stones), pig races, weaving, and so on.
During the festival, visitors should not miss the pikon competition (a traditional musical wind instrument), local dances including war dances, and archery and spear throwing competitions.
In these last two events, this year 38 foreign tourists took part, allowing them to get directly involved in activities that the local people regularly perform. Tourists from four countries (Italy, Spain, Britain and Belgium) took part in the archery contest, and some did very well indeed. Mario, from Italy, consistently hit bull's-eyes and won first place, and two of his compatriots came in second and third.
In the sege throwing event, tourists from five countries (Spain, Britain, Belgium, Italy and Australia) took part. Italy was again the winner; the first prize went to Horacio from Italy, followed by Benny from Australia in second place and Marco from Italy in third.
For handicraft enthusiasts, the Baliem Valley Festival is a great opportunity to see up close the creative output of a local community through the art exhibition that is held. Agricultural produce is also on display, including buah merah ("red fruit"), renowned for its curative properties, vegetables, staple foods, and fruits.
Time to Display the Local Cultural Heritage
Many tourists believe that the Baliem Valley Festival is the perfect time to visit Wamena if you want to see local traditions and culture. Not only can they see cultural performances from all parts of Jayawijaya Regency, which comprises 376 villages, 2 subdistricts and 39 districts; they also have the opportunity to see things without having to give out a lot of money as tips. During the festival, the local people are much more welcoming and do not demand money to be photographed or to give information.
Yet many other visitors simply want to enjoy the boundless natural beauty of Wamena. As far as the eye can see are green hills, some decorated with honai (traditional houses); the local people engage in farming and pig raising, and the weather is constantly changing. You can even see Indonesia's highest peaks – Trikora and Cartenz – when the weather is clear. Some tourists go to see the mummies that are preserved in certain villages, such as the Mimmotok Mabel mummy in Yiwika village, said to be 347 years old.
Papua is truly a place of incomparable beauty, and the Baliem Valley is one of its jewels.

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