This Excruciating Tribal Ritual Brings New Meaning to Losing One’s Own Flesh and Blood

Dani tribesperson and their missing fingers, cut off for loved ones
Image: Sebastien Cuvelier

Deep within a verdant mountainous region of West Papua, a group of people has lived in relative isolation for generations. Indeed, the area in which they reside only began to be explored in earnest by westerners in the late 1930s. And while various of these tribespeople’s traditions may seem a little strange to outsiders, one ritual in particular might accurately be described as gruesome.

Dani tribesperson and their fingerless tributes
Image: Michal Dzikowski

The Dani group dwells in West Papua’s Baliem Valley – a relatively isolated but charmingly picturesque part of the world at an elevation of almost 5,250 feet. It’s thought that around a quarter of a million Dani reside in and around the valley, and some are distinguishable by a feature that might initially alarm those unfamiliar with their customs.