Home > About Us > Papua at a Glance > The Five Tribes
The five tribes of Papua Central Mountains, which consisted of the Damal, Dani, Moni, Nduga and Mee tribes, live throughout Puncak Jaya, Jayawijaya and Paniai Regencies. The area’s topography is in the form of mountainous range with 500 to 4.500 heights above the sea level. Populated areas are only below the 2.500 meters. Above that, we will only find plants and animals which naturally live on high altitude, in a chilling air that covers the area to the top of the mountain. Expanded from the mountain to the lowlands, there is a small area around the mouth of Memberamo River that is being occupied by members of these tribes. The five tribes have a similar character, leadership and culture, including their dialects.
The existence of Damalme (in local language) or Damal-man first reported by Dutch explorers, J.V. de Bruyn, R. den Haan, J.R. Meyer Ranneft and Roman Catholic Pastor M Kammerer. The explorers approached the Damal from the North, from the Wisselmeren lakes. Before that, Damal Tribes received a visit from the South by Carstensz Expedition of the British under Wollaston and in 1936 by another Carstensz Expedition by Dr. Colijn and his team. Dr. Colijn named Damal People “Enggipiloedal” which means The Sons of Enggipiloe, the name which Moni Tribe gave to Carstensz area. So, Enggipiloedal means The Sons of Carstensz. The name only attached to Damal People who lives in the valleys of Carstensz area, such as Singgal (Otakwa), Wa (Koprapoka), Weja (Ajkimuka) on the southern side of Carstensz and Beoga (Beura or Beurop) valley on the north of Carstensz. The people of those valleys relate themselves very closely with the ice caps on the top of Carstensz Mountain, in their legend of The First Man. Moni Tribe calls Damal People “Ungunduni” which means “inside a fence” in Moni language. That doesn’t mean that The Damal put fences around their houses because we will never be able to find that within Damal housing. The best possibility is that The Moni refers to the custom of Damal people of ancestral offerings that is always done in a place surrounded by fence. There is also a legend that relates The Damal with the creation of the First Man. It was told that according to the legend, the First Men gather together on top of the mountain, and the air was really cold. Then they made a fire and sit around it. So The Damal might have sat around the fire and made a fence around the fire. The name they give to themselves is Damalme. “Me” means human or men, and the name of their language is Damal language (Damal-kal). They spread through the northern and southern valleys of the Carstensz Mountain Range, where most of the valleys are. On the north, they occupy Beura (Beoga or Beurop) and Iliga, which is also known as Illop or Illa. Here, they live next to the border of Dani Tribe land. On the north west of Beura, there ia a Doegindora valley, where Damalme has a small settlement there. On the south of Carstensz, Damal people spread through eight valleys which expands from Ajkwa River tributaries on the west to Djots River tributaries on the east. On The Central Mountains Damal people lives next to the border of Moni Tribe land, on the west and east with Taume Tribe and on the south with coastal area people, The Kamoro/Mimika.
Damal people do hunting and farming for a living, just like other tribes on the mountain. Damal people are farmers, fruit gatherers and pig raiser. Pigs will be slaughtered on certain days, like on birth and death ceremonies, marriage, harvest time, war debt settlement and as an offering to their ancestors. On 2000, this area get an autonomous status, but it is non-accessible through land because of the mountainous and steep terrain. It heavily depends on air transportation. The regency mostly connected using air transport with Sentani-Jayapura, Nabire, Wamena and Timika. There are several commercial flights servicing the area like Merpati Nusantara, Trigana Air Service and Mimika Air. Mission Aviation Fellowship from Christian church is also servicing the area.
Around the end of the 30s, The Dutch get into what is now Paniai Regency. It became a new stage of interaction between Mee Tribe on the west and Moni Tribe in the east with foreigners. Through an expedition which was led by Pastor H. Tillemans, The Dutch establish a mission post which is also called a government post in Enarotali. Since then, Enarotali or Enaro, in East Paniai Regency, has been a center for governments although it has experience changes in coverage and status. Based on GOI Regulation No. 52 on 1996, Paniai Regency was expanded into Paniai and Puncak Jaya Administrative Regency. Meanwhile, the old Paniai Regency was renamed into Nabire. Three years later, based on The Law No. 45 on 1999, the status of Paniai was promoted from Administrative Regency into Authoritative/Definitive Regency Ten years has passed since the expansion, but the purpose of de-bureaucratization and accelerates the development is still being hindered by geographical problems. Being 2.000 meters above the sea level with mountainous and steep terrain make Paniai isolated from the rest of the world. Sugapa, Homeyo, Agisiga and Biandoga District has never been able to be accessed through land. The only means of transportation is through the air, if someone doesn’t want to spend days walking and climbing. Paniai has 15 airstrip, which 11 of them belong to private companies. The main airport is in Enaro. Trigana, Merpati, AMA and MAF are airlines who operate in this region. Sweet potato, or in Mee language is “Nota”, is the staple food for the people. Sweet potato is the main food plant product, which in 2002 achieve the highest production number in the past three years. The people cook Sweet potato or “Nota” using a unique method of burning stones or “barapen”. This is the common cooking methods of the people who live in The Central Mountain. People dig a hole on the ground and cover the bottom and the wall of the hole using leaves. Then they put everything they want to cook inside the hole. While they’re digging the hole, they prepare a fire and then put many stones inside the fire. After they put foodstuffs they want to cook into the hole, then they cover the top of the hole with leaves. When the stone is red hot because of the fire, they put those stone on top of the covered hole. That is how the people cook “Nota”. To this day, there has never been a small or home industry that turns “Nota” into chips, powder or other forms. On normal condition, the need for sweet potato can always be covered by local production. Unfortunately, when there’s flood plants are covered with water and rot. And when there’s drought, plants dead or lack of water. Those are the times when famine comes to the area. In low temperature with high humidity area such as Paniai, we can’t find many kinds of plants which produce food, like paddy or coconut. Farming is being done with the help of a very limited technology, although plantation area is permanent, evolved from nomadic field in the past. People are using digging sticks rather than hoe or plow to work on the field. The role of women in agriculture is big, because after men opened a field by cutting down trees of the forest, it is now women’s part to cultivate it. Paniai relies heavily on Nabire Regency for communication and transportation. Paniai’s motto is “Aweta Ko Enaa Agapida Me”, which means tomorrow is better than today. This shows the spirit in achieving welfare and progress for the future.
Among mountains of rock with a steep cliff and narrow valleys, we can find settlements of central mountain rural people. The population in this area is more crowded, than other places in Papua. There we can find a group of people who call themselves Nduga people. They live on the southern slope of Jayawijaya Mountain. Ndawa is the root word of Nduga, which means people who lives from their hunting activities between the rock gaps on the southern side of Jayawijaya Mountain. They don’t really like the terminology because they consider that an insult. They called themselves by the name of the place they live, but the name experience changes in intonation and evolved into Nduga. Their language can be categorized into non-Austronesia language. There are four dialects within several territories like Hiburzt, Tundu, Tumbut and Suburu. Jigi and Mapenduma are Nduga villages. Like other alienated tribes in Papua, they haven’t got enough understanding of the government, crest of the nation, flag, etc. They don’t even know the names of state officials including higher ranking officers of The Republic of Indonesia. They know the missionaries better, because those missionaries have been doing their ministry since before Indonesian Independence Day. It’s not uncommon if they know Rev. Andrean van Dor Nijl, a missionary who has been on duty for more than 54 years there, rather than government officials. There is a very close relationship between the missionary with Nduga people that the people consider him as the Head of the District. Nduga’s staple food is “hipere” (baked sweet potato), while rice is very rare because paddy is still unknown to the people. Their farming relies heavily on the rain and sometimes they eat rice they received from the missionaries.
Dani tribe settlement was originally known to be located in Baliem valley hundreds of years ago. There were many exploration activities in the rural areas in the highland of Papua. One of the exploration was Lorentz expedition in 1909 – 1910 by the Dutch, but the expedition did not operate in Baliem valley. Then an explorer from the United States of America, Richard Archold, made the first contact with the Dani tribe in 1935. It was then known that Dani tribe was very handy and has been using stone axe, bone knives, bamboo and wooden spears and digging sticks for years. European influence which was brought by the missionaries is in the form of Protestant Mission Center in Hetegima, Wamena, which was built in 1955. After the Dutch build Wamena, then the Catholic Church starts to spread there. The topography of Dani tribe territory is generally the same like other parts of Papua Central Mountain, which in forms of high mountains and valleys. Some of the top of the mountain has always been covered with ice and snow, like Trikora Peak (4.750 m), Yamin Peak (4.595 m) and Mandala Peak (4.760 m). Its soil typically made of lime and granite while around the valley, the soil is a mixture of mud alluvial and clay. It’s located in a wet tropical area. But because of its height, the temperature is ranging between 8 – 20 degrees Celsius, with an average of 17.5 degrees Celsius with 152.42 rainy days per year and humidity above 80%, while the wind is available all year with a speed between 2.5 to 14 knots. There are many unique and strange animals living in the middle of the tropical rainforest in this area. The tropical rainforest gives a place to live for many species of plants, casuarinas, rhododendrons, conifer, ferns, and orchids. Near the ice cap on the top of the mountain, we can find moss and other tundraic plants. If we are to exploit the area for wood products, we can find plants like intisia, pometis, callophylyum, drokontomiko, pterokorpus and other plants which have a high value in the market. The forest and the savanna are the place for kangaroo, cuscus, cassowary, and lots of endemic bird species such as cenderawasih, Victoria Crowned Pigeon, varieties of cockatoo, insects, beautiful and various butterflies. There are lots of Dani men who are still using koteka (penis sheath) which made of yellow gourd while the women are using “wah” clothing that are made of grass fiber and they live inside a  “Honai” (shack with a roof made of hay). Dani tribe is still doing their big cultural and religious ceremonies, although not as big as they were. Though the Danis had become Christians, many of their ceremonies are still featuring their old customs of their ancestors. Dani people believe of “rekwasi”. All rituals and ceremonies featuring songs, dance and sacrifice to their ancestors. War and feud usually happens because of trespassing cases, problems about women and thefts. Dani warriors mark themselves by smearing their bodies with pig fat, sago, and mango plant sap and variety of flowers, and wearing seashell, feathers, cuscus, then arm themselves with spear, bows and arrows. In Dani culture, when someone violate a taboo, he or she will become an outcast and the community will mock at him or her, then on a cultural meeting, he or she will have to pay some money as a fine. When someone violate a taboo, he or she will become an outcast, people will mock at him or her and in a cultural meeting, he or she will have to pay a fine. Dani people love to sing while they are in the field or in the road to the hunting place. They sing expressive heroic songs and sometimes a very sad song. The harmony of the song motivates them to work harder. They use a musical instrument they call “Pikon”. On the hunting trip, they will put their “Pikons” on their ears and in the forest they use it to send codes among them with different tunes that the “Pikons” produce.