Dani Warfare

1125 words | 4 page(s)

For the Dani tribe, warfare is a way of life. In many African tribes, warfare a result civil and family disputes that often result in a rearrangement of family ties, alliances, and boundaries. The Dani practice two different types of warfare, ritual and secular. Secular warfare is similar to the tribal wars of other tribal entities. It is a formalised with the intention of restructuring current alliances and family bonds. Secular warfare is bloody and violent. Two different sides form. Once sides are chosen, one side engages in the slaughter of the other side. Once a winner is determined, old alliances break up and new ones are formed. This form of warfare results in the death of many tribal members.

To prevent the continued death and its effects on society, the Dani have developed a form of ritual warfare. In ritual warfare when a fatality occurs in one camp, it initiates ritual warfare. The real battle stops immediately. The losing side holds a funeral and the winners hold a celebration. The losing side will seek to avenge the death of the victim and will ensue a battle unto one of the other side is killed. This cycle is then repeated. This ritual warfare still results in the loss of a few tribal members, but it is much less than secular warfare. It does result in a somewhat more peaceful resolution than the full- blown version of secular warfare.

puzzles puzzles
Your 20% discount here.

Use your promo and get a custom paper on
"Dani Warfare".

Order Now
Promocode: custom20

Heider states that Dani hardly ever perform any type of fighting and that fighting is inconsistent with their lifestyle (Heider, 1997). Heider also disagrees with the connection between ghosts and warfare. He does not feel that the ghosts hold any importance in Dani life and that they do not take their ghosts seriously at all. This viewpoint disagrees with many other scholars in the area. Bonvillian and Schwimmer (2009) say that it is the ghosts of those killed in ritual warfare that keep the battle going with demands that their death be avenged. Heider misses this point complete and dismisses the importance of the ghost tales. If Heider is correct and the ghosts have little to do with the ongoing ritual warfare, then there is little explanation for the conduct of the warfare and it would seem to serve little purpose. With Bonvillian and Schwimmer’s explanation, there is at least a spiritual explanation for the custom. It is difficult to imagine that a ritual that involves killing would have little meaning. One theory of warfare holds that the warfare involves the redistribution of land. The second is that it is a result of the need to redistribute social forces within the tribe.

Shankman feels that large scale secular warfare was a part of Dani culture long before contact with white society. This type of warfare was handed down by the social norms of the tribe. Shankman agrees with Bonvillian and Schwimmer that large scale secular warfare was primarily to redistribute the resources of the tribe. Shankman points out that once white contact has been made, the warfare is influenced by white culture. It can no longer be viewed in its pristine condition. The only difficulty is that anthropologists do not have the ability to go back and view the behaviour in a pristine condition.

Secular warfare is brief and infrequent. Ritual warfare occurs on a cyclical basis. This can provide clues as to the nature of the warfare and the purpose that it serves. Shankman believes that the scale of the warfare changed after white contact. He surmises that in the past, nearly one dozen men would go on raids. Now secular warfare involves parties of 100 or more. Shankman notes that this large scale type of massacre is something that an individual might only witness once in their lifetime. Secular warfare is bloodier than ritual warfare, but it is sometimes considered necessary in order to maintain food stores. Secular warfare is a war of economic scale. It is not atypical to see over 100 people dead at the end of these battle. They happen much less frequently than ritual battles. Ritual battles can continue for many years, going back and forth. The nature of these two types of warfare would suggest that they are for a different purpose and do not serve the same function in Dani society. Heider does not see the two types of warfare as different, but rather as different phase of a conflict to realign social forces of the tribe. Heider sees secular warfare as an explosive phase of the ongoing ritual warfare.

Dani life concentrates on the theme of pigs, gardening, and ritual warfare. When pigs are scarce, more skirmishes tend to break out. Warfare is a constant threat and men take turns standing guard. The Dani themselves claim that warfare is not to gain plunder or goods, but to appease the ghosts of the dead. The Dani themselves disagree with Heider’s claim that ghosts play little importance in Dani Culture.

I believe that the Dani go to war to appease the ghosts of their ancestors and that structural-functionalism is the most applicable theory. One of the key factors that supports this is that the preparation for the ceremonies seem as important, or perhaps more important than the results of the skirmishes themselves. One of the rites of passage involves the transition of boys into manhood. This ritual involves a ritualistic battle that can last for several days at a time. This ritual has the effect of strengthening bonds both inside and outside of the community. Evidence of this is the lack of clear goals and a lack of viciousness in the battle. In addition parties are not concerned with capturing the territory or destroying the enemy that is usually seen in war involving Western culture.

I also believe that ritual fighting is a way of honouring the ghosts of the ancestors. This is done out of respect and also out of fear of retribution from the ancestors. They feel they must conduct these battles to appease the ancestors to avoid bad energy. This creates a vicious cycle where each battle results in a new ghost being created and a new reason to go to war. Dani warfare is not structured by Western standards and serves as part of the structure of Dani culture and functions. Dani warfare is a reason to bring people together in preparation for the battle, for the funerals, and for the celebrations that follow.

  • Bonvillain, Nancy and Brian Schwimmer (2009). Cultural Anthropology, Canadian edition Pearson Canada — (Chapter 11)
  • Heider, Karl (1997). The Grand Valley Dani: Peaceful warriors (3d Ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
  • Shankman, P. (n.d.). Culture Contact, Cultural Ecology, and Dani Warfare. Colorado University. Retrieved 30 June 2014 from http://www.colorado.edu/anthropology/people/bios/documents/CultureContact_001.pdf

puzzles puzzles
Attract Only the Top Grades

Have a team of vetted experts take you to the top, with professionally written papers in every area of study.

Order Now