Penis gourds: The rebel uniform

Indonesia's government sees the garb worn by Dani tribesmen as backward and an act of defiance.

Published February 29, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Indonesia is a polyglot nation of 13,000 islands, 300 ethnic groups and 365 languages that has always been ruled by the heavy-handed, populous Javanese. East Timor's recent wrenching escape from the iron grip of
Jakarta is only the most visible boil in this archipelago that festers with religious, economic and cultural strife. The next bloodbath could break out in the province of Irian Jaya, the western half of New Guinea, where recent settlers have zero in common with the Stone Age indigenous inhabitants.

In the 1970s, the fully dressed Indonesian administrators tried to ban the
skimpy "penis
that is proudly exhibited by Dani tribesmen as their sole item of apparel, according to London's Sunday Telegraph. Traditional Dani men maintain a wardrobe of several penis sheaths, also known as "phallocrypts," that are fashioned out of orchid chords and elaborately decorated with fur, feathers, seeds, shells and embroidery. The gourds serve as pockets to secure cash and cigarettes and are tied up at jaunty angles by strings encircling the waist.

Jakarta's efforts to eradicate the gourd-garb as a "backward" accessory have failed, although a ban does exist that condemns their bobbing display inside government offices. Western clothing is required in the halls of bureaucracy, a burdensome decree that encumbers the near-naked Dani men who are sensibly undressed for the tropical climate.

Today, the wearing of a penis gourd is seen as an act of defiance against the Jakarta government. An elder, Sopaluma Elosak, clutched his erect gourd and exclaimed "Freedom to Papua," when a reporter asked him how he felt about Indonesia.

Thousands of Irian Jayan locals have already been massacred by an Indonesian Army that is intent on exploiting the region's gold, copper, oil
and forest resources. To prevent West Papua from becoming another East Timor, the government of Jakarta must give local tribesman reasons to belong to the nation and respect their customs.

By Hank Hyena

Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.

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