The Dani people, also spelled 'Ndani', and sometimes conflated
with the Lani group to the west, are a people from the central
highlands of Papua. Linguists identify at least four sub-groupings
of Dani: The Lower-Grand Valley Dani (20,000 speakers), Mid-Grand
Valley Dani (50,000 speakers), Upper-Grand Valley Dani (20,000
speakers), and the Western Dani (180,000 speakers). They are one
of the most populous tribes in the highlands, and are found spread
out through the highlands. The Dani are one of the most well known
ethnic groups in Papua, due to the relatively numerous tourists
who visit the Baliem Valley area where they predominate.
The pig features very strongly in their local culture, being
the most important tool used in bartering, especially in dowries.
Likewise pig feasts are extremely important to celebrate events
communally, the success of a feast, and that of a village chief
or organizer, is often gauged by the number of pigs slaughtered.
The Dani have an unusual method of cooking pig, and other staple
crops such as sweet potato, banana, and cassava. They heat some
stones in a fire till they are extremely hot, they then wrap cuts
of meat and pieces of sweet potato or banana inside banana leaves.
The food package is then lowered into a pit which has been lined
with some of the hot stones described above, the remaining hot
stones are then placed on top, and the pit is covered in grass
and a cover to keep steam in. After a couple of hours of broiling,
the pile is opened and food is removed from the pile and eaten.
The Dani language does not differentiate between any colors,
except for the achromatic black and white. This trait makes it
an interesting field of research for language psychologists, e.g.
Eleanor Rosch, eager to know whether there is a link between way
of thought and language.
Changes in the Dani way of life over the past century are tied
to the encroachment of modernity and globalization, despite the
tourists' brochures describing trekking in the highlands with
people from the 'stone age'. Observers have noted that pro-independence
and anti-Indonesian sentiment tends to run higher in highland
areas than for other areas of Papua. There are cases of abuses
where Dani and other Papuans have been shot and/or imprisoned
trying to raise the flag of West Papua, the Morning Star.