At last, the long-awaited Baliem Valley Cultural Festival (“Festival Budaya Lembah Baliem” in Indonesian) was at hand. We had scheduled our visit to coincide with the expected festival dates, not knowing exactly what day it would take place. The tourist office in Jayapura, when we had called from Surabaya, told us that it would be “before August 17” (and, surprisingly, they were correct.) In typical Indonesian fashion, we only found out the real date a few days beforehand. On the road to the festival location we passed groups of men dressed in full ceremonial costume. At the site, tourists and Papuans massed around a thatched grandstand in front of a large field. After hours of waiting, lavishly costumed Papuans carried in tied-up pigs and dumped them on the ground. Minor officials gave long-winded speeches under the blazing sun.\
Finally, the festival was officially opened with the slaughter of the pigs. Groups of warriors ran onto the field, hooting, yelling and brandishing their spears, bows and arrows. Two battle lines formed. Dust flew as the combatants ran back and forth at each other. Brandishing their weapons, they rushed the grandstand with fierce grimaces to frighten the tourists (and to pose for pictures). All of it was simulated, of course, but close enough to actual tribal warfare to seem real. A spear would sometimes be thrown in the path of the advancing enemy, or an overenthusiastic participant would let fly an arrow over the crowd.
The men were splendidly dressed, with menacing-looking pig teeth hanging from their pierced noses, full feathered crowns, mud paint, spectacularly long penis-gourds and cowry-shell armor. Some of the participants complemented their traditional war regalia with dark glasses or Rasta caps, making their appearance even more outlandish. Throughout the day there were many reenactments of “tribal warfare”. A rival village would kidnap a woman from her potato-field, leading to reprisals from her clan, fighting for her return. Dance performances lightened up the action. As part of a traditional dance, one group hopped around in a circle before the grandstand. Suddenly, one of the men doubled over, clearly trying to hide something. Bent forward, he continued to hop to and fro, following the others. The children in the audience roared with laughter. The poor dancer had lost his penis-gourd, and, embarrassed to be truly naked, tried to hold it in place while continuing the dance.
Another humorous skit reenacted the arrival of the Dutch. Carrying a small wooden plane, two Indonesians entered wearing tennis shoes and motorcycle helmets. The Papuans, trembling at the sight of the newcomers, could barely raise their shaking hands to accept the gifts of tools and salt. The audience chuckled as the metal tools were rejected and the newcomers chased away by the Luddite Papuans.
On the second day of the festival there were more dances and reenactments of tribal warfare. Papuan warriors rallied around their watchtowers, running in circles with their spears while the women clapped and sang. With a mouth-harp contest to occupy the Papuan spectators, the tourists were given the chance to compete in archery and spear throwing. Anne gave it her best shot, hitting a banana trunk several times with the featherless arrows. When the prizes were given out at the end of the day, the MC insisted on giving Anne one of the prizes, probably because we stuck around to the very end!