West Papua has plenty of well-known cultural festivals that have taken place there. One of them is called “The Baliem Valley Festival” (Festival Bukit Baliem). This festival is probably the most famous. It is often mentioned, especially in tour promotions.
How is The Baliem Valley Festival like?
How It All Began
Once upon a time, Baliem Valley itself was dubbed by another famous name, which was “Shangri-La”. Since the valley is still very lush and fertile, it is no surprise that some would see it as an earthly paradise. Surrounded on every side by 2,500 to 3,000 meters high peaks, the valley has been an ideal farming area for over 9,000 years.
The Baliem Valley is also called “Balim Valley” and “The Grand Valley”. It lies on the highlands of West Papua. Wamena is the main town. To be more exact, this valley is around 80 km long and 20 km wide. The altitude is around 1,600 to 1,700 meters. The population is about 200,000 people.
Ironically, Baliem Valley had only been discovered by the westerners in 1938. This showed just how strategically-placed the valley has always been. Three local main tribes have been living in Baliem Valley for years. They are: the Dani tribe, the Lani tribe, and the Yali tribe.
The Dani tribe lives in the main area of the valley, while the Lani tribe lives in the west. The Yali tribe lives in the southeast area of the valley. At a quick glance, the three tribes may look the same. However, you may tell the difference from their koteka (or penis gourd worn by the male members of the tribes).
The long, thin koteka are worn by the Dani, while the Lani wear the medium-sized ones. The Yali tribe wear the longest koteka.
The three tribes attend the Baliem Valley Festival regularly. It is held every year, sometime in August. They do not only participate in the festival. They also watch.
About the Festival Itself
The Baliem Valley Festival has been one of the ways for the people in West Papua to promote their art and cultural heritage to the world, not just Indonesia. The festival began in 1989 and has been organized every year ever since. Although it is held mostly in August and for three or four days, sometimes the date would change slightly every year. Most of the time, the festival is held around August 8 to 10 or 8 to 11.
The Baliem Valley is not more than one and a half hours if you drive all the way from Wamena. The Baliem Valley Festival usually involves these activities done by the local tribes:
The tourists can see the local tribesmen cooking sweet potatoes and pigs. However, they do not use kitchen stoves like the city people do. The men use earth oven fires.
Since this is also an art and cultural festival, the tourists can also watch the traditional Dani and Lani dancing and singing. The three tribes also reenact how they used to battle in the old days. Of course, since this is a reenactment, nobody gets hurt or killed during the mock war performance.
Another fun fact regarding the mock war performance in The Baliem Valley Festival: up to 1000 warriors and dancers participate in it. The convenient, open space arena should be 400 m by 250 m, to avoid clashes by accident with the audience and to give more space to the performers.
The mock war performance is also accompanied by Pikon, which is a traditional music instrument from Papua. It is made out of the skin of the wood. Not many people are skillful enough to play it, because you have to blow the right way in order to produce a soothing sound.
There are also bow and arrow competitions, which will remind you of the movie “Robin Hood”. These two activities have been more recent to attract more tourists to attend. The best part of this is that tourists can also participate in the game.
In 2009, there were 400 foreign tourists coming all the way from Europe and Japan. They visited West Papua just to attend and watch The Baliem Valley Festival. According to Indonesian Ambassador to Germany back then, Eddy Pratomo, Baliem Valley had been very famous in Europe, especially in Germany.
Every year, The Baliem Valley Festival comes up with different themes, even when most of the traditional activities performed are just the same. For example: the 22nd Baliem Valley Festival was held from August 10 to 11 in 2011. It was done at Wosiala, Wosilimo Village. The theme was “Peace for All”, in order to inspire love and tolerance and hope for a more harmonious life among different cultures.
In 2018, The Baliem Valley Festival will be held again on August 8 to 10. Another thing that visitors can do after the festival is over is to visit the Dani market in Wamena and Wauma Village.