Baliem Valley, West Papua

West Papua is located in the most eastern part of our country, Indonesia. With more than 17.500 islands spread all over the country, West Papua is one of the biggest islands after Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes), Sumatera, and Java. I can say that I am lucky enough since I was able to visit those four big islands, plus some of the small ones.

I visited West Papua for the first time back in 2006 when I worked as a full-time worker at an international NGO based in Manado & cover the area of East Indonesia. I was so excited planning my trip to the heart of Papuan culture & tribal society: Wamena or mostly well-known as Baliem Valley.

Village chief mumi in Kurulu Village

The only access to get there is by flight from Sentani, Jayapura (less than one hour with small planes like Trigana Air). Unlike any other planes, there is no seat number in this plane, meaning you are free to rush & choose the most suitable seat for you once you are boarding. For no special reason, my favorite is always at the back, right beside the window.

Going to Wamena, there are several important thing you need to consider:

  • Make sure that you have done that ‘natural calling’ at the airport (I mean there is no airplane toilet on that Trigana Air except you can manage to hold it back for another 55 minutes till you get there)
  • When you arrive at the airport, watch your luggage very carefully. If you can carry it all by yourself, it will be better but in case you need a porter, deal your price first & keep walking as close as possible to him.
  • Most of the hotels/home stays in Wamena are within walking distance from the airport but with your luggage, you might need a pedicab or a rent car. Again, deal your price first.
  • Riding on a pedicab or ‘becak’, you have to warn  the rider to slow down because they often run the pedicab as fast as they want. Do not forget to deal the best price & do not hesitate to haggle.
  • For photographer, be careful! Do not use flash when you take photograph in public like at the market unless they will ask you to pay for each snap you take!

    I snap this photo without them knowing it 😉

  • When you visit one of the villages to see a mumi (like in Kurulu), you better ask a prior information about the sum of money to pay for each person (you decide how many people you want to photograph which suits your pocket). As I remember, we paid about five or ten thousand per person at that time.

    Photo with a village chief mumi in Kurulu village

  • Coming from Manado where the price for a litter of mineral water is only 3.000Rp, I was so shocked to find it more than 3 times expensive here, so are the meals at the small cafes/restaurants, and other stuff as well. So, I liked buying several things from Jayapura before getting to this extra-expensive area (due to the only way to get things here is by plane).
  • Where I live (in Tomohon) is known with its cold air but to my surprise, it’s much colder in this valley. So warm jacket is a must. Yet it’s quite hot during daytime (on sunny days).
  • In some spots, cell phone signal is good
  • Sometimes you can be assertive to any individual selling Papuan souvenir. A strict “No” is sometimes needed unless they will keep following you day after day till you finally want to buy.

    Some of Papuan souvenirs

    The locals make 'koteka' (penis gourd) from this kind of plant

    Once you are in Wamena, you will explore its rich culture & social life, gorgeous landscape, and the rest of its natural beauty like Baliem River.

  • The best time to visit Wamena is in August since they host an annual festival which you don’t want to miss.
  • Don’t be shocked when you see the elder ones loose some of their fingers. It has something to do with their culture of cutting a single knuckle when one of the family members died (I’m not sure if it also apply to the young people)
  • Most of the locals live in their traditional homes called Honai. Sometimes a small honai could accommodate up to 20 family members! Honai consists of three different shapes: for men, for women, and kitchen.

    Inside the Honai

    I wish to go back there someday.. 🙂 It’s a nice place to visit.

Categories: Indonesia, photography, Photos, Places of Interest, Tourism, Tradition, Transportation, Travelling, West Papua | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Cap Go Meh 2012 in Tomohon

We were on our way to downtown this afternoon (February 6th) but we could not take the usual route. Instead, we were diverted to an alternative road because some ‘Nce Pia’s are in action as you can see below:

Categories: Celebration, Indonesia, Manado, Minahasa, North Sulawesi, Photos, Social LIfe, Tourism, Tradition, Travelling | Tags: , | 2 Comments

A Touch of Rural Tradition

Couple of days ago, I went with my family to my mother’s hometown: Liwutung in Southeast Minahasa. It takes about 2 hours by car. In some parts, the road condition is not so good that it needs an extra attention from the driver, especially if he is not so familiar to drive through this area. Moreover, when it comes to pass a route called ‘Gunung Potong’ (Gunung means mountain & Potong means cut, so it’s literally taking a shortcut through a mountain), everyone who drive his car / motorcycle should be more careful since on the left side of the road along Gunung Potong is a steep gorge. Yet, the natural setting of pine tree forest that covers the area is, I think, worth the trip.

We supposed to go there on Sunday, January 29th to join the festive of Christmas & New Year’s Wrap-Up Tradition but unexpectedly, we received bad news on Thursday that my uncle is dead. So, we went there to attend the funeral ceremony.

We started our trip at 08.55 and arrived there before 11.00. Hereby, I’d like to share about some interesting facts I learned about their tradition when someone is dead.

  • Since most of the villagers are farmers so on the funeral day, none of them will go to work in the field because they, voluntarily, have to attend the funeral ceremony.
  • Weeping time usually lasts for three days. For example, my uncle died on Thursday and was buried on Saturday (if we count it, it is actually two days only)
  • There are some small social groups within the villagers which are scheduled to bring foods (rice, vegetables, and fish/meat) to help the family to feed the guests / close families who come to visit during the weeping time. For example, my uncle died on Thursday afternoon, so the first group (each group consists of about ten members / families) will cook at their own houses and will bring the foods to the family for dinner (of the family and the guests). When there is no enough room / space, considering the size of the house, the closest neighbor provides a space in his house where they can put the food, and the guests / close family or relatives can have their dinner there.
  • On the following day, the second group will bring foods for lunch, then the third group will bring theirs for dinner. So it goes until the funeral day, which is on the third day.
  • The family, relatives, and guests, usually put on their black attire. Specifically for the family, each of them is given a small white towel because they will need it when they cry..
  • Every time a close family, relative, or neighbor enter the room, together with the family they will usually stand beside the coffin and wail while uttering their last memory with the person before s/he died.
  • Local government, church in which the family is affiliated, relatives, neighbors, and other related groups will each give a kind of donation or we call it here diakonia to the family. When the funeral ceremony is over, the  in-charge person will read the names of the givers and the amount of money they gave.
  • A man will hit a small iron bell by using an iron stick as a sign that the funeral service is about to be started.
  • There are six men who will be assigned to carry the coffin on their shoulders, from the house to the cemetery site. White shirts will be provided for them to wear. Another man will walk in front of them carrying a black flag which is just a symbol of condolence.
  • After the funeral, in the evening there will be a third night service held and then all the guests will join the family and other relatives for dinner.
  • Here, they hold service at the third night, the fortieth night, and one year commemoration after the death.

My heart was moved observing their tradition and how their social and emotional ties become so helpful to ease the burden of the family members who are in grief. Back in Tomohon, hmmmm…in some villages, such funeral tradition is still alive though with some differences here and there. But in some ‘towny’-villages which are close to downtown, we can hardly see that. Hope I could write about that in different post.

Good bye, my beloved in peace..

Categories: Funeral, Minahasa, North Sulawesi, Social LIfe, Tradition | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Christmas & New Year Celebration: Wrap-Up Tradition or ‘kuncikan’

Celebrating Christmas and New Year is a common thing we celebrate every year. But have you ever heard of a tradition to wrap-up those two big celebrations? We have that kind of tradition here in Minahasa. I am talking about a dominant tribe in North Sulawesi – Indonesia.

In Minahasa and some other places around Manado & Bitung,  we celebrate Christmas on December 25th & 26th (we call it the 1st & 2nd part of Christmas celebration). So is with New Year, it’s celebrated on January 1st & 2nd. Normally, we visit our relatives, friends, and neighbors on those dates. In some other places, they do not have any further celebration afterward. But for Minahasan people, it’s a little bit different.

The fact is, we have a unique tradition called kuncikan. Kuncikan is an Indonesian word (kunci: key, kuncikan: to lock / to end up / to wrap up) . The meaning of that word is not so familiar to the rest of Indonesian people since it’s just mostly used by Minahasan people to refer to the closing celebration of Christmas and New Year. Though in some areas they celebrate it every Sunday during the month of January, but generally, we celebrate it by the 4th Sunday or the last Sunday of January.

There is no official date for kuncikan. In some places, they hold kuncikan tradition every Sunday in January by riding on ‘bendi’, which is traditional two-wheeled carriage pulled by a horse, and visiting relatives & friends. It’s quite interesting since the main road traffic is dominated by bendi and along the roadside people are watching the passing bendis.

When I was a little child, I used to join the kuncikan celebration by riding on a truck, packed with other children in the village, and brought some rotten eggs. Wondering what those rotten eggs were for? Well, we call it our ‘war equipment’. This is how it works: on that day, children would collect as many rotten eggs as possible & spare a sum of money to pay for their ride on the truck for a back-and-fourth route. It used to be a harvesting day for truck drivers! There could be around 20 children in one truck and a single back-and-fourth route last in about 20 minutes. It was just a short route to some neighbor villages.

The riding started in the afternoon, some times around 2p.m. When the truck started to move, we started to sing joyous songs until we passed some other trucks from different direction (of course, the same purpose trucks for children to enjoy this fun thing), aaannnnddd…let the rotten eggs war begin!! Don’t try to imagine the smell on our heads & clothes when we got home after that!!

There is another unique way to celebrate kuncikan. In Manado, kuncikan is celebrated through a figura carnival. That’s quite fun to watch since you can see people put on weird-looking attire and make-up on their faces. An old lady in High School uniform, a grown-up man in Elementary School uniform, female wearing male’s attire and vice versa, any humorous idea they could think of will be performed on that carnival.

Figura carnival has been an annual tradition in Manado. Allegedly, it’s a Portuguese tradition that has been adapted in accordance with the local culture here.

I will post some pictures of kuncikan tradition soon after I have my pocket-camera repaired..(hope I could).

Categories: Camera, Carnival, Celebration, Christmas, English, Humors, Indonesia, Minahasa, New Year, North Sulawesi, Tradition, Transportation | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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