Finger Cutting Ritual of Ikipalin of The Dani Tribe

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About this sample


Words: 1064 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Aug 30, 2022

Words: 1064|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Aug 30, 2022

What rituals or practices do you take part in within your culture? For the Dani Tribe of Indonesia, there is a ritual essential to their grieving process after losing a loved one. They call it ‘Ikipalin’, and it includes the women of the tribe cutting off their fingertips upon attending a funeral. The Dani Tribe was discovered in 1938 by American Philanthropist, Richard Archbold, and is located in the central highlands of Western New Guinea, in the Province of Papua. This area is only accessible by plane, and it is estimated that there are only about 250 000 inhabitants.

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“Wene Opakima dapulik Welaikarek mekehasik” is the Dani Philosophy of life which can be interpreted to give a very clear account on the origins of the finger amputation process. This quote expresses “one family, one house, one tribe, one ancestor, one language, one history, one blood”. Consequently, the ritual of Ikipalin symbolizes these beliefs and morals to a great extent. The exact origins of the process are not yet known, however, it has been studied in detail why they identify fingers as a significant part of their culture. Members of the tribe feel that fingers symbolize harmony, unity, and strength. They believe that since fingers are what they use to perform specific tasks, they are what connects them and makes them family. 

Are there any special objects in your culture that symbolize your beliefs and feelings towards other members? Amputating the tips of their fingers when family members pass on satisfies many different facets of their culture. First, it is done to gratify the spirit of the individual that was lost, drive it away, and show a sign of respect. Secondly, the physical pain that is endured with this process symbolizes the emotional suffering that the living community experiences. If a powerful tribal figure passes on, then this practice becomes significantly more imperative since the Tribe believes that their strong spirit would linger and cause disturbances. Finally, they perform this ritual primarily because it represents how the Tribe is affected after a death of a close member. The Dani feel that losing a family member is like losing a finger; with less fingers, tasks become increasingly harder, and their strength decreases, in the same way that losing a person in the community affects the productivity and survival of the entire Tribe. Another outlook that they have is that misfortune due to death can be eliminated by removing the fingers. 

How do the members implement such a task? There are a couple of ways that this is carried out to ensure that the process is as painless for the individual as possible. Usually it will begin with tying a string tightly around the upper half of the finger for 30 minutes causing circulation cut off. From here, there are various tools within the culture used to amputate it, unless it falls off naturally due to lack of oxygen. These tools include axes, stone blades, or any other very sharp objects such as bamboo. Once this step is complete, the amputated finger is stored in a special and meaningful place or burned to ashes. The open wound on the finger of the individual is first dressed with leaves and traditional herbs, then cauterized to create a new, callused tip. The entire procedure is typically done by a very close member of the person’s family, such as a spouse, sibling, or child. It is not fully understood why this process is a norm that solely takes effect on the women of the tribe, but is predicted to be because the men do hard labour work for the survival of their families and require all of their fingers. Still, men will sometimes cut off skin from their ears to illustrate the same meaning as Ikipalin.

Within the last couple of years, the traditional and fundamental ritual of Ikipalin of the Dani Tribe has in fact been banned by the Indonesian government. One reason for such a policy was the health risks associated; for instance, the transfer of infectious diseases through open wounds. Secondly, the influence of strong religious beliefs that went against the values of the Indigenous Dani began to play a part in banning the ritual. Does this perhaps give insight to how cultures can change significantly over time due to how it is received by society? The media tends to portray cultural practices like Ikipalin in an ethnocentric light. Many articles, blogs, and media platforms use words such as “weird”, “crazy”, or “strange” when discussing Ikipalin and other less known cultural rituals or rites of passage. These are opinions that people gravitate towards when they are unfamiliar with the culture and judge it based on the norms, beliefs, morals, and values of their own. In doing this, they place less value on it and assume that theirs is superior. An example of how ethnocentrism and body modification may relate more directly to North American pop-culture is tattoos/piercings in the workplace. Many policies do not allow visible forms of body modification, and people are perceived differently when they have these. However, as North America continues to become more multicultural, are such behaviors ethical? Self-expression in the form of tattoos and piercings are a common notation and positively used in contemporary pop-culture in North America. If North America is known to celebrate differences in culture, why are we limiting self-expression in society? Is it because the power structures are uneducated and unfamiliar with this specific North American custom of pop-subculture? If so, who exactly is making these decisions, and it is based on ethnocentrism? As we are growing and in the process of discovering ourselves in relation to the world, it is important to understand the diversity within it. If we can learn from each other's cultures not be ethnocentric and subjective, then we can facilitate better collaboration and cooperation everywhere. 

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In conclusion, most cultures have very similar facets to one another, and the only differences are how we express them; in the Dani Tribe, they mourn with physical pain while people in North America may do it variously even though all of these rituals for the most part mean the same thing. It is absolutely crucial and ethical to understand the origins and significance of body modification processes in cultures before attaching value to them; since otherwise, different cultures would never be able to interact and be productive with one another in society. 

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Finger Cutting Ritual of Ikipalin of the Dani Tribe. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from
“Finger Cutting Ritual of Ikipalin of the Dani Tribe.” GradesFixer, 30 Aug. 2022,
Finger Cutting Ritual of Ikipalin of the Dani Tribe. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Nov. 2023].
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