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Dani Tree Bark Fibre Net Bag Noken

Dani Tree Bark Fibre Net Bag Noken

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Dani people, early to mid. 20th century, Bailem Valley, Irian Jaya, Papua, Indonesia.

Charming, loosely knit net bag (noken or bilum) made from tree bark fibre, decorated with horizonal bands (yellow fibre probably orchid) in different colors and made to be worn across the forehead, the bag would hang from the users back, to carry plantation produce, catch from rivers or lake, firewood, and for storing or carrying personal utensils and possesions. The Dani are a people from central highlands of Western New Guinea (the Indonesian province of Papua). They are one of the most populous tribes in the highlands, with related ethnic groups Yali, Moni and Lani. In traditional Dani village are three different kinds of cottages: Honai, Eweai and Leseai. Leseai is an oblong square kitchen house used for family gatherings, cooking, talking, eating. Honai and Eweai are round sleeping huts. Honai is for men, while Eweai is for women. 

Following the discovery of the Dani by Westerners at the end of the 1930's, the Dutch established their first colonial post in the remote area of the Bailem Valley in the mid 1950's. Prior to contact with people other than their own, the Dani were a basic, agricultural, hunting and gathering society. The Dani have traditionally been animists who believed in local land and water spirits. Particular attention was given to the restless ghosts of the recently deceased. These ghosts are potentially dangerous and cause misfortune, illness, and death. The Grand Valley Dani conceive of a soul-like substance "seeds of singing" (edai-egen), which is seen throbbing below the sternum. It is believed to be fully developed by about two years of age. Serious sickness or wounds can cause it to retreat towards the backbone, whence it is recalled by heat and by curing ceremonies. At death, this feature becomes a ghost/spirit (mogat), and it must be induced to go off into forest where it cannot harm living.

Until the 1960's, when metal tools were introduced by outsiders, the Grand Valley Dani tools were stone, bone, pig tusk, wood and bamboo. Stone used to make axes (kapak) and adzes. The Dani traditionally had no pottery and gourds were used for water containers. Dani men go around naked except the for a penis sheath (koteka), and ocassionally some bird of paradise feathers, cowry shells or pig tusks or a hair net as an a ornament. Unmarried women have traditionally worn grass skirts (sili) while married women wore a skirt made of fiber coils (yokal) or seeds strung together and hung below the abdomen to cover the buttocks. Dani crafts include intricately woven rattan bracelets (sekan), arm and head bands (milak), necklaces made of cowry shells, feathers and bone (mikak), and the head decorations often made with pig tusks (suale). Western Dani use wide range of wealth items. These included oblong polished stones (ye), slabs of salt, and looped carrier tree bark fibre bags (bilumnoken).

The method of making noken or bilum varies between communities, but in general, branches, stems or bark of certain small trees or shrubs are cut, heated over a fire and soaked in water. The remaining wood fibre is dried, then spun to make a strong thread or string, which is sometimes colored using natural dyes. The string is knotted by hand to make net bags of various sizes and patterns. The process requires great manual skill and takes several months to master.

Lovely noken are in excellent condition. The long strap is finely knit from tree bark fibre. Age-related wear and signs of use. Lovely patina. Stains. Faded colors. Size approx. 29,5cm x 16,5cm x 0,6cm.

NB! Noken was listed 2012 in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists as a cultural heritage of Indonesia.

Provenance: Dutch private collection. According to information, originally from the collections of a closed ethnographic museum & foundation in the Netherlands.

For a similar example see:

Carrying Net, Pace, Stichting Papua Erfgoed, Accession Number: EA/59/42 (

References and further reading:

Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Oceania, Karl Heider, edited Terence Hays, G.K.Hall & Company, 1991.

Wealth Items in the Western Highlands of West Papua, Anton Ploeg, Ethnology, Vol.43. No.4 (Autumn 2004), pp. 291-313.

Papua blood: An account of West Papua, Peter Bang, BoD, 16 Apr 2018.

Dani tribe, Indonesia, Atlas of Humanity


Who are the Dani People of Bailem Valley?, Crooked Compass, 3 Oct 2018.

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