The finger-cutting tradition of Indonesia’s Dani tribe
The death of a loved one is always an extremely painful thing to bear, and people of different cultures grieve in diverse ways, some more unique than others.
A typically unique way of grieving is that of the Dani (an Indonesian tribe). Finger-cutting is a fundamental part of grieving for women of the Dani tribe and pertains to their women only.
According to The Globe and Mail, an estimated 250,000 Dani tribe members live in a town named Wamena, in the extremely remote central highland area of Papua Province.
Wamena is only accessible by plane.
Upon the death of a loved one, the top joint of one of a woman’s fingers would be amputated, and smear ashes and clay across their faces.
Prior to amputation, a string would be firmly tied to the upper half of the woman’s finger for 30 minutes, to cause numbness.
This was to reduce the pain from amputating the tip. In most cases, the responsibility of cutting off the top joint of the finger is assigned to one of the woman’s immediate family member, mostly a sibling or parent.
Once the top joint is cut off, the open wound is cauterized to prevent infection, stop bleeding and form new stony fingertips.
The amputated finger is then burned and buried somewhere special.
According to the Dani, finger-cutting appeases and keeps the deceased person’s restless spirit away.
It also symbolizes the pain suffered after the loss of a loved one.
The Dani refer to this practice as Ikipalin.
The practice has been banned in recent years so young women aren’t affected. It is rather common to see the rather elderly women with finger stumps. In a similar ritual, female babies have their fingers bitten off by their mothers. These mothers believe the practice will guarantee their daughters’ long life.