EMOTIONAL pain is part of the grieving process for most of us – but for the women of the Dani tribe it involves physical pain too.
When their loved ones die, female members of remote Indonesian tribe have the upper half of their fingers amputated in a ritual to ward off spirits.
Getty Images – Getty Female members of the Dani tribe in Indonesia have their fingers amputated whenever a loved one dies
It’s believed that finger-cutting keeps the deceased person’s restless spirit away, as well as symbolising the pain of bereavement – and some babies even have their fingers bitten off by their mothers.
Their unusual practice of finger amputation, called Ikipalin, was banned by the Indonesian government a few years ago – however many older female members of the tribe can be identified by their hands and it’s believed that this practice still continues in secret.
The 250,000-strong tribe lives deep in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and American explorer Richard Archbold reported spotting them during a flight over the area in 1938.
Here, Sun Online takes a closer look at the tribe, who also wear ornate penis sheaths and mummify their dead.
Alamy Female members of the tribe can be identified by their amputated fingers
The Dani people, who live in Indonesia, have unusual customs including cutting the fingers of female tribe members when they are bereaved in order to ward off spirits.
Amputated with a stone blade
It is not known when the practice first started, or why women are targeted instead of men.
However, it is a common ritual that takes place in the grieving period and is usually performed by another close family member.
A stone blade is often used to amputate the top part of a finger. However the amputations can also be done without tools.
In these cases, people chew at the knuckles to weaken them then use a piece of rope tied around the finger to cut off circulation.
Alamy The fingers can be amputated with and without the use of weapons
Alamy Some will chew their knuckles to weaken their fingers before amputation
Another option is to tie up the joints in order to stop blood flowing to the area -the muscles and nerves die due to oxygen deprivation and the dead part of the finger falls off.
After the finger is removed, the open sore is cauterised to stop bleeding and the detached part is either burned or buried somewhere special.
Alamy The ritual is often performed by close family members
Biting babies’ fingers
It’s usually older women who have their fingers chopped, but there have been reports of mothers biting off the tips of their babies’ fingers as part of another ritual.
It was thought that if a mother bit their child’s fingers, it would make their child live longer as they would be different from the others.
Getty Images – Getty It is usually older women who are subjected to the ritual
Wearing ‘penis sheaths’ to cover their manhood
In 2016, photographer Teh Han Lin travelled to Papau New Guinea to spend four days living with and photographing the Dani people.
His intimate photos show tribesmen wearing a traditional item of clothing known as a ‘koteka’ – a penis sheath.
Usually made from dried-out gourd, (a local fruit) it was originally thought the koteka was worn as a display of sexual prowess. However the Dani use it simply to cover themselves.
Barcroft Media It is common for male members of the tribe to wear penis sheaths
Rex Features The Indonesian government has tried to clamp down on the use of the sheaths, but it has proven fruitless
In the early 1970s, the Indonesian government launched “Operasi Koteka”, aka Operation Penis Sheath, to try and modernise the Dani, encouraging them to wear shorts instead.
But the plan failed and they still wear the eye-catching items of clothing.
Mummifying fearsome warriors
Another explorer, German Markus Roth, visited the tribe two years ago. He said that as well as the finger-cutting, they also mummify their most successful warriors.
Caters News Agency A tribesman poses with the mummy of one of their most successful warriors, Kurulu
He said: “One of the amazing things [I saw] was the mummy of Kurulu, which is said to be at least 370 years old.
“It is of a particularly successful and feared warrior, preserved in the men’s house in the village and shown to visitors with a great deal of pride.
“I was told the warrior was adorned with one necklace for each enemy killed and the Danis commonly preserve their most successful warriors.”
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Despite their unusual customs, Markus says he enjoyed his time with the Danis.
“It was an amazing experience interacting with them – they are shy, curious, wild and at the same time – very warm-hearted,” he said.