The Yali and Kimyal Tribes
West Papua (Irian Jaya)
The Yali are the well known tribe, living in the pretty inaccessible Jayawijaya mountains east of the Baliem Valley. For the outside world they were only discovered in the second half of the 20th century.
At first glance they are distinguished by their extremely small stature. Adult men are less than 150 cm (5 feet) tall, which makes them probably the smallest people in Papua. But nevertheless they are incredibly strong and resilient. They can walk unbelievably fast over extremely difficult mountain terrain, in deep mud or on slippery logs. Their feet are amazingly strong and we have never seen any of them slip not to mention to fall. Across the deep valleys they traditionally used to built precarious liana bridges.
They usually build their villages on the top of the ridges, and make their fields of sweet potatoes on slopes so steep that we have troubles to even stand on them.
Typically, the Yali men wear many rattan hoops around their waists and hips, at the front the hoops are supported by the ’koteka’ (penis gourd) and although they are not connected to each other they somewhat resemble a skirt. Women wear a small grass skirt covering only their fronts, and also an indispensable ’bilum’: a net-like bag, made of orchid fibres, hanging from their heads down their backs and covering their buttocks.
We've trekked through the Yali country three times already, and it was always a fascinating experience. We hope to come back there at least one more time in the future.
Exactly opposite relationship we have with their neighbours, the Kimyal, who live on the southern slopes of Jayawijaya mountains, to the east from Yali. We had nothing but troubles with them, they wanted our money and all the food that we have brought with us for the entire trek from Wamena to the Korowai, yet they were very unfriendly and unwilling to help us in any way.
For example, in one larger village we were asked an equivalent of USD500 for sleeping
in a hut with pigs. After a lot of hard haggling we finally agreed to pay the usual price of about USD10 for a night in a small wooden house, but in the morning the villagers were demanding USD500 again , this time with bows and arrows in their hands.
As we were leaving the village one local man approached us and offered us a bunch of bananas. It looked like if he was a bit ashamed of how his people treated us. Our guide Yesaya took the bananas with thanks, but as soon as we were out of sight, he threw them into the bushes. He explained that if these people give us something for free then they have definitely put some black magic spell into it to do us harm! Like all the Papuans, also Yesaya believed that illness, death or misfortune is caused by evil spirits or black magic. And he certainly didn't expect anything good from the Kimyal!
Their bad reputation was also confirmed by the reports of the first explorers to the area which we later read, infamous stories of the end of some of the first missionaries, and also the recent bad experiences of our friends working for the Helimission.