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Butt, Leslie 1998 The Social and Political Life of Infants among the Baliem Valley Dani, Irian Jaya, PhD Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal.
Judul: Kehidupan Sosial dan Politik Anak-anak Dani di Lembah Baliem, Irian Jaya.

    © Leslie Butt, 1998. Use of any part of this thesis for any purpose must be acknowledged.


Among the Baliem valley Dani of the central highlands of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, infants play a prominent role in social relations. Infant mortality rates among the Dani are above two hundred and fifty deaths per thousand live births and birth rates are low. To these patterns of infant survival and growth the Dani consistently ascribe complex meaning. Drawing from anthropological research conducted in 1994–1995 in the Baliem valley, this dissertation demonstrates that indigenous meanings about the infant body and assessments of infant health link the infant to political relations within polygynous families, to antagonistic gender relations, and to affiliations with powerful ancestor spirits. Gender relations play a prominent role in explanations about infants. When an infant dies, parents explain the death in ways that reflect the lower social status of women in relation to men. A study of sex ratios during the first year of life and biased use of health services by gender of the infant suggest that the Dani may generate and validate cultural patterns of gender inequality during the earliest months of life. Infants also play an important role in national politics. In Indonesia's attempts to assimilate indigenous peoples into the country's economic development agenda, the infant appears in health promotions as a member of a contrived ideal family. These national cultural models, grounded in a concern with population control, translate into an applied health agenda for infants that has little impact on the mortality rates of the very young in Dani society. The infant, though mute, is a powerful figure at the center of many social and political relations. The richness of meaning attributed to infants in the Baliem valley suggests that further research is needed to correct lacunae in anthropological theory about one of life's key social figures.

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