The Mock Battles in Baliem Valley Festival

The main tribes inhabiting the beautiful Baliem Valley in the central highlands of Papua are the Dani, the Yali and the Lani.

Although now modernized, the Dani still strongly adhere to their traditions and customs, most notably the dress of the men. Even in this cool mountain climate, men wear only a penis gourd, known as koteka, though complemented with elaborate headdress of bird of paradise or cassowary feathers, while the women wear grass or fern fiber skirts  (sali or saly) slung around the waist. And to carry pigs or the harvest of sweet potatoes, women carry a string bag, called noken, slung from their forehead.

The Dani tribe, Baliem Valley
The Dani tribe, Baliem Valley (Source :

To defend their villages or to raid others to avenge for tribe members killed, the Dani practiced regular warfare. However, anthropologists note that the “Dani wars” are more a display of prowess and opulence of dress and decoration rather than an all out war to kill the enemy. Dani warfare displays competence and exuberance, rather than the wish to kill. Weapons used are long spears, measuring 4.5 meters, and bows and arrows. Most often, therefore, there are more wounded than killed, and the wounded are quickly carried off the field.

Nowadays, Dani mock battles are held yearly at the Baliem Valley Festival in Wamena during the month of August.  At this feast, which has as its highlight the mock battles among the tribes, the Dani, Yali, and Lani send their best warriors to the arena, wearing their best regalia. The festival is complemented with a Pig Feast, Earth cooking and traditional music and dance.

Dani mock battles, Baliem Valley Festival
Dani mock battles, Baliem Valley Festival (Source :

There are also arts and crafts exhibited or for sale. Each tribe will come with their own identity, and one can see clear differences among them and identify tribes according to their costume especially the penis gourds each wears. The Dani men usually wear only a small koteka (penis gourd / penis cover), while the Lani tribesmen wear larger koteka’s, since their bodies are bigger than the average Dani, while the Yali wear long slender koteka’s held by a rattan belt, strapped at the waist.

By attending the massive Baliem Valley Festival, visitors will have a rare chance to learn and experience firsthand the different traditions of each tribe participating in the Festival without having to make the difficult trek to their compounds deep in the hinterland of West Papua.


At the end of the mock battles, food festivities are held at the venue or nearby. When you book a tour package, the organizers usually provide places to eat. Dance performances and music shows are staged and visitors are welcome to join.

The mock battles can be staged at different venues. Usually it is held at the Kurulu Village or at Wosilimo, some 27 kilometers from Wamena. Since the venue is not very far, you can stay overnight at Wamena. However, it is recommended that you book a package via a tour operator who will arrange your trip and secure definite transportation and accommodation.

During the festival, have your camera ready. Very often you will come across unique moments that you never want to miss. A number among  the more than a thousand war participants, do want to keep abreast with the outside world, so they adorn themselves with local regalia, while sporting flashy sunglasses: a personal ad of a trendy look meeting age-old tradition. Ask them politely to pose for you. It’s an unusual anachronism not to be missed.

All you need to do during the festival is just observe and enjoy the mock war. The longer it gets, the nearer the spears and arrows get to hit the opponents. The closer the miss, the louder the roar from the hundreds of spectators. They have participated in these battles every year so that participants do get better each year.

Baliem Valley Festival, Papua
Baliem Valley Festival, Papua (Source :

After the Festival, visitors can go sightseeing to the Dani Market in Wamena, and visit the traditional Wauma Village that can be reached by car from Wamena. In Aikima, see a 250 year-old mummified village chief, or, after a 2-hour climb, see the salt springs, where Dani women have, for centuries, made salt in a simple manner.


Take a flight from Jakarta, Makassar or Bali to Jayapura, capital of the province of Irian Jaya / Papua, then, a connecting flight to Wamena will take you to the heart of Baliem Valley within the very same day.

A number of travel agencies regularly organize tours to the Baliem valley.


It is highly advisable that you stock up on Indonesian Rupiah when travelling outside of Wamena. You can withdraw cash from the ATM at any banks in town. Note that there is nowhere else in the valley that you can change your currency. So, while in Wamena, do exchange your currency at either:

– Bank Mandiri (Jalan Trikora 92), which only change US dollars in cash.
– Bank Papua (Jalan Trikora 45). The exchange rates and endless lines can be a bit challenging.
– Bank BRI (Bank Rakyat Indonesia); Jalan Yos Sudarso & Jalan Trikora.

For your own safety, when intending to trek alone into the interior, you are advised to first report your itinerary to the Police upon arrival at the airport.

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