The death of a loved one can be a traumatic experience and causes emotional pain and suffering. However, in some cultures the loss can result in physical pain as well.
Certain cultures believe this physical representation of emotional pain is essential to the grieving process.
Ikipalin is a finger cutting ritual practiced by the Dani tribe, who lived in the town of Wamena of the Jayawijaya Regency in Indonesia.
Mostly done by women, the deceased’s relatives would cut off their fingers to express the pain of mourning. They believed that ikipalin would keep the deceased’s restless spirit away and would eliminate misfortunes brought by the dead.
The amputation could be done by stone blades or by tying a string around the finger to stop the circulation. Once the finger was removed, the open wound could be sealed to prevent the bleeding.
The practice was common among older women, but it was alleged that some mothers bit their babies’ fingers as part of the ritual.
Ikipalin was banned by the Indonesian government but it was speculated that the ritual still continues in secret.
The practice of causing physical pain to show grief and deal with mourning can be seen in a numerous amount of other cultures as well. Cutting arms, legs and body, shaving off hair from the head, and burning skin are rituals used by other cultures during the grieving process.