Have you ever been so overcome with grief that you just need to cut off a piece of your finger? Hopefully not. But for the people in the Dani Tribe, finger cutting, or Ikipalin, is a typical mourning practice. Located in a remote area of Papua, New Guinea that is only accessible by plane, the Dani are deeply attached to their customs - even the ones that encourage detachment of body parts. When someone dies, the tribe will cut off a portion of every woman's finger who was close to the deceased. The more loss a woman experiences, the more she loses of herself. Literally.
It's hard to say exactly when or why the Dani Tribe decided finger amputation was the best way to mourn - the practice has been going on for generations and it still hasn't gone out of style. Even after it was declared illegal, some of the Dani flipped a metaphorical finger to law makers. Finger cutting is part of their culture, so they say live and let live, or cut and let cut, as the case may be.
Why do the Dani cut their fingers? What purpose does it serve? Who thinks finger cutting is actually a good idea? Now those are questions we can answer, so scroll on down to read all the gory details!
The Practice Is Mostly Inflicted on Women (But Some Men Also Participate)
It is unclear why the females take the brunt of this practice, but they do. Some older men in the tribe will participate in Ikipalin, but typically it's the women who have bits of their fingers amputated. This applies mostly to the older women, but the practice carries all the way down to baby females, who have the tips of their fingers bitten off by their mothers in a similar ritual.
Here's an Example of the Tools They Use
Beveled stone blades provide the blunt force necessary to break the phalanx and amputate the upper section of a finger. After the removal, the open sores are cauterized to prevent bleeding and help form a newly callused fingertip.
Some Amputations Take Place without Actual Cutting
Those who feel squeamish around sharp objects may elect to remove a piece of finger without any actual cutting. Some people chew at their knuckles to weaken them and then tie a rope around the finger to cut off circulation. Others avoid the chewing part and just tie up their joints to stop the blood flow. In either case, the muscle and nerves die of oxygen deprivation and the deadened finger piece pops right off.
Finger Cutting Is Meant to Ward off Ghosts
When a Dani member has a lot of influence and power in life, the tribe fears he or she will be equally strong in death. To keep restless spirits at bay and avoid pesky hauntings, the Dani offer their amputated finger chunks as a form of sacrifice.
What do fingers have to do with spirits? Damned if we know. Just be happy that no lambs were harmed in the making of this sacrificial list item.