jang cover 

This novel, Jang of the Dani, based on the author’s own experiences, tells the story of a boy growing up in the remote Baliem Valley in the western part of the island of New Guinea.

White people have only just discovered the area.

There are many adventures for Jang as he faces challenges from the environment as well as the people he meets.  

Jang is fascinated by the foreigners and tries to learn from them – but it turns out that they could learn much from him.



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ISBN: 978-1-922229-45-8    Format: Paperback
Number of pages:290
Genre: Fiction

© Cover Design—Zeus Publications 2014

Cover photo taken by photographer Paul (a Flickr user)

Author: Jean Watson
Zeus Publications

Date Published: 2014
Language: English




Jean Watson (Cheesman) was a geography teacher and several years ago embarked on a study tour with some of her colleagues which took them to the remote Baliem Valley in the western part of the island of New Guinea. Here they met the Dani people, a gentle race whose lives were being disrupted by visitors, after thousands of years of isolation in their land-locked valley. Christian missionaries had influenced their lives, followed by Indonesian government officials and settlers, and more recently tourists from many parts of the world, including Australia. 

During her stay in the Baliem Valley she made friends with many of the children and decided to write a work of fiction with a young boy she called 'Jang' as the central figure. 

Now retired, Jean still has vivid and very pleasant memories of her time with the Dani.





Suddenly Jang stopped. In the bushes he could see a gaudily painted body with a huge headdress of hair, fur and feathers. It was Zakazi the Warrior! The game came to an abrupt end and the white man and the three Dani boys stood motionless as Zakazi came towards them. He was shorter than the white man but had huge bulging muscles and large hands and feet. He wore an enormous curly holim over his manly part, kept in place by a band of bright red cloth round his waist. Strips of white clay were plastered on his upper arms and thighs, woven grass bands gripped his arms tightly and a pig’s tusk was threaded through his nose. His headdress made him look top heavy: it was a massive wig of human hair held together by grass strips and pig fat, dotted with seeds and ornamented with large birds’ feathers and fur, and finally topped by a hairnet of orchid fibres.

But the object he held in his right hand was the main focus of attention – a long, evil-looking steel machete, sharp as the sharpest bamboo, able to slice off an ear, an arm – anything – in a single swipe! He glowered at them and advanced menacingly. Jang stood frozen with fear.



CHAPTER 1  - part sample


Jang opened his eyes. The fire was a pile of glowing embers at the end of the hut and the morning sun was streaming through slits in the bamboo onto the bare earth and sleeping bodies. One old man had made a hollow next to Jang and was curled up in it with hands tucked round his chest, snoring loudly. A pair of very large flat feet on the end of skinny brown legs protruded towards Jang. He studied the soles of those feet: how far had they walked? How much of the Baliem Valley had they covered? How many rocks, swamps, forests and grassy hills had they tramped over?

It had been his first night in the men’s hut at Wolo village. Now he was a man! Everyone knew it was time for him to move out of the women’s hut when his voice began to break. He wanted to say something now to test that new deep voice but dared not wake his male relatives. Quietly he sat up. There were no bedclothes over him, no sheet underneath - just grass and ferns to soften the ground.

He was still wearing his day clothes. He looked down at his blue shorts and yellow T-shirt and remembered his mother giving them to him many moons ago. Someone had given them to her and she tried every boy in the family till she found the one they fitted.

She had held the shirt across Jang’s chest while he stood up straight desperately wanting to have it. There were only a few rips in the shirt and most of the stains on the shorts were small. He wanted the smart clothes which had been made outside the valley.


It was only a short time ago the Dani people knew anyone or anything existed outside their valley. Jang’s grandfather had been one of the first Dani to see the ‘White Spirits’ who appeared by magic in the Baliem Valley in what was now called Irian Jaya, part of Indonesia. His father’s father had been a great chief, loved and respected by all the Dani tribes but especially by his own in the Wolo area.

When he died the elders wanted to preserve his spirit and power so they drained the fluids from his body before hoisting it up to the platform above the fire in the men’s hut where it would be slowly smoked and preserved. Whenever the tribe celebrated a special occasion the blackened body of Jang’s grandfather was brought out and reverently placed in the middle of the village compound on a ‘pia’ or funeral chair.

Jang thought again about the day his mother held the new clothes up to him. He could see the scene vividly: he was in the middle of the compound ringed by dozens of inquisitive villagers, interested in what was happening, standing silently watching. His mother was wearing her brown skirt of fern fibre hanging in loops very low on her body. He could see her tummy and navel, her flat drooping breasts and the row of shell beads round her neck.

She told him the clothes were his. He looked into her face with love, noting its worn, dry appearance and the many wrinkles in the brown skin. He worshipped her. She was always so kind, gentle and patient, not saying much but conveying her love for everyone by her actions and facial expressions. She had a few teeth missing and was very old. Jang was glad of that because it meant she would be respected by everyone in the tribe.

As she handed the clothes to him he noticed her fingerless hands, the stumps barely holding the cloth because she had chopped off each joint as a relative died. There was pain as the sharp stone axe cut but it was later eased by the mud paste and

the ‘beka’ or medicinal leaves she put on the wound. It was correct to lose part of your body when you lost part of your family: her husband's ears had pieces missing for the same reason.

She adjusted the string bag or ‘noken’ which hung down her back, easing the strain on the handles round her forehead. The baby in it stirred and kicked. Jang watched his mother swing the bag round to her side, gently pull the baby’s head out and push a brown nipple into its mouth; the baby sucked happily.

All that had happened several moons ago and now Jang snapped out of his reverie. It was his first day as a man and he was wasting time daydreaming. He knelt and quietly crawled between the sleeping men. When he reached the fire he poked the ashes with a stick, gently blew on them and then added a small log and the flames sprang up. He smiled to himself. By the time the other men woke the fire would be ready to cook on.

Some of the cooking was done in the women’s huts but the men of Jang’s village liked to start the day cooking and eating together in their own hut. They didn’t know where they would have their next meal – probably far from home. There was always plenty of food in the valley. All they had to do was dig up some ‘hiperi’ or sweet potatoes, take them to the nearest hut and cook them in the open fire. Nowadays they would be welcome wherever they went but it had not always been so peaceful in the Baliem Valley. When Jang's father was a boy there was often an ‘umain’ or tribal war and even cannibalism.

Jang made his way to the only opening in the smoky hut – a small doorway facing the centre of the village compound. He stepped over the knee-high boards which kept out the pigs, ducked under the overhanging roof thatch, stood up and looked around. All the huts faced the bare earth of the compound: three in which women and children slept, one men's hut and one long low pigsty or ‘wamai’. He decided to check on the pigs, especially the new litters. Stepping over the entrance boards, his head so low that his knee knocked his chin, he entered the darkness of the sty. His eyes soon adjusted and he could see the wooden cages closely packed along one wall of bamboo thatch, with a narrow passageway between them and the back wall. He crawled along, peering through the wooden slats of the cages, checking the sows and piglets. Yes all were there and looking healthy.

Later he would release the sows and allow them to wander freely outside the compound, foraging in the bush. They would return of their own accord at the end of the day.

Bent double, he emerged from the sty and bumped into a young girl called Tensi. They both giggled. Jang stood up and clasped the girl’s right arm with both his hands.

“Nayak,” he said in greeting.

“La’uk,” she responded.

They smiled warmly at each other. She nodded. He raised his eyebrows twice in quick succession as was the custom in the valley and his brown eyes twinkled. Tensi thought how like his handsome father he was. That was the way Esak greeted people – smiling eyes twinkling under raised eyebrows. Jang’s brown skin, rubbed frequently with pig fat, shone in the early morning sunlight. What a fine-looking chief he would make one day. They broke away slowly, smiled again, and then went in opposite directions. Tensi returned to the women’s hut. She’d been out to the forest to relieve herself behind a bush, then had splashed herself with cool water from the nearby stream.

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