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ABOUT THE BOOK
Under the surnames of Watson and Cheesman, Jean was on the staff of schools and universities in the UK and Australia. Her main subject was Geography but she also taught English and the two disciplines are the basis of her well-written, interesting novels.
The stories of Jang are based on her visit to New Guinea many years ago with an Australian research team studying the people of that island. One of the areas visited was the remote Baliem Valley in what was then called Irian Jaya (now West Papua) where she met and admired the Dani people. ‘Jang’ was a young teenager who guided her through the valley and taught her a great deal, although they had no common language. Luckily, their Australian guide could translate for them.
On returning home, the team produced educational material for students of Geography, but Jean decided to take it further and use her knowledge and imagination to write works of fiction, based on the facts she had learned about the Dani tribes first-hand and from other writers.
Jang of the Dani was published by Zeus Publications of Miami, Queensland, in 2014 and contains accounts of Jang’s fictitious adventures in and outside his homeland. Readers asked for a sequel because they were interested in the characters and enjoyed reading the novel.
Jang, Chief of the Dani is the sequel, published in 2015. It continues the love story of Jang and Miri, describes their wedding and other ceremonies, and shows Jang becoming a chief who wants to preserve the best in his own culture while accepting the advantages of foreign contact.
Can he achieve this utopian dream? Of course he can – this is fiction! Read Jang, Chief of the Dani to discover how imagination can produce happy results.
To my son,
still the main supporter of all my efforts.
Jang of the Dani, published in 2014 by Zeus
Publications of Miami (Qld), was written after my study tour and research into
the people of New Guinea several years ago. First-hand experiences and further
reading gave me the background knowledge for this work of fiction. I was asked
by readers to produce a sequel and knew I would have to discover what was
happening in New Guinea without a personal visit this time.
The sequel, Jang, Chief of the Dani had to be based
on up-to-date information gleaned from other sources.
I am indebted to Google and Wikipedia for supplying
material with minimal effort on my part. These search engines led me to
newspaper articles giving current data and I am grateful to such journalists as
Marni Cordell of The Guardian, Michael Bachelard of The Age and
his co-journalist John Garnaut of The Sun-Herald; also to Jason MacLeod
of People-Powered News & Analysis and to the ABC’s Tracee Hutchison for
her article posted in 2013 titled ‘Could West Papua be Abbott’s East Timor?’
Their exposure of the terrible treatment of West Papuans fighting for freedom,
and descriptions of the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ have been incorporated in this second
I found a wealth of information for both books in the
classic work Gardens of War: Life and Death in the New Guinea Stone Age
by the anthropologists Robert Gardner and Karl G Heider, with an introduction by
Margaret Mead, published by Penguin in the 1960s.
I take full responsibility for any errors and all the fictitious episodes and characters.
Jean Watson 2015
Read a Sample
Read a Sample
Now they were back with their tribesmen in the Baliem Valley. He was Chief of the Dani and had to lead them. He was really too young for such a responsibility but his father had joined the rebellious Free Papua Movement, was almost captured by the Indonesian soldiers, and had fled into exile, leaving Jang to rule in his place. He couldn’t let his father down but wondered if he had the resources to carry out his role. Miri thought he had and she supported him in everything.
He sat up straight. Miri! How had the experiences affected her? She’d almost drowned in the river and after being saved and cared for, had been attacked by an amorous male nurse! She must have suffered so much. How wonderful that he’d saved her. They’d returned home together, vowing never again to part.
Jang leaned against the backrest of the watchtower’s platform and looked at the valley by moonlight. He could see the mighty Baliem River far below glistening in the silver light, meandering across the floodplain, feeding the multitude of irrigation channels in the sweet potato fields. He’d climbed the watchtower, higher than six men, as the sun was setting behind Pyramid Mountain, placing his bare feet on the vines tied round the bamboo poles and pulling himself up with the help of others hanging from the platform.
In the past the watchtowers had been vital lookouts from which to spy the approaching enemy but for a long time the tribes had lived in peace. They had settled their major differences, and wars were no longer fought, except for the ‘mock battles’ to entertain tourists. Even in the past the peace-loving Dani were reluctant to kill an enemy; they preferred to render him harmless by knocking him out or damaging his hands. They would care for the injured man before sending him back to his tribe, maimed but still alive. Jang could remember when an Indonesian friend had explained to him what ‘murder’ was. There was no equivalent word in the Dani language. Killing in war had been permitted but since the coming of Christian missionaries the various tribes had learned to live in peace.
Thinking of his ‘Indonesian friend’ Jang realised with a jolt that he’d forgotten he was Indonesian too! But he didn't feel it. He was Dani, always had been and always would be. Foreigners had taken over part of the island of New Guinea but he still considered the Baliem Valley belonged to the Dani.
He loved the land of his ancestors and could hardly believe that he’d left it and – more miraculous still – had returned. Everyone was waiting to hear about his adventures outside the valley. No one had ever gone outside before or if they had they hadn’t returned to tell the tale. The valley was surrounded by very high and very wide, inaccessible mountains and where the Baliem River left the valley it did so in tumultuous waterfalls which were impossible to navigate. How he – and Miri – had survived the plunge down that cascade without being killed was a mystery. Their people were waiting for them to tell the full story. They would do that tomorrow, before the whole tribe.
Meanwhile Jang sat and thought about his surroundings and how they differed from the foreign places he’d visited. For as long as anyone could remember, or had learned from stories and traditions handed down by word-of-mouth, the Dani had lived in this fertile valley growing sweet potatoes and other vegetables, plus herbs, sugar cane, bananas and other fruits, and rearing pigs. They had a sophisticated system of interlinked irrigation channels so that water ran between the ridges on which the plants grew. Some channels were straight, others followed the curve of the land. Looking down on them, Jang thought what an attractive pattern they made.
Each tribe had a stretch of riverbank plus the land behind it up to where the mountains became too steep, dry or rocky to cultivate. The irrigated sweet potato fields gave way to drier paddocks of other vegetables and sugar cane with stands of bamboo or bananas between them. All fields were surrounded by pig-proof fences. High fences surrounded the villages, enclosing huts of bamboo and grass thatch. The entrance to each village was over a knee-high board. This entrance had a small roof over it to stop the ground becoming too muddy. Inside the village compound were several huts: two or three for men, one large one for women and children and a small one for cooking.
Jang thought about other settlements in the valley. After strangers discovered the place, more and more people had arrived and the Dani trading centre of Wamena had become a town dominated by Indonesian homes of fibro and tin with an occasional brick and cement building. There was traffic on the roads, and planes landed on the cleared airstrip. It was a world of hurry and noise, quite alien to the peace and quiet of the Dani lands.
Some Dani children occasionally walked to school at Wamena where they learned the Indonesian language. They would leave their village before dawn and not reach Wamena until the sun was almost at its highest. The return journey was made in the dying daylight. They liked to wear foreign clothes in town such as a T-shirt and shorts so they wouldn’t be teased or bullied by children from other cultures, but back home in their villages they would probably run around with nothing on if they were very young, or follow the adults if they were feeling grown up. Most adults were still wearing traditional costume. The women wore nothing but a grass skirt hanging low on their bony hips and a bag made of orchid fibre down their back, full of sweet potatoes or a baby. The men simply put a wooden penis-gourd over their ‘baby-maker’, a wig of human hair, feathers and flowers on their head and decorations of armbands and necklaces.
Men and women worked hard in the fields every day, digging with bamboo sticks, tending the plants, improving channels, harvesting food, rearing pigs. When a special occasion arose they would kill a pig and cook it with vegetables in an oven which began as a hole in the ground then was built up to waist height with banana leaves bound with vines. The heat for cooking came from rocks heated over a fire then carried to the oven with split bamboo trunks used as tongs. These rocks were put in with the food and left for two or three hours.
Now that tourists came to the valley the Dani often demonstrated their traditions and decorated themselves with clay, soot, shells, beads, flowers and feathers, then stomped around their village compound calling out “Wa, wa, wa! Hissa, hissa, hissa!” working themselves up to a frenzy running backwards and forwards. The tourists, mainly pale-skinned and strange-looking, gave money at the end of the performance.
Dani men would tuck the paper money into the top of their penis-gourds – ‘holims’ – and later hoard it away somewhere in their hut. They had little need of it but sometimes made their way to Wamena market to buy foreign axes and knives of steel, cooking pots and cotton clothes.
Jang remembered his last visit to Wamena market when he’d sold a pig and bought cooking pots and skirt material for his mother with the proceeds. It was there he’d seen Miri and thought how beautiful she was with her mass of black curly hair, large shiny brown breasts, swaying hips, long legs, strong feet and – he was guessing – beautiful back. He knew the women liked to keep their backs covered with their vine bags because the back was considered ‘erotic’ (the latest word Jang had added to his vocabulary) but their feeding parts could be left uncovered because they were simply useful when babies or pigs needed milk.
Jang had known Miri for a long time as a playmate of his young sister, Maali, but had never really looked at her before. That day in the market he was smitten and began to dream that she would be his girlfriend and perhaps one of his wives. Later he was amazed to find that she’d worshipped him for a long time. Their friendship became close and they fell in love.
He was lost in happy memories. He didn't have to think back very far; it was less than two full moons ago when he and Miri had gone for a walk after dark. Miri’s father, Abram, had found them and thought they’d misbehaved. Jang smiled to himself. No, they hadn’t, but it was only because Miri had stopped him!
Miri was then forbidden to see him till the next full moon and her parents took her home to their village on the other side of the Baliem River. Then his darling had done something which astounded him: she’d taken a raft and tried to cross the river to see him.
The next day, when Miri was nowhere to be found, he’d joined her male relatives in searching the river. He remembered being caught by the strong current, which swept him downstream at an alarming speed, being thrown over a colossal waterfall, being captured by cannibals, escaping, continuing downstream, meeting other people, being helped in his search for Miri … It was a dreadful experience but it did have some highlights and benefits. It was amazing that he found Miri in the end and, with the help of his Australian friends, they had both returned home to western New Guinea.
Now they were back with their tribesmen in the Baliem Valley. He was Chief of the Dani and had to lead them. He was really too young for such a responsibility but his father had joined the rebellious Free Papua Movement, almost been captured by the Indonesian soldiers and had fled into exile, leaving Jang to rule in his place. He couldn’t let his father down but wondered if he had the resources to carry out his role. Miri thought he had and she supported him in everything.
He sat up straight. Miri! How had the experiences affected her? She’d almost drowned in the river and after being saved and cared for, had been attacked by an amorous male nurse. She must have suffered so much. How wonderful that he’d saved her. They’d returned home together, vowing never again to part.
He remembered that just after they’d declared their love for each other two full moons ago she’d agreed to go ‘out of the valley’ with him if that was what he wanted but neither of them had imagined it would turn out to be so traumatic. How could she possibly go out of the valley again when she had such horrific memories of that strange world! He agreed with her that many of their experiences had been unpleasant but he’d also been lucky enough to meet some wonderful people and still wanted to travel outside. Of course, this time he would leave the valley by air, not clinging to a log hurtling over a waterfall!
But would Miri come with him? Why did he still want to go? Wasn’t the Baliem Valley enough for him?
His mind was in a whirl. Everything had happened so quickly. After he’d rescued Miri, his new friends from ‘Osralia’ had looked after them and paid for them to fly home. He could never thank them enough. Then he remembered other people on his journey like Brother Thomas who’d given his gold watch to pay for Jang’s flight to Jakarta.
Jakarta was a mixture of good and bad in Jang’s memory. One day he’d return and see it in a different light with money in his pocket and a comfortable place to stay.
What was he doing? He, Jang, Chief of the Dani, brought up in a bamboo hut with no possessions and no money, was thinking of travelling around like a tourist! But he wasn’t the old Jang. Something had happened to him when he went out of the valley. He’d seen good and bad outside and whatever the Dani did they could not prevent some of those influences invading their lives. They had been discovered and couldn’t ‘make the sun move backwards’. They had to go forward – this is what he would tell his people tomorrow.
Slowly and thoughtfully he descended the watchtower and walked back to his village.
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