Rolling the stones: Yonggime village women and men place hot stones on a pit covered by grass and leaves to prepare their earth oven.
A crackling fire heats a pile of rocks in a village in Baliem Valley under the Jayawijaya mountain range. The Lani people in Yonggime village are getting ready for a feast.
Bakar batu (rock burning) is an age old ritual in Papuan tribes. The indigenous Papuans perform the ritual on various occasions: the harvest, after a conflict resolution, a funeral, to name a few. It’s an earthy cooking method where vegetables (and sometimes game) are cooked with the heat of hot rocks placed in a hole in the ground covered by leaves and grass.
In Yonggime village in Jayawijaya’s Baliem Valley, the atmosphere is festive. They are performing the rock burning ritual to celebrate the sweet potato harvest.
The people work with amazing efficiency. They shout to each other in their melodic Lani language.
The ritual looks like a dance that requires cooperation and trust. Everyone moves fluidly. The men dig a hole in the ground and heat the rocks on a wooden platform. The women bring in the sweet potatoes in their traditional woven noken bags. When the hole is ready, the men and some women move the hot rocks with a forked stick.
Amazingly, no one bumped into each other or got burned. The village is more than just a group of people. In this dance, they are a gestalt.
Baggage off: A woman opens her noken, a traditional Papuan woven bag, filled with sweet potatoes next to the cooking pit, while other women bring their noken closer to the pit.
Don’t leave any behind: A man arranges stones above a wooden platform while another man squats to pick up stones. The stones will be heated up by setting the logs on fire.
Keeping warm: An old Papuan lady tends to a fire inside a traditional Papuan house.
Smoking: Women arrange sweet potatoes in the cooking pit. Under the grass and leaves are hot stones.
Stick your rock up: A man carries a hot stone between a slit stick. Men and women move the hot stones to a grass-covered pit to make an earth oven.
— Text and photos by Prodita Sabarini