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Iki Palek: Symbol of Loyalty

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As we all know, Indonesia is rich in various ethnicities and cultural traditions. Each ethnic group has its unique set of rituals relating to the stages of a person’s life, including those associated with dying. They express their grief in many ways as a result of the death of a family member from simple ceremonies to more complex practices, such as those conducted by Dani Tribe in Lembah Baliem, Papua. Iki Palek is the name given to this custom.

Some people will undoubtedly see Iki Palek as a horrible ritual. They had to chop off their knuckles if a family member died. If ten individuals died, all of their knuckles would be severed. This practice, however, has very significant importance for Dani Tribe. The missing finger represents devotion and a profound sense of sorrow for a dead family member.

For Dani Tribe, the finger represents cooperation and power, since all of our fingers work together. When a family member dies, the family’s unity and strength are diminished. To symbolize this, Dani Tribe conducts the finger-cutting tradition. The two knuckles must be severed if the deceased is their parent. Meanwhile, just one knuckle will be severed for a dead relative.

This finger-cutting tradition is primarily practiced by female family members. They bite off their fingers or use axes/knives to do it. To prevent blood loss, they will tie a thread around the finger prior to cutting it off until the blood flow ceases and it goes numb. After the finger is severed, Iki Palek has been effectively carried out. To heal it, the cut finger wound will be covered in leaves, and it will generally recover within a month. For male family members, cutting the earlobe or Nasu Palek replaces the practice of cutting fingers. They use a sharp bamboo blade to chop the earlobe. Both Iki Palek and Nasu Palek require a spell to be cast. Their goal is the same: to respect and be loyal to family members. The greater the number of family members that perished, the more fingers were severed.

The attitude of obedience and reverence for their ancestors, as well as a sense of love and unity towards the Dani Tribe’s closest members, made them willing to endure severe agony during the tradition. They hope that by severing their finger, they would soon be able to forget their grief. In addition, Dani Tribe also enjoys mud baths to symbolize the return of all living creatures to the land. Nowadays, Dani Tribe rarely conducts the Iki Palek procession. However, if we travel to Papua, we will meet many elderly ladies who have lost their fingers.


Agustin, K., MA. (2021, May 31). Tradisi Potong Jari, Mengerikan Tapi Penuh Makna. Good News From Indonesia.

Mengintip Aktivitas Wanita Suku Dani dengan Bekas Potong Jari. (2021, July 2). Merdeka.Com.

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