The Indonesian tribe which cuts off fingers when loved ones die

The weird customs followed by the Indonesian Dani tribe.

The hands of a female member of Indonesian Dani tribe. (Image Credits: Google Images)
The hands of a female member of Indonesian Dani tribe. (Image Credits: Google Images)

The Indonesian Dani tribe is one of the most secretive communities in the world and have kept many of their traditions intact, despite the wave of modernization that surrounds them.

One of their traditions, which has gained international attention, is related to how the tribe expresses grief at the passing of a loved one. The women related to the deceased follow the practice of cutting off or amputating the upper half of their fingers.

This practice is meant to symbolize the departure of the deceased soul as well as the grief felt by the bereaved family. This unique and possibly odd practice is called Ikipalin. The tradition was banned by the Indonesian government a few years ago.

Yet, women of the tribe can still be identified by their fingers and the practice is said to have been continued in secret.

The tribe is a community of roughly 250,000 and lives deep in the highlands of Western New Guinea.  American explorer Richard Archbold was reportedly the first to spot them, as he flew over their territory 1938.

The tribe is also known for mummifying their dead and wearing ornate penis sheaths, something that is unique to the tribe.

The origins of the tradition are not known, neither do experts understand why only women are subjected to this practice. What is known though, is that the ritual is performed by a close family member during the grieving period.

Generally, a stone blade is used to amputate the finger. Having said that, there have been instances where no tools were used. This is done by chewing the fingers at the knuckles, once they are weakened, a rope it tied to cut off circulation.

An alternative practice is to tie off the finger, when circulation is cut off, the muscle fibers and soft tissues atrophy and the fingers fall off eventually.

The detached part is then either burned or buried at a special site while the open sore is cauterized to stop the bleeding.

There have also been heart breaking accounts of mothers biting the fingers off the fingers of babies. This is a different ritual though, as mothers believe this would extend the lives of their babies.

While unrelated to the tradition of finger cutting, the Dani tribe is also known for wearing elaborate penis sheaths called Koteka. The sheath is considered a sign of sexual prowess but in today’s time it is more functional than ornamental.