Tatto, Weapons & Tools


The most elaborate body tattoos are from the Kayan tribe. ‘The dog design figures very prominently in Kayan art, and the fact that the dog is regarded by these people and also by the Kenyahs with a certain degree of veneration may account for its general representation. The design has been copied by a whole host of tribes, with degradation and change of name’Charles Hose,Pagan Tribes of Borneo.

In Kayan women tattoing contributes to a series of complicated process. Designs can run from the back of hands to thighs, below the knees and on the kneecaps. Tattooing in women can begin early as witnessed at the age of ten the girl will probably have had her fingers and the upper part of her feet tattooed. About a year hiatus, her forearms should have been completed; the thighs the following year and by the fourth year, the tattoos should be completed. Women can only tattoo until she is pregnant, as it is considered inappropriate to tattoo themselves after becoming a mother. The Kayan women believe that tattoos are the torches to the next life and that without these to light them they would remain forever in total darkness.

The tools used by a tatoo artist consist of two or three prickers, ULANG or ULANG BRANG, and an iron striker, TUKUN or PEPAK, which are kept in a wooden case, BUNGAN. The pigment is a mixture of soot, water, and sugar-cane juice, and it is kept in a double shallow cup of wood, UIT ULANG. The best soot is supposedly obtain ed from the bottom of a metal cooking-pot. The tattoo blocks are commonly carved by men. The artist first dips a piece of fibre from the sugar-palm (ARENGA SACCHARIFERA) into the pigment and, pressing this on to the area to be tattoed, aligns the patterns to be tattoed; along these straight lines the artist tatus the IKOR. Then taking the tattoo designs that are carved on blocks of wood, KELINGE, she smears it with the ink and then impresses on the part to be tattoed between the two lines. It is a painful process with no anaesthesia.

Weapons & Tools

The weapons of war used by the orang ulu especially the Kayan and Kenyah are generally the wooden shield, the sword and the spear. The prized weapons are often decorated with human hair from the rewards of warfare. They accentuate the beauty of their weapons with designs which they also lend to designs in tattoo, beadwork, as murals to adorn the house walls, tombs, boats and Padi barns, woodwork and musical intruments. One of the musical instrument much regarded in the Rainforest festival is the Sape.

The Kayans are also the best ironsmiths amongst all the peoples of Borneo . In the olden days, the iron ore were collected from riverbeds but later bars were procured from Malay and Chinese traders.


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