The Archipelago

Transforming Wamena into
Papua’s tourism icon

Wamena is a unique region that strongly upholds local customs. Men can still be seen walking in Wamena city using the koteka penis sheath and women wearing the Sali reed skirt and going topless. There is a saying that goes: “You haven’t been to Papua if you haven’t been to Wamena”.

Wamena, which is located in the Jayawijaya mountain area, has become a domestic, as well as a foreign visitors’ focus of attention after it has been organizing the Baliem Valley Cultural Festival annually for the past 22 years. Every year visitors from various countries come to Wamena to directly watch cultural attractions presented by people from Papua’s central highland regions.

Jayawijaya Regent John Wempi Wetipo intends to turn Wamena into a tourist icon in Papua, saying that it is already famous worldwide.

Apart from the fixed annual Baliem Valley Festival, there are various natural tourist objects which are unique and interesting, such as the mummified tribal chief in Kurulu village, believed to be hundreds of years old, a salt-water lake, white sandy beaches, waterfalls in Napua and Walesi villages and the Kutilola cave in Kurulu village.

No less interesting is the presence of women at Wamena Airport selling the distinctive Baliem flowers, called bunga kertas (paper flowers), which can bloom for several months.

Blessed with tourism potential in Jayawijaya, Regent Wetipo will build the Rumah Nusantara house, which would compliment the tourist objects in the regency.

Rumah Nusantara will display every culture, including Papua’s non-indigenous ethnic groups currently living in Wamena. There will also be a demonstrations of culinary art.

“If visitors want to see the culture from Toraja in Sulawesi and don’t have the chance to visit Toraja, they can watch it at Rumah Nusantara, where they can also observe other cultures in Indonesia. Rumah Nusantara resembles the Indonesia Miniature Park [TMII],” he said.

Rumah Nusantara will be built on a 50-hectare plot of land provided by the regency administration.

To boost tourism in Jayawijaya, Wetipo said he had planned to extend Wamena Airport runway another 300 meters next year so it could serve larger planes, such as the Boeing 737.

“Visitors from Makassar or Bali no longer need to transit in Jayapura, but can fly directly to Wamena,” he said.

Only the ATR and Fokker 27 planes can currently land at the airport. Apart from that, a 100-room hotel will be built in Wamena.

“Wamena is presently equipped with international-standard hotels, such as the Jerman Bersatu Hotel, but along with the growth in tourism, the hotels would no longer be able to accommodate visitors,” said Wetipo.

Another interesting item used by people living in Papua’s central highlands region is the multi-function noken, which acts as a bag to carry necessities as well as carry produce from the farm to the house or to the market. It can also act as a hammock to help put a child to sleep.

“As a child from Baliem Valley, I had definitely slept in a noken before,” said Wetipo.

The noken has become more special after the Culture and Tourism Ministry proposed to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that it should be recognized as a world heritage item. Women carrying noken are a common sight in Wamena.

Noken is made of dried tree bark, which is later woven into a bag. Nearly every woman from Papua’s central highlands regions is capable of weaving a noken.

“After working in the fields or cooking, housewives would surely be making the noken,” said Agus Haluk, a housewife who often demonstrates to visitors how to make the noken during cultural exhibitions.

The noken now does not only function as a bag, but also as clothing to cover a woman’s breasts.

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