Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1968 Dani kain 

Subjectkain chief
Culture: (n)Dani
Setting: tribal warfare, Irian Jaya highlands mid-20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* LeBlanc/Register 2003 p21 caption
"The highland peoples of New Guinea were engaged in almost continuous warfare when encountered by European gold seekers in the 1930s.  No-man's-lands separated competing social groups, and lookout towers ... had to be manned to guard against surprise raids.  Some anthropologists believed this warfare was 'ritual' with few deaths and of little consequence, yet about 25 percent of the men died from such 'inconsequential' warfare."

* Wade 2006 p85-86
"Warfare was common in most Papuan societies until the second half of the twentieth century, ... and casualty rates were high -- about 29% of Dani men were killed in warfare ....  This death rate is very similar to the male battle casualties among both chimpanzees and the Yanomamo of South America and presumably is driven by the same motive, the reproductive advantage gained by th successful warrior for himself and his male kin.
    "Warfare among hunter-gatherers is deceptively mild compared with the explosive carnage of modern battlefields.  Battle may be opened but called off, like a ball game, if rain stops play, or someone is seriously injured.  Heider, like many anthropologists, believed at first that warfare among the Dani was not a terribly serious affair.  After his first field trip to New Guinea in 1961 he wrote a book entitled Grand Valley Dani: Peaceful Warriors.  But after revisiting the Dani for many years, and reconstructing careful genealogies and causes of death, he realized how many men in fact died in battle.  If you fight every week, even low casualty rates start to mount.
    "Like the !Kung San, the Dani fight to kill. ... Like many other human groups and the chimpanzees of Gombe and Kasakela, the Dani know that killing a few of the enemy leaves the remainder thirsting for revenge, so a more effective solution is extermination."

* Gardner/Heider 1968 p135
"The Dani are warriors because they have wanted to be since boyhood, not because they are persuaded by political arguments or their own sentimental or patriotic feelings.  They are ready to fight whenever their leaders decide to do so.
"Such decisions are the responsibility of a small number of kains, or influential men"...

* LeBlanc/Register 2003 p6 caption
"This photo of the Dani people of highland New Guinea, taken in the early 1960s, shows what seems to be a chaotic melee characteristic of tribal farmer warfare, and even a minor rain shower can cause this warfare to cease for a day.  This had led many to not consider this to be 'true war,' yet the proportional death rate exceeded that of either World War."


* Gardner/Heider 1968 p137
"If rain does not put an end to the fighting, most warriors will spend the next six or seven hours without food, and so they are careful to eat well while it is still possible to do so.  This is also the time when the men are concerned with their appearance; a formal battle is one of the few occasions when they want to look their best.  ...  Some will take out their war headdresses, the fronts of which are bedecked with the rare bird-of-paradise plumes that sway to their owner's movements. ...  In battle, or perched on a rock waiting for action, the plumed and painted Dani warrior looks as if he might indeed take flight."

* Gardner/Heider 1968 p9 caption 13 
"At battle, men decorate themselves with pig tusks in their noses, furred and feathered headdresses and chest ornaments of various shells."

Ornaments (Jewelry, Whisk, Fossil, Bag)

* Campbell 1991 p123
"Shells, animals' tusks and teeth, birds' feathers and fibres from trees, reeds and other plants are used, mainly as body decorations. The colours -- rust, yellow, red, green and white -- are obtained from either vegetable or mineral dyes."

* Heider 1991 p60
"Dani attire is mainly ornamental.  It is not necessary for protection against the weather because the days are warm and the nights are spent usually indoors anyway.  At a minimum, attire does serve to protect a person's modesty.  ... Some men like to wear more ornaments than others.  Although there are more and less important men in Dani society, the fact is known to all, so it does not need to be communicated through attire.  A stranger looking only at attire could not tell which of a group of men is the most important and which the least.
    "Much attire serves to protect a person's vulnerable spots from attack by ghosts.  The ghosts can enter the body especially through the anus or the base of the throat, and most adult Dani wear something -- a string, a band made of matted cobweb, or a leaf -- hanging over these spots."

* Campbell 1991 p31
"A mixture of pig grease and soot rubbed into the skin enhances the appearance and creates a fine impression. Pig grease protects the skin from mosquitoes, and is also thought to have magical qualities.
    "A downward-pointing boar's tusk, worn by a Dani warrior, signals he is on the warpath!
    "An upturned tusk puts one at ease, as it symbolises peace.
    "In the past, on reaching manhood, the young men of the tribe would have their septa pierced in order to insert the decorative double boar's tusks."


* Campbell 1991 p41
"When at war, a vest of woven orchid fibres gives protection to the wearer's body."

* Encyclopedia of World Cultures, v.II Oceania 1991 p44
"Rattan torso armor for protection against arrows was made by Western Dani but the Grand Valley Dani neither made it nor traded for it."

* LeBlanc/Register 2003 p70
"[N]ew Guinea highlanders made armor capable of stopping arrows out of fiber, belying the idea that their warfare was not serious and deadly."

* Stone 1934 p66
"D'Albertis found a somewhat similar suit [to those of the Kingsmill Islanders] in New Guinea in a deserted village.  He says (II, 125-6: 'One very important (discovery), because, so far as I know, it is the first one found in New Guinea.  It consists of a cuirass of armor made of rattang.'  Others have been found since ...."  [NOTE: This comment predates the first Western encounter with the Dani by a few years.]


* Heider 1991 p59-60
"In fighting the Dani use both bows and arrows and spears.  The bows are rarely more than 1.5 meters long, strung with a centimeter-wide bamboo band.  The arrows are also short, measuring up to about 1.7 meters.  They have a hardwood tip set into a reed shaft which is neither notched nor fletched.  The weakness of the bow, together with the absence of stabilizing feathers, means that the arrows are neither very accurate nor do they have great range. ...
    "The arrows are not actually poisoned but they are certainly dirtied.  The hardwood tips are usually notched or barbed so as to break off and stick in the wound, and the very end is often wrapped with greased orchid fiber.  If such a tip does break off and remain inside the wound, it can cause severe infection and eventually be fatal.  They also have special two- or three-pronged arrows for hunting birds."

* Gardner/Heider 1968 p140
"Dani arrows are made so that when they strike a person, particularly if he is in motion, a deliberately weakened portion of the foreshaft breaks off and leaves only the often intricately barbed tip embedded in the flesh.  [...]
"Since Dani arrows are often barbed, their removal can be delicate and painful.  Still, it is not for these reasons that the specialist is called; almost anyone with good eyes and steady hands can work the arrow free.  The specialist is required for the surgery that custom prescribes in all serious wounds.  The Dani believe that whenever blood is spilled, especially within one's body, it becomes the source of much pain and perhaps grave sickness.  It is called mep mili, or dark blood, and their practice is to draw it off to prevent harm."

* Gardner/Heider 1968 p138 
"The warriors in the forward and middle positions watch their enemy with mounting alertness.  Each side waits for the characteristic opening to such battles -- the advance of a party of perhaps thirty or forty who come forward to reconnoiter the open terrain and to test their enemies' attitude.  This is called weem iya, a sort of ceremonial thrust in the direction of the enemy [...]  When the two groups are fifty yards apart, bowmen are likely to loose one or two arrows at their opposite numbers, more as a gesture of readiness to engage than in a serious attempt to harm. [...]
    "After three or even more such sallies by the forward groups, and at a moment determined by a multitude of obvious and obscure cues, the symbolic release of arrows gives way to deadly fighting."

* Campbell 1991 p123
"Bows are simple and carved from laurel wood. Arrows, tipped with myrtle wood, are more ornate, their barbs elaborately carved. In the days of tribal warfare these barbs were designed to break off on penetration of a body, causing the wound to fester."

* Monbiot 1989 p242
"Dani battles were about the only sort of serious warfare that seldom led to injury.  The Dani were such hopeless shots that they could spend a whole day firing arrows at each other without hitting anyone."

* Gardner/Heider 1968 p98 
"A magic bow and arrows are made as symbolic weapons to be placed within the watchtower so that ghosts can help the men defend against an enemy attack."

* Gardner/Heider 1968 p95 
"At the same time two other men arise, one to hold a meager bundle of grass above the body [on a funeral pyre], the other standing near to shoot into it an arrow which will release the spirit of the man just committed to the fire when it strikes the bundle.  The bundle and its intruding arrow are then carried to the compound entrance to that the ghost may depart with ease."

* Monbiot 1989 p70
"They had ... been carrying heavy bows made out of ironwood and strung with a length of split bamboo, five or six feet long.  The arrows were tipped with wood, elaborately carved with strange barbs and points.  Some were triple-headed, for small birds, others had a single bamboo blade for tree marsupials and wild pigs.  I asked Arkilaus what the points with the deep, hooked barbs were for.  'Manusia,' he shrugged: human beings."


* Heider 1991 p60
"Arrows are used mainly for crippling people.  The real killing weapon is the spear.  Dani make their spears with great care from fine 3-meter lengths of myrtle or laurel which they buy from the Jalémo.  A man will spend days straightening and smoothing and polishing and waxing his spear.  It is much too valuable to be thrown, but it is a deadly jabbing weapon at close quarters."

* Gardner/Heider 1968 p139
"Only in the closest and thickest fighting does a warrior risk his finest spear.  Besides their best weapon, spearmen usually carry a shorter and less deadly 'throw-away' one.  A large spear is a valuable possession since the wood must be procured from the Yalis, who find it in their eastern forests, and it is an object prized by its owner and by the enemy.  Along with certain other possessions, such as any shell ornaments, a feather whisk, headdress or human hair itself, a man's spear is, in the language of his enemy, an ap warek, a dead man.  Other fighting groups in the Baliem call these trophies sué warek, or dead birds.  Both refer to the measure of success in fighting -- a success that at the very least means the capture of valuable belongings, and at best the killing of an enemy warrior who is stripped of his possessions."




* Campbell 1991 p29
"Dani men from the age of six onwards wear a holim (penis shield) over the genital area.  Made from a gourd, the shield is tied in place with a scrotum string, and held in a vertical position by another string wound under the armpits or waist."

* Bangs/Kallen 1988 p203-205
"In one respect clothing is a simple matter for the Dani -- the men wear virtually none, except a penis sheath and perhaps some necklaces, bracelets and feather decoration.  But the hourim is a very strange feature indeed, a narrow gourd grown in village gardens, where it is elongated by tying weights on its end as it matures.  Boys begin wearing them at about four to six years of age, well before puberty or any initiation rites.  Most men have several hourim, including ones curled at the end, which several wore to the market as their Sunday best; sometimes they dangle the fur tails of the cuscus from the end.  The gourds are attached by two thin strings, one at the top that winds around the chest to hold the gourd erect and the other at the bottom, tied around the scrotum.
    "This reduction of clothing to the barest minimum had an almost purified quality, as if the entire purpose of clothing had been distilled to its essence: the covering of genitals, a covering that becomes an emphasis.  An eighteen-inch gourd rising at a 120-degree angle does not hide the penis, it highlights it." 

* Monbiot 1989 p59
"They [Dani men] wore hollow yellow gourds on their penises and no clothes.  The gourds were in all shapes and sizes: long straight ones that ran past the man's shoulder, curly ones like pigs' tails, short delicate ones with a cuscus tail sticking out of the top, fat stubby ones stuffed with cloth, all hollowed from things like hard conical cucumbers and held upright with a string tied round the man's middle."

* Heider 1991 p60-61
"From the age of four or five, males wear a holim or penis gourd at all times ....  These dried and hollowed gourds of varying lengths and sizes fit over the penis, are anchored at the base by a string around the scrotum, and are held upright by another string under the arms.
"When I first began to study Dani artifacts, I was sure that the penis gourd would be a gold mine of data.  Every man wore one.  The gourds varied in length from navel height to chin height; in shape they were straight, curled at the ends, or curved; some were plain, others festooned with furry marsupial tails sticking out of the tips.  In short, they promised to be a Freudian library of projective information giving immediate insight into basic personalities, rather like wearing one's Rorschachs on one's sleeves.
    "Alas, as data they were next to useless.  People would have whole wardrobes of penis gourds of different lengths and shapes, and I could find no correlation between the gourd of the day and either long-term and short-term personality.
    "Even the general trait itself, which clearly seems to suggest a high Dani concern with phallic masculinity, is misleading.  The Dani have little interest in sexuality, and the gourd itself is not a focus or symbol of masculinity or sexuality.  We know of such exaggerated phallocrypts from cultures throughout New Guinea, from Africa, from South America, and from Europe ....  So the form is not unusual; the lack of significance is."  [CONTRA Flannery 1998, Brain 1979]

* Monbiot 1989 p84-85
"Like most of what the Dani did, the penis gourd seemed designed simply to confound anthropologists, for all the vogueish Freudian explanations would have suggested they were very sexy people."

* Flannery 1998 p229-230
"Many older Lani men wear extraordinarily long ones, which are in some cases so extreme that they threaten to poke the wearer in the eye.  Youths, on the other hand, prefer the short, broad gourd I came to think of as the 'sporting model'.
    "There is a functional reason for these preferences.  The gourd worn by the young men serves as a pouch.  They remove the plug of fur or cloth at its end, and retrieve from it tobacco, matches or other small knick-knacks.  Being broad, it has considerable capacity.  Being short, it does not get entangled during a dash through the forest in pursuit of a possum.  Such an accident, by the way, could be rather painful, considering the string that ties the gourd at its base to one testicle.
    "Older men, of course, have different needs. Their hunting days are over, and politics and diplomacy are their business. Here, the truly long gourd comes into its own.  Few mannerisms command as much attention as majestically waving an elongated codpiece away from the face as one prepares to speak."

* Brain 1979 p133
 "The penis sheath, the great concealer of male genitalia, may serve as sexual display in the same way as the padded, decorated codpiece: each hides what it wishes to display, a man's masculinity.  But even in the case of the penis sheath we cannot always be sure that it has phallic connotations.  Sometimes, as for the Dani of New Guinea, the gourd sheath is used like tribal marks as a distinctive group sign: different communities are recognizable according to the length and width of the sheath and the angle at which it is held."

* Kennett 1995 p178 caption
"West Papuan Dani men wear little other than their penis covers and bone or teeth ornaments."


​* Campbell 1991 p123
"Oval stone adzes, once of universal use in the valley for felling trees, trimming wood and butchering pigs, are fast being replaced with metal blades. Adzes are made from hard metamorphic rock or chlorite. The stone is sharpened against limestone rocks by the river's edge and bound with fibres to a branch or piece of wood which forms the handle."