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Borneo Tribal Tattoo

Updated on January 27, 2009
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Know as the "Dayak", meaning "interior" or "inland" person, the variety of indigenous native tribes of Borneo have a tradition of tattooing that describes their fundamental identity as tribespeople, headhunters, warriors, and community members. Both the men and the women were tattooed, and for a variety of reasons.


Dayak tattoo mythology

All aspects of Dayak tattooing showed a great reverence for ancestors, the departed spirits who resided in the 'village of the dead', as well as nature - the Dayak believing that plants contained the same type of life force as humans and animals. Performed by Shaman known as 'manang' to the Iban tribe of Borneo, tattoos were performed to show rites of passage such as a successful head-hunt, to cure illness which was sometimes believed to be due to evil spirits, or to mark women's ability with textiles and their status in the tribe. In Iban mythology and religious belief, all humans were formed by Selempandai, the Iban blacksmith god who forges human beings, and if a person's illness was thought to be caused by evil spirits, a name changing ceremony was sometimes performed along with a new tattoo near the wrist, in order to conceal the person from the evil spirit by changing them spiritually in the same way as Selempandai forged humans.

Ancestor spirits, and the shaman

The spirits of ancestors, and enemies (in the case of headhunting) were used for agricultural advice, to predict the seasons, protect from evil spirits in the forest, and protect and ensure success in hunts and head-hunts. Shamans acted as the link between the tribe's world, and the spirit world, and it was believed that while all people hoped their spirits would be able to find the sacred village of the dead in the afterlife, only those with the tattoos would be able to make it past the greatest hurdle in the afterlife, 'Maligang', the malevolent guardian of the bridge over the River of Death. Their tattoos would then shine brightly on the other side of the bridge, guiding their way through the darkness.


Traditional Tattooing Methods

The Kayan tribe's style of tattoos owes its popularity to its wood-block stamp technique, and is the source of much of the Borneo's designs, as other tribes, such as the Iban adapted the deigns to suit their own community. Tribe members would carve patterns into blocks of wood and then transfer it onto the skin. Designs were hand-tapped in ceremonies which often bore resemblance to ceremonies performed for the dead, possibly showing the Dayak's view of tattooing as a death and re-birth for the subject.


Common Borneo tribal designs

Dogs, Scorpions, Tigers,The Hornbill, Tuba root, the Garing tree, and Rosettes feature highly in Borneo designs, as well as other images all depicting features of nature, such as bamboo. These designs denoted spiritual assistance, protection, prestige, and tribal identity among other things.



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      becca 6 years ago

      I LOVE looking at pictures of DIfferent Common dayaK tribal tattoos