Baliem Valley

Baliem Valley

Baliem Valley West Papua

The Baliem Valley also spelled Balim Valley and sometimes known as the Grand Valley, of the highlands of Western New Guinea, is occupied by the Dani people. The main town in the valley is Wamena. The valley is about 80 km in length by 20 km in width and lies at an altitude of about 1,600–1,700 meters (5,200–5,600 ft), with a population of over 200,000.

As far as the outside world was concerned, the discovery of the Baliem Valley and the unexpected presence of its large agricultural population was made by Richard Archbold’s third zoological expedition to New Guinea in 1938. On 21 June an aerial reconnaissance flight southwards from Hollandia (now Jayapura) found what the expedition called the ‘Grand Valley’. Since then the valley has gradually been opened up to a limited amount of tourism.

The following is copied from the back cover of Peter Matthiessen’s book Under the Mountain Wall:

“In the Baliem Valley in Central New Guinea live the Kurelu, a Stone Age tribe that survived into the twentieth century. Peter Matthiessen visited the Kurelu with the Harvard-Peabody Expedition in 1961 and wrote Under the Mountain Wall as an account not of the expedition, but of the great warrior Weaklekek, the swineherd Tukum, U-mue and his family, and the boy Weake, killed in a surprise raid. Matthiessen observes these people in their timeless rhythm of work and play and war, of gardening and wood gathering, feasts and funerals, pig stealing and ambush. Drawing on his great skills as naturalist and novelist, Matthiessen offers a remarkable firsthand view of a lost culture in all its simplicity and violence — on the brink of incalculable change.”
Source: Wikipedia

Baliem Valley

The legendary Baliem Valley is the most popular and most accessible destination in Papua’s interior. The Dani people who live here were still dependent on tools of stone, bone, and wood when a natural-history expedition led by American Richard Archbold chanced upon the valley in 1938. Dani life has since changed enormously with stone axes being replaced by mobile phones and age-old belief systems with Christianity, but even so, the changes are often only skin-deep and the valley and surrounding highlands remain one of the world’s last fascinatingly traditional areas. Visiting the Baliem Valley and trekking through high mountain scenery, past neat and orderly Dani villages, takes you to the world far removed from Jakarta and is an honor and an experience to be savored. For most people, it is the highlight of Papua.

The main valley is about 60km long and 16km wide and bounded by high mountains on all sides. The only sizeable town, Wamena, sits at its center at an altitude of 1650m. The powerful Kali Baliem (Baliem River), running through the valley, escapes via a narrow gorge at the southern end. Amid this spectacular scenery, the majority of Dani still live close to nature, tending their vegetable plots and pigs around villages composed of circular thatched huts called honai. Roads are few, and the raging mountain rivers are crossed on hanging footbridges that may be held together only by natural twine.

Christian missionaries arrived in 1954 and a Dutch government post was established in Wamena in 1956. Since the 1960s, Indonesia has added its own brand of colonialism, bringing immigrants, government schools, police, soldiers, shops, motor vehicles and becak (bicycle-rickshaws) to the valley. Big changes have been wrought in Dani life, but their identity and culture have proved resilient. Tensions between Dani and the security forces and Indonesian immigrants periodically erupt into violence, most notably during a large-scale uprising in 1977 and again in 2000, when clashes led to a temporary exodus of non-Papuans.

It can rain here at any time of year, but from April to December most days are fine and warm and the evenings cool. From January to March, mud and rain can make trekking hard work.

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