Dani - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Grand Valley Dani explain most of their ritual as placating the restless ghosts of their own recent dead. These ghosts are potentially dangerous and cause misfortune, illness, and death. Thus, attempts are made to keep them far off in the forest. Dani also believe in local land and water spirits. In the 1950s, the Western Dani region experienced nativistic cargo cult-like movements that swept ahead of the Christian missionary advance. But these movements had no effect on the more conservative Grand Valley Dani. Now, in the 1990s, many Dani—Grand Valley as well as others—are practicing Christians. Islam, the majority religion of the larger nation, was not able to cope with Dani pigs and has had little success there.

Religious Practitioners. Various people, mainly men, are known for their magical curing powers. Ritual as well as secular power is combined in the leaders at various levels. Leaders of alliances seem often to have exceptionally strong and even unique powers.

Ceremonies. During the time of war, ceremonies were frequent. Battles themselves could be seen as ceremonies directed at placating the ghosts. There were also ceremonies celebrating the death of an enemy or funerals for people killed by the enemy. At the cremation ceremony for someone killed in battle, one or two fingers of several girls would be chopped off as sacrifices to the ghost of the dead person. Men might occasionally chop off their own fingers or cut off the tips of their ears, but these actions were signs of personal sacrifice and mourning. Funeral ceremonies as well as wedding ceremonies continued at intervals after the main event. Both were concluded in the great pig feast held every four to six years, in which the entire alliance participated.

Arts. The Grand Valley Dani have practically no art beyond decorations on arrow points and personal ornaments of furs, feathers, and shells. Formal oratory was not important, but casual storytelling was a well-developed skill.

Medicine. The Grand Valley Dani have no internal medicine, but they do rub rough leaves on the forehead to relieve headaches. For serious battle wounds, they draw blood from chest and arms. Until the recent introduction of malaria and venereal diseases they were quite healthy.

Death and Afterlife. The Grand Valley Dani conceive of a soullike substance, edai-egen or "seeds of singing," which is seen throbbing below the sternum. It is considered to be fully developed by about two years of age. Serious sickness or wounds can cause it to retreat towards the backbone, whence it is recalled by heat and by curing ceremonies. At death, this feature becomes a mogat, or ghost, and it must be induced to go off into the forest where it cannot harm the living. Death itself is considered to be caused by magic or witchcraft but, although witches are known, there is no particular fear of them in the Grand Valley. Similar patterns of witchcraft belief occur among the Western Dani, but there witches are lynched.

User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 16, 2013 @ 8:08 am
The Dani tribe elders say that ‘if the hand does nothing, the mouth, does not chew.’ The Dani people work hard for their meals, by cultivation, hunting and gathering. The Dani people grow crops such as bananas, sweet potato and cassavas. They hunt wild pigs, the pigs are a very important feast and are usually eaten after the men of the tribe have slaughtered a large amount of pigs and aren’t eaten regally, only on special occasions. They cook the pig and vegetables using an earth oven method, they heat stones in a fire until they are extremely hot, then rap the meat and vegetables in banana leaf, which is then put into a pit that has the hot stones at the bottom. More rocks and grass are put on top, and after a few hours, they uncover the food, and it is ready to eat.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: