10 Compelling Facts about West Papua’s Cultures You Need to Know

War Dance - National Geographic Indonesia
War Dance - National Geographic Indonesia

The jewel of East Indonesia, better known as West Papua offers not only an incredible array of natural attractions but also the unique local cultures blowing every visitor’s mind. Have you ever heard the sacred Melanesian mummy and Koteka clothing? Yes, the comely cultural masterpieces are originated from this easternmost region.

Here are 10 striking facts about the cultures in West Papua you need to be familiar with:

  1. Bakar Batu (Stone Burning)
Bakar Batu (Stone Burning) - Gettyimages.com
Bakar Batu (Stone Burning) – Gettyimages.com

Bakar Batu or stone burning is such an inimitable ritual with an objective to thank to God, gather with neighbors and families or crown the fresh tribal chief. It is a significant cooking tradition carried out by groups of people inhabiting Baliem Valley, Yakuhimo, and Nabire. The stones are stacked over the hot fire pit along with food sources such as pieces of wild boar meat, sweet potatoes, and vegetables.

  1. Finger Cutting

Finger Cutting - Joel santos
Finger Cutting – Joel santos

The locals of Dani tribe call the finger cutting tradition Ikapilin. The extreme practice might sound terrifying as someone must lose one of their limbs. Ikapilin actually is the sorrow expression to respect one of the family members who has passed away. The people believe that the painful tradition will keep the bad luck away. It’s always practiced by the woman – she can be either a mother or daughter. Before this ritual takes place, the lady’s finger is tied.

  1. Living in a Honai House

Living in a Honai House - Bagas Wpw
Living in a Honai House – Bagas Wpw

Honai house is the one of the authentic cultural products of West Papua. The traditional dwelling inhabited by 5 to 10 people has walls made up of wood and a conical reed roof. It comes with a tiny door but no window. Located in an area with short fencing, Honai comprises of three types of structures—Honai (men’s shelter), Ebei (women’s shelter), and Wamai (a pigsty).


  1. Iyakyaker (an Unusual Dowry Giving Ceremony)

Iyakyaker (an Unusual Dowry Giving Ceremony) - Papuakini.co
Iyakyaker (an Unusual Dowry Giving Ceremony) – Papuakini.co

Once you make a stop in Biak Numfor, be sure to witness the Iyakyaker, a marriage ceremony during the procession of dowry giving. The locals call the bride price Ararem. The groom presents valuable goods such as money, cattle, crops, and the most importantly, the porcelain plates known as Ben Bepon. When the event is held, the groom’s relatives should hand over the dowry and Indonesian flag to the bride’s family members.

  1. War Dance

War Dance - National Geographic Indonesia
War Dance – National Geographic Indonesia

West Papua consists of a wide number of tribes which still hold the war dance tradition. The Papuan people appreciate and regard the war dance is the part of valuable culture representing heroism, self-sacrifice, and boldness. It’s commonly performed by a group of people clad in traditional apparel including root skirts and chestnut beads. The dance is also accompanied by conventional musical instruments like Tifa, Fuu, and Butshake.

  1. Mansorandak (Stepping a Plate)

Mansorandak (Stepping a Plate) - Darfuar.wordpress.com
Mansorandak (Stepping a Plate) – Darfuar.wordpress.com

In the local language, Mansorandak literally means “stepping a plate”. The unique ceremony has an aim welcome the family members who have left their hometown for a long time and get rid of the wicked spirit. Mansorandak procession includes three steps – greeting from the whole relatives, rounding the plates, and stepping a wild animal figure made of clay.

  1. Elha (Traditional Animal Hunting)

Elha (Traditional Animal Hunting) - Ngm.nationalgeographic.com
Elha (Traditional Animal Hunting) – Ngm.nationalgeographic.com

The people of Sentani has ancestral heritage which is still maintained – Elha, an animal hunting tradition. Before hounding, the hunters, mainly men, are not allowed to do a couple of things such as having sex, eating breakfast, and greeting people. Instead of using bows and arrows, the skillful huntsman relies on a spear for wallaby and hog hunting.

  1. Musyoh Dance

Musyoh Dance - Seni & Budaya
Musyoh Dance – Seni & Budaya

Another dancing attraction that West Papua has to offer is the sacred Musyoh dance. The consecrated custom is held to cast out the evil spirit. The performers do energetic movement as well as showing joy expression. During the show, the dancers wear enchanting traditional clothing such as tassel skirt, koteka, and war accessories including spear and shield.

  1. Eating Papeda

Eating Papeda - Wikipedia
Eating Papeda – Wikipedia

Although most out of Indonesian people favor rice for their daily meal; instead of munching on the grain, the Papuan folks never leave the staple food called Papeda. The starchy, gluey meal is often savored with the delicious yellow soup comprising of turmeric broth and mackerel fish. Other side dishes like sautéed water spinach and papaya flowers are also served. The wooden fork is needed to take the food.

  1. Body Tattooing 

Body Tattooing - Nationalgeographic.co.id
Body Tattooing – Nationalgeographic.co.id

West Papuans, especially the people of Moi and Mayakh, still retain the body tattooing culture – this heritage is inherited by the ancestors for many decades. Speaking of the pattern and motive, West Papuans’ tattoo designs differ from the rest. They accentuate geometrical shapes adorned with circles and tiny spots. Instead of applying chemicals, the locals benefit the nature to create the natural tattoo mixture.

To many tradition enthusiasts, those 10 West Papuan cultures are both astounding and surprising. What are you waiting for? Find the cultural adventure in West Papua.