Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Traditional Dani pig feast

A traditional Dani pig feast is something very special, not least due to the high pig prices on the market. Considering that a smaller pig starts at 1.5 to 2 million Rupiah (approx. US$ 180), such a feast is costly. Considering also decades of acculturation of the Papuan community by the Indonesian central government and such campaigns as ‘operation koteka’ designed to prevent Papuans from wearing their traditional clothes, we were not expecting that our contribution of a pig could be enough to revive traditions, but thankfully the traditions still exist, and can be taught to younger members of the community.

The pig feast involves a whole village, men, women, and children alike. Everybody has a distinct responsibility. Men take care of the pig and light the fire, women collect leaves and herbs in the forest and get sweet potatoes from the fields, and the children observe what the adults of their respective sex are doing, learn from them and help with minor and easy tasks.

The Dani tribesman responsible for the organization of the feast kills the pig with a single arrow shot, placed in such a way that bleeding can occur easily and that the entrails bag is not torn (see above). Once the pig is dead, another person cuts its ears and tail with a sharp bamboo piece (see below). These are to be kept as a memory of the feast.

In between, a fire had been lit using bamboo and straw, and a ‘pyre’ with tree trunks and branches erected to heat the stones which would be going to line the cooking pit. The heat generated was also used to rid the pig off its fur.
Burnt fur is easier to remove, a task performed by using a sharp piece of bamboo or fingernails as seen below.
The pig was put again on the fire to clean its skin.
The men then cut the pig open, removed the bag containing the entrails and took out some of the fat. The entrails were also separated. Young boys were helping in this operation, learning how to perform a perfect cut, what to keep and what to throw away.
In the meantime, the women and some young girls had come back with different kinds of leaves and herbs and emptied their full noken into the open pit. Once enough leaves were available, the women left again for the fields, to collect sweet potatoes.
After a first lining of leaves had been done, hot stones were carried into the cooking pit using wooden prongs.
Both men and women attended the hot stone business.
More leaves were put in, the sweet potatoes were neatly placed on the leaves, with some stones in between to ensure regular heat.
After this operation, the whole pit was more than full. It was then covered with straw and fastened with rattan to prevent it from collapsing.
More leaves were put on top of the heap, banana leaves added and the pig placed on top of them.
Here again, some hot stones were put under the thicker parts of the pig to ensure they would be cooked. The pig parts were then covered with leaves and ferns. Again, some straw was added on top of the heap, and a layer of leaves placed on it where the halved buah merah was laid. Hot stones were put in the hollow buah merah to ensure cooking, and the red fruit was covered with leaves and straw.
Rattan was again used to ensure the stability of the heap.
After nearly three hours, the stack was untied and the straw and leaves removed. The buah merah was pressed to make an oily red sauce in which to dip the sweet potatoes. The meat was shared in equal parts among all people, and everybody enjoyed the rare treat.
Suroba, Baliem Valley, Papua, April 2009.

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