Surrounded by thick inhospitable jungle, the central
highland region of West Papua is one of the most remote parts of the country. It is here, beyond the deep cut valleys that carve their way through the landscape that the Lani tribe is found. Also commonly referred to as the Western Dani, the Lani tribe is the largest in all of Melanesia, comprising over 200,000 people

Living in small straw huts on the hillsides, and surviving on a diet of sweet potatoes, spinach and wild pig; the simple existence that tribal people live here has changed little since Papuan settlers arrived there almost 44,000 years ago. It is here that the Lani Singers, Benny and Maria Wenda grew up.

In 1977, when Benny was two years old, the Indonesian military flew fighter jets over the highland region in an attempt to bomb the Papuans into submission. Most of Benny's family were killed during the bombing, and he was brought up by an uncle. Benny was subsequently given the role of leader from the elders in his tribe, because of his nature. In young adulthood he went to University, in Port Numby (Jayapura), studying Sociology & Geo-Politics. It was here that he formed DeMMak (The Koteka Tribal Assembly), in order to advocate traditional values and to help the liberation of his people from the Indonesian regime.
Fearing the increasing power and influence that Benny held in West Papua, Indonesian authorities arrested him and placed him on trial on fabricated charges, faced with a 25 year prison sentence.

lani singers

ninalik ndawi


Following death threats and intimidation, Benny’s wife Maria and their newborn daughter Koteka were forced to flee West Papua and follow the route that thousands of other West Papuans have made since 1963, through the inhospitable jungle and across the border to a refugee camp in neighbouring Papua New Guinea. The border region is laced with hundreds of camps, home to tens of thousands of displaced West Papuans.

By some remarkable string of events, Benny escaped from prison in 2002, and was smuggled through the jungle by freedom fighters to the border of Papua New Guinea. A few months later he was reunited with Maria and Koteka. Powerless to instigate change for his country from a remote refugee camp, Benny and Maria were helped by an NGO group who brought them to the UK where they were granted political asylum and now work as the West Papuan government in exile, and run the Free West Papua Campaign.

Recorded over a two year period, the collection of songs that make up their debut album Ninalik Ndawi are reflective of the remarkable journey that Benny and Maria have travelled. Steeped in the rich traditions of the Lani tribe as well their own contemporary compositions that are reflective of their plight. These are their songs of hope, love and pain. These are their songs of freedom.