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Danis Dealing with Death

Grief rituals are a part of what makes us human.

Cultural practices surrounding death and mourning capture the value systems, cosmology, and social norms of any given society. This exhibit explores grieving rituals of the Dani people from the central highlands of Western New Guinea. It features cultural artifacts and ethnographic research conducted by Dr. Denise Obrien, which are currently housed at the Temple Anthropology museum.


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Some remember, while some may forget.

The Dani will never forget. 

The acts have since been banned, but the Dani people of Western New Guinea used to commonly practice amputation and mummification when suffering from their losses. Some Dani can still be seen today with these body modifications. 

Funerary Practice 


Sometimes women and some men slit their ears as apart of mourning in addition to Ikipalin

Sometimes women and some men slit their ears as apart of a mourning ritual as well. 

It is common for Dani to cover themselves in dirt, clay, or ash in ritual, as it is representative of life and death. Life begins in the mud, and ends in the mud.  Also, some  will not bathe for a few weeks after a  funeral. 

The mummification process includes items worn by their fiercest warriors. They are then smoked for long-periods of time which preserves the corpse. The body is placed in fetal position as it is positioned at birth. 




"Many cultures practice and have practiced mutilation. Grieving is a very normal aspect of life, and everyone mourns in many diverse ways"

- Chandler Lichtefeld, Emory University

The Dani are not to be mistaken as ancient, they are alive and thriving today. 

Denise O' Brien

"Dr. Denise O’Brien, former longtime Temple Anthropology faculty member, began her research among the Dani people of the Konda Valley in the Western New Guinea Highlands in the 1960s while a graduate student at Yale University.  She came to Temple in the late 1960s.  Following her death in 2008, O’Brien’s personal collection of material, gathered during her extensive research and travel, was donated to the Temple Anthropology Lab." 

Further Readings and Resources:  

Chang, Derrick. “Life, Death and Strange Food in West Papua.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Nov. 2011,

Cookson, Michael. “S3(PhD) O'Brien 1969.” PapuaWeb, Director, RSPAS, 2 Aug. 2002,

“The Denise O'Brien Collection.” Inside the Collection: Temple Anthropology Lab, 17 Feb. 2012,

Gardner, Robert, and Karl G. Heider. Gardens of War: Life and Death in the New Guinea Stone Age. Deutsch, 1986.  

Gardner, Robert. Dead Birds. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources, 1964. Internet resource.

Gilberthorpe, Emma. “New Guinea's Indigenous Tribes Are Alive and Well (Just Don't Call Them 'Ancient').” The Conversation, 29 Apr. 2020,

“Grief.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,

Litchtefeld, Chandler. “Grief: Ritual Finger Amputation .” ScholarBlogs , Emory University , 27 Feb. 2017,

“Mummy of Dani Chieftain, Wamena, Papua, Indonesia.” Necro Travel, 26 Mar. 2012,

Sumitra, M 2011, Tribe Practices Finger Cutting as a Means of Grieving, 16 December 2011, Oddity Central. Available from:

Thompson, Liz. “West Papua: Liz Thompson.” West Papua | Liz Thompson,


Wynarczyk, Natasha. “Secret Tribe Where Women Cut off Fingers.” NewsComAu, The Sun, 27 Feb. 2019,

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