Yali

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Yali

One of the indigenous groups inhabiting the Baliem Valley region, in the midst of the Jayawijaya mountain range of Papua, Indonesia, are the Yali, known as  ‘Lords of the Earth’. They live in the virgin forests of the highlands. The Yali are officially recognised as pygmies, with men standing at just 150 cm tall. 

“If the hand does nothing, the mouth does not chew”

Papuan indigenous groups, different in appearance and language, have a similar way of life. They are all polygamist and conduct rituals for important occasions at which reciprocal exchange of gifts is obligated. The Koteka, a penis gourd, is a piece of traditional clothing used to distinguish indigenous identity. 

Wolo Valley, Sungai Baliem, Papua Indonesia
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Wolo Valley, Sungai Baliem, Papua Indonesia

August 2010

Two of the indigenous peoples inhabiting the Baliem Valley region are the Dani in the actual valley and the Yali (‘Lords of the Earth’) in the virgin forests of the
highlands. Though ‘neighbours’, each group has a distinct language and culture. Physically, the Yali are remarkably smaller than the Dani. With men standing at just 150cm tall, the Yali are officially recognised as pygmies.
Yali
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Yali

August 2010

Yali settlements are usually located on ridge-tops, where they were established in a time when war between the indigenous peoples made high vantage points necessary for defense.
Wolo Valley
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Wolo Valley

August 2010

Though different in appearance and language, the two indigenous peoples of the Jayawijaya mountain range and the Korowai have a similar way of life. Both the Korowai and pygmy Yali are hunter-gatherers, practice less sophisticated cultivation techniques and keep fewer pigs than the farmers of the Dani, who use an efficient irrigation system and enjoy huge harvests of their staple sweet potatoes.



Baliem Valley Festival
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Baliem Valley Festival

August 2010

Mock battles are held yearly at the Baliem Valley Festival in Wamena during the month of August (see Calendar of Events).  At this feast, which has as its highlight the mock battles among the indigenous groups, 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. 
Danu Habbema Lake Valley, West Baliem, Papua Indonesia
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Danu Habbema Lake Valley, West Baliem, Papua Indonesia

August 2010

Papuan Yali belonged to the most dreaded cannibals of the western part of the New Guinea Island (Irian Jaya). They are ranked among the pygmy group of nations (dwarf nations), and more precisely among pygmy negrits.


Danu Habbema Lake, West Baliem
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Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Danu Habbema Lake, West Baliem

August 2010

The Koteka, or penis gourd, is one of many distinguishing features as far as traditional clothing is concerned. The Yali and Dani men tend to the growing of the calabashes with both indigenous peoples meticulously cultivating a different style. The Koteka of the Dani is much smaller than the long and slender one that the Yali men wear.

Baliem Valley
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Baliem Valley

August 2010

The Yali people did not come into contact with the modern world until the 1960's and 70's when the missionaries began penetrating these remote regions.

Danu Habbema Lake Valley
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Danu Habbema Lake Valley

August 2010

The Yali supply the Dani with decorative bird feathers, tree kangaroo and cuscus pelts and fine rare woods that have long since disappeared from the valley.
Without the koketa the men feel naked
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Without the koketa the men feel naked

August 2010

Although now modernized, the Yali 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.  They do not go beyond bones and pig or dog teeth for decorative purposes. 

Daily life
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Daily life

August 2010

Yali build round or oval huts made out of straw and wood, with thick thatched roofs. Yali men, women and children sleep separately in different huts (honai).