Famous American Michael Rockefeller and Dutch anthropologist René Wassing drowned and went missing near to the home of the Dani. Rumours suggest they may have killed and eaten him. mediadrumimages/RobertoPazzi/@roberto_pazzi_photography

By Alexander Greensmith


STUNNING images offer a rare glimpse inside the former cannibal tribe of Indonesia that is believed to be responsible for the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller.

One photograph captured a Dani tribe leader covered in silver bodypaint made from ash and pig fat, with a pig rib hooked through his nose.

Another image showed the tribe practicing war formations and spear throwing at the Baliem festival, held every August, which unites and celebrates the 25,000 population of the Dani people with other local tribes in the highlands.

Traditionally, the Dani take souvenirs from their enemies when killed. This included eating them to gain their strength. mediadrumimages/RobertoPazzi/@roberto_pazzi_photography

Software engineer and photographer Roberto Pazzi (47) of Majorca, Spain, snapped the shots with a Nikon D600 with 24-85mm. Originally from Milan, Italy, Roberto captured the Grand Valley Dani people located in Baliem Valley, West Papua, Indonesia. The tribe only eat pigs for very important ceremonies such as birth, or marriage. The tribe were cannibals until three decades ago, when Christian missionaries stopped the practice, and now the tribe only eat meat on special occasions.

“I wanted to visit them because they were one of the last tribes to ever be discovered on earth, just eighty-two years ago, they live in over five-thousand-feet of forest, so were quite hard to find,” said Roberto.

“I was shocked to learn that the men are polygamous, but because of financial struggles many men do not have more than two wives. Also grieving women who lose the men in their family do cut off the tips of their fingers because it is believed that women do not feel pain as much as men. They were also cannibals until the 1990s because they believed if they ate their enemy, they could gain their power.

This silver surfer is a Dani tribe chief. mediadrumimages/RobertoPazzi/@roberto_pazzi_photography

“But they are losing traditions. Thanks to globalisation and the Indonesian government, the men are losing traditions of penis sheaths by switching them for trousers. Meanwhile the women are also covering up with more clothes, but they still do not have any mobile phones or automobiles.

“They do use some gifts they are given; one was playing an acoustic guitar. I brought them sugar and cigarettes and they welcomed me in return. Overall it was an unforgettable experience, the cute children were so happy to be playing with nothing, and the men were sceptical at first but there was a lot of respect. Unfortunately I didn’t interact with the women much to avoid to upsetting men due to their culture. ”

The Grand Valley Dani were only sighted in summer of 1938 by Richard Archbold, who flew over their home. mediadrumimages/RobertoPazzi/@roberto_pazzi_photography

Their main crops are banana, sweet potato, and cassava. The hold sweet potatoes in the highest regard, and it is used for bartering, and even in taking a daughter’s hand-in-marriage. The remote tribe, who have over 300 visitors per year according to 2013 estimates, use hot stones to cook their food.

In 1961, Michael Rockefeller, son of former US vice-president Nelson Rockefeller, went missing in the valley at just age 23. He was paddling a 40-foot-long canoe with a Dutch anthropologist when it capsized. His body was never recovered.