Indonesia: Dani Tribe

In the mountainous region of Papua Province in Indonesia there is a town only accessible by plane that goes by the name of Wanema. This town is the home of the indigenous Dani tribe with an estimated population of 250,000.  The Dani tribe practice a unique cultural tradition in relation to deaths within the community. When a member of the tribe passes away, the majority of the deceased members female relatives voluntary cut off the top of their fingers.

The process of the finger cutting is derived from religious beliefs, the females of the Dani tribe believe that a deceased member of the tribe will stay within the village in spiritual turmoil, by removing the tips of their fingers it shows the deceased member that they are still respected in their past life. The finger cutting is also said to be symbolic, the removal and the pain the volunteers suffer is meant to symbolise the pain felt by the relatives of the deceased.

The actual act of removing the tip of the finger is carried out by first tying a thread tightly around the top of the finger for up to half an hour completely stopping the blood flow, a tool purposely designed to severe the finger is used by a family member of the woman to complete the process. After removal the fresh wounds are cauterized to prevent further bleeding and callused fingertips.

The tradition has been fading over the last few decades, it is no longer practiced regularly in the town of Wanema. Therefore, the aftermath of the tradition can now only be seen on older members of the female community within the Dani tribe. The fact the tradition is dying and self-mutilation is a rare occurrence even in indigenous areas makes this tradition truly unique.

dani tribe
Figure 1: Elderly member of the Dani tribe with several finger-tips removed (MovingShoe, 2016)


MovingShoe. (2016). Dani Tribes of Indonesia, who will cut their fingers for the beloved – MovingShoe. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Jan. 2018].

Beuker, J. (2015). When a loved one dies, this Indonesian tribe amputates a woman’s finger. [online] The Plaid Zebra. Available at: [Accessed 22 Jan. 2018].

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