The Pagan Tribes of Borneo
by Charles Hose and William McDougall
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From the moment of leaving the village the men of the war-party must observe many tabus until their return home. They may not eat the head of a fish; they must use only their home-made earthen pots; fire must be made only by friction (see Pl. 89); they must not smoke; boys may not lie down, but must sleep sitting. The people who remain at home are not expected to observe these tabus; they may go to the farms, but must keep quiet, and undertake nothing outside the ordinary routine.

If the object of the attack is a village in their own river, the expedition paddles steadily day after day until it reaches the mouth of some small stream at a distance of some miles from the enemy's village. Forcing their boats some two or three miles up this stream they make a camp. Here two solid platforms are built about twenty feet apart, and a large beam is laid from one to the other. The chiefs and principal men take their seats on the platforms, and then every man of the party in turn approaches this beam, the fighting leader, who is usually not one of the chiefs, coming first. If he is willing to go through with the business, I.E. to take part in the attack, he slashes a chip from the beam with his PARANG and passes under it. On the far side of the beam stands a chief holding a large frond of fern, and, as each man passes under, he gives him a bit of the leaf, while an assistant cuts a notch on a tally-stick for each volunteer. If for any reason any man is reluctant to go farther, he states his excuse, perhaps a bad dream or illness, or sore feet, and returns to the boats, amid the jeers of those who have passed the ordeal, to form one of a party to be left in charge of the camp and boats.

Next, all the left-handed men are sorted out to form a party whose special duty is to ambush the enemy, if possible, at some favourable spot. These are known as the hornets (SINGAT). If any swampy ground or other obstruction intervenes between their camp and the enemy's village, a path is made through or over it to facilitate retreat to the boats. A password is agreed upon, which serves as a means of making members of the party known to one another upon any chance meeting in the dark.

Scouts are sent out at dusk and, if their reports are favourable, the attack is made just before dawn. About half the warriors are provided with large bundles of dry shavings, and some will carry torches. When the attacking party has quietly surrounded the house or houses, the bundles of shavings are ignited, and their bearers run in and throw them under the house among the timbers on which it is supported. Then ensues a scene of wild confusion. The calm stillness of the tropical dawn is broken by the deep war-chorus of the attacking party, by the shouts and screams of the people of the house suddenly roused from sleep, by the cries and squeals of the frightened animals beneath the house, and the beating of the alarm signal on the TAWAK. If the house is ignited, the encircling assailants strive to intercept the fleeing inhabitants. These, if the flames do not drive them out before they have time to take any concerted measures, will hurl their javelins and discharge their firearms (if they have any) at their assailants; then they will descend, bringing the women and children with them, and make a desperate attempt to cut their way through and escape to the jungle or, sometimes, to their boats. Kayans conducting a successful attack of this kind will make as many prisoners as possible, and will as a rule kill only those men who make desperate resistance, though occasionally others, even women and children, may be wantonly killed in the excitement of the moment. It is not unusual in the case of an able-bodied man who has surrendered, but shown signs of attempting to escape or of renewing his resistance, to deal him a heavy blow on the knee-cap, and so render him lame for some time. It usually happens that the greater part of the fugitives escape into the jungle; and they are not pursued far, if the victors have secured a few heads and a few prisoners. The head is hacked off at once from the body of any one of the foe who falls in the fight; the trunk is left lying where it fell. If any of the assailants are killed in the course of the fray, their heads are not taken by their friends, and their corpses are left upon the field covered with boughs, or at most, in the case of chiefs, are dragged into the jungle and covered up with boughs and twigs, in order to prevent their heads being taken by the enemy. If any of the enemy remain so badly wounded that they are not likely to recover, their heads are taken; and if no other heads have been secured, the head of one of the more seriously wounded captives is taken, or of one who is deformed or incapacitated in any way. If a captive dies of his wounds his head is taken; but it is a rare exception for Kayans to kill any of their captives after the short excitement of the battle is over. The attacking party, even though it has gained a decisive victory, usually returns with all speed, but in good order, to its boats, carrying with it through the jungle all the loot that is not too cumbersome for rapid portage, especially old beads, gongs, and brass-ware; for they are always in danger of being cut off by a party of their enemies, rallied and reinforced by parties from neighbouring friendly villages. Still more are they liable to be pursued and cut off, if the attack on the village has failed through the defenders having been warned; for an attack upon a strong house or village has little chance of success if the defenders are prepared for and expecting it. The pursuit of the retreating party may be kept up throughout one or two days, and, if the pursuers come up with them, a brisk and bloody battle is the natural outcome; and it is under these circumstances that the most severe fighting takes place. But here again it is seldom that any large proportion of either party is slain; for the dense jungle everywhere offers abundant opportunities of concealment to those who condescend to seek its shelter, and there are few, even among the Kayans and Kenyahs, who will fight to the bitter end, if the alternative of flight is open to them.

A successful war-party returning home makes no secret of its success. The boats are decorated with palm leaves (DAUN ISANG), and a triumphal chorus is raised from time to time, especially on passing villages. As the villagers come out to gaze on them, those who have taken heads stand up in the boats. The heads, slightly roasted, are wrapped up in palm leaves and placed in baskets in the stern of the boat. If the return home involves a journey of several days, the victors will, if possible, pass the nights in the houses of friendly villages, where they are made much of, especially those who have taken heads; and on these occasions the glamour of victory is apt to turn the heads of some of the women and to break down the reserve that modesty normally imposes upon them.

On approaching their own village, whither the rumour of their success usually precedes them, the war-party is received with loud acclamations, the people coming down to the riverside to receive them. Before they ascend to the house, the heads have to be safely lodged in a small hut specially built for their reception; and the young boys are brought down to go through their first initiation in the arts of war. Each child is made to hold a sword and, with the assistance of some aged warrior, to strike a blow at one of the newly captured heads. The older boys, some nine or ten years of age, who are ripe for their second participation in mock warfare, also strike at a head in a similar way, but engage also in mimic battles with one another, using wooden swords and spears, and, curiously enough, small roughly made bows and arrows.[59] It is customary for the victorious warriors to spend the first night after their return encamped before the house. A strip of green DAUN ISANG is tied about the left wrist of each man who has taken part in the expedition, and also of each of the young boys. Those who have taken heads adorn also their war-caps with the same leaf and with feathered sticks. On the following day a tall post of bamboo (BALAWING) is erected near the figure of the war-god. It is covered with frayed palm leaves (DAUN ISANG), and from its tip a single head, also wrapped in leaves, is suspended by a long cord (Pl. 66). Before the altar-post of the war-god several shorter thicker posts are erected, and to each of these two or three small pieces of human flesh, brought home from the corpses of the slain enemies for this purpose, are fastened with skewers. These pieces of flesh seem to be thank-offerings to the hawks to whom the success is largely attributed. These bits of flesh are dried over a fire at the first opportunity on the return journey, in order to preserve them.[60]

As soon as the news of the taking of heads reaches the house, the people go out of mourning, I.E. they shave the parts of the scalp surrounding the crown and pull out eyebrows and eyelashes (which have been allowed to grow during mourning); they put off their bark-cloth garments and resume their cotton-cloths and ornaments.

If, as is usually the case on the return of a war-party, mourning for a chief is to be terminated, one of the heads is carried down river to his tomb, followed by most of the men, while the women wail in the house. The head is first brought before the house, but not into it. An old man shoots a dart into the air in the direction of the enemy, and then, pattering out a long formula in the usual way, he slaughters a fowl and puts a part of the carcase upon a short stick thrust into the earth. The men of the party then march past, each touching the carcase with his knee, and saying as he does so, "Cast out sickness, make me strong and healthy, exalt me above my enemies, etc. etc." Beside the tomb a tall pole is set up, and the head dressed in leaves is suspended by a cord from its upper end. A number of pigs will already have been slain in preparation for the feast, and their lower jaws are hung about the tomb on poles. The deep war-chorus is shouted by the party as it travels to and from the tomb. In returning the whole party bathes in the river, and while they are in the water an old man waves over them some of the ISANG leaves with which the head has been decorated, wishing them health and long life.

A few days (not less than four) after the return of the war-party, the heads are brought into the house with much rejoicing and ceremony. Every family kills a pig and roasts its flesh,[61] brings out stores of rice-spirit, and prepares cakes of rice-flour. The pigs' livers are examined, and their blood is smeared upon the altar-post of the war-god with a sort of brush (PLA) made by fraying the end of a stick in a more than usually elaborate manner. Each head, adorned with a large bunch of DAUN ISANG, is carried by an elderly man or woman into the house, followed by all the people of the house — men, women, and children — in long procession. The procession marches up and down the whole length of the gallery many times, the people shouting, singing, stamping, and pounding on the floor with PADI pestles, or playing the KELURI. This is followed by a general feast and drinking bout, each family preparing its feast in its own chamber, and entertaining friends and neighbours who come to take part in the general rejoicing. In the course of the feasting the women usually take temporary possession of the heads, and perform with them a wild, uncouth dance, waving the heads to and fro, and chanting in imitation of the men's war-song (Pl. 102). The procession may be resumed at intervals until the heads are finally suspended beside the old ones over the principal hearth of the gallery. The heads have usually been prepared by removal of the brain through the great foramen, by drying over a fire, and by lashing on the lower jaw with strips of rattan. The suspension of the head is effected by piercing a round hole in the crown, and passing through it from below, by way of the great foramen, a rattan knotted at the end. The free end of the rattan is passed through and tied in a hole in the lower edge of a long beam suspended parallel to the length of the gallery from the beams of the roof (Pl. 68). The Kenyahs suspend the heads in the same way as the Kayans, but most of the Klemantans and Ibans use in place of the long beam a strong basket-work in the shape of a cone, the apex being attached to the roof beams, and the heads tied in two or three tiers in the wall of the cone. In either case the heads hang some five or six feet above the floor, where they are out of reach of the dogs.


Since every Bornean long-house is, or until recently was, liable at almost any time to a night attack of the kind described above, the situation of the house is chosen with an eye to defence. The site chosen is in nearly all cases on the bank of a river or stream large enough for the navigation of small boats; a high and steep river-bank is commonly preferred; and spits of land between two converging streams or peninsulas formed by sharp bends of the rivers are favoured spots.

Beside the natural situation, the prime defence of the house is its elevation some 10 to 30 feet above the level of the ground, joined with the difficulty of access to the house by means of narrow ladders easily drawn up or thrown down. This elevation of the house serves also to secure its contents against sudden risings of the river, and also against the invasion of evil odours from the refuse which accumulates below it; but its primary purpose is undoubtedly defence against human enemies. The interval between the low outer wall of the gallery and the lower edge of the roof is the only aperture through which missiles can be hurled into the house, and this is so narrow as to render the entry of any missiles well-nigh impossible.

When a household gets wind of an intended attack, they generally put the house into a state of defence by erecting a fence of vertical stakes around it, some three yards outside the posts on which it is supported and some six to eight feet in height. This fence is rendered unclimbable by a frieze consisting of a multitude of slips of bamboo; each of these is sharpened at both ends, bent upon itself, and thrust between the poles of the palisade so that its sharp points (Pl. 100) are directed outwards. This dense jungle of loosely attached spikes constitutes an obstacle not easily overcome by the enemy; for the loosely fitting bamboo slips can neither be hacked away nor removed individually without considerable expenditure of time, during which the attackers are exposed to a shower of missiles from the house. A double ladder in the form of a stile is placed across the fence to permit the passage of the people of the house. If there is any definite pathway leading to the house, a log is sometimes suspended above it by a rattan passing over a branch of a tree and carried to the house. This can be allowed to fall upon the approaching enemy by severing the rattan where it is tied within the house (Klemantan).

A further precaution is to stick into the ground round about the house a large number of slips of bamboo. Each slip is some six inches in length, and its sharp, fire-hardened point projects upwards and a little outwards.

If the attacking party is likely to approach by the river, a trap may be arranged at some point where, by reason of rapids or rocks, the boats are likely to be delayed. Here a large tree overhanging the river is chosen for the trap. Stout rattans are made fast to its branches, brought over the branches of a neighbouring tree, and made fast in some spot within reach of a hidden watcher. The stem of the overhanging tree is then cut almost through, so that a few blows of a sword, severing the supporting rattans, may cause the tree to fall upon the passing boat.

When a hostile war-party enters a section of a river in which there is a number of villages of one tribe or of friendly tribes, its approach may be signalled throughout the district by the beating of the TAWAK. The same peculiar rhythm is used for this purpose by all the tribes, though it probably has been copied from the Kayans by all the others. It consists in a rapid series of strokes of increasing rate upon the boss, followed by one long deep note, and two shorter ones struck upon the body and once repeated. Whenever this war-alarm is heard in a village, it is repeated, and so passed on from village to village. The people working in the farms or in the jungle, or travelling on the river, return at once to their villages on hearing the alarm, and the houses are prepared for defence. When the news of the approach of a hostile party has been spread in this way throughout the river, it has little chance of successfully attacking a house or village, and it will, unless very numerous, content itself with attempting to cut off some of the people returning home from the farms. If the invading party is very strong, it may surround a house whose defenders have been warned of their coming, and attempt to starve them into submission. In the old days it was not uncommon for a strong party of Kayans to descend upon a settlement of the more peaceable coastwise people, and to extort from them a large payment of brass-ware as the price of their safety. If the unfortunate household submitted to this extortion, the Kayans would keep faith with them, and would ratify a treaty of peace by making the headman of the village blood-brother of their chief.

Some features of the tactics adopted by the Kayans are worthy of more detailed description. If a strong party determines to attack a house in face of an alert defence, they may attempt to storm it in broad daylight by forming several compact bodies of about twenty-five men. Each body protects itself with a roof of shields held closely together, and the several parties move quickly in upon the house simultaneously from different points, and attempt to carry it by assault. The defenders of the house would attempt to repel such an attack by hurling heavy bars of iron-wood, sharpened at both ends, in such a way that the bar twirls in the air as it hurtles through it; and this is one of the few occasions on which the blow-pipe is used as a weapon of defence.

A village that has been warned of the approach of the foe may send out a party to attempt to ambush the attackers at some difficult passage of the river or the jungle. Scouts are sent out to locate the enemy. Some climb to the tops of tall trees to look for the smoke of the enemy's fires. Having located the enemy, the scouts approach so closely as to be able to count their numbers and observe all their movements; and, keeping in touch with the party, they send messages to their chief. If the defenders succeed in ambushing the attackers and in killing several of them, the latter usually withdraw discouraged, and may for the time give up the attempt. If the defending party should come upon the enemy struggling against a rapid, and especially if the enemy is in difficulties through the upsetting of some of their boats, or in any other way, they may fall upon them in the open bed of the river, and then ensues the comparatively rare event, a stand-up fight in the open. This resolves itself in the main into hand-to-hand duels between pairs of combatants, as in the heroic age. The warriors select their opponents and approach warily; they call upon one another by name, hurling taunts and swaggering boastfully in the heroic style. Each abuses the other's parents, and threatens to use his opponent's skin as a war-coat, or his scrotum as a tobacco-pouch, to take his head and to use his hair as an ornament for a PARANG-handle; or doubt as to the opponent's sex may be insinuated. While this exchange of compliments goes on, the warriors are manoeuvring for favourable positions; each crouches, thrusting forward his left leg, covering himself as completely as possible with his long shield, and dodging to and fro continually. The short javelins and spears are first hurled, and skilfully parried with spear and shield. When a man has expended his stock of javelins and has hurled his spear, he closes in with his PARANG. His enemy seeks to receive the blow of the PARANG on his shield in such a way that the point, entering the wood, may be held fast by it. Feinting and dodging are practised; one man thrusts out his left leg to tempt the other to strike at it and to expose his head in doing so. If one succeeds in catching his enemy's PARANG in his shield, he throws down the shield and dashes upon his now weaponless foe, who takes to his heels, throwing away his shield and relying merely on his swiftness of foot. When one of a pair of combatants is struck down, the other springs upon him and, seizing the long hair of the scalp and yelling in triumph, severs the neck with one or two blows of the PARANG. The warrior who has drawn first blood of the slain foe claims the credit of having taken his head. Such a free fight seldom lasts more than a few minutes. Unless one party quite overwhelms the other in the first few minutes, both draw off, and the fight is seldom renewed.

Since the establishment of the European governments in Borneo, punitive expeditions have been necessary from time to time in order to put a stop to wanton raiding and killing. In this respect the Ibans and some of the Klemantans have been the chief offenders; while the Kayans and Kenyahs have seldom given trouble, after once placing themselves under the established governments. In the Baram river, in which the Kayans form probably a larger proportion of the population than in any other, no such expedition against them has been necessary since they accepted the government of H.H. the Rajah of Sarawak nearly twenty-five years ago.

In organising such an expedition, the European governments, especially that of Sarawak, have usually relied in the main on the services of loyal chiefs and their followers, acting under the control of a European magistrate, and supported usually by a small body of native police or soldiers armed with rifles. There is usually no difficulty in securing the co-operation of any desired number of native allies or volunteers; for in this way alone can the people now find a legitimate outlet for their innate and traditional pugnacity. Sometimes the people to be punished desert their village, hiding themselves in the jungle; and in such cases the burning of their houses is usually deemed sufficient punishment. In cases of more serious crime, such as repeated wanton bloodshed and refusal to yield to the demands of the government, it becomes necessary to apprehend the persons primarily responsible, and, for this purpose, to pursue the fugitives. These sometimes establish themselves on a hill-top surrounded by precipices which can be scaled only by the aid of ladders, and there defy the government forces until the hill is carried by assault, or by siege, or the defenders are enticed to descend. One such hill in the basin of the Rejang (Sarawak), Bukit Batu by name, consists of a mass of porphyry some 1500 feet in height, and several miles in diameter, with very precipitous sides. This has been used again and again as a place of refuge by recalcitrant offenders, being so strong a natural fortress that it has never been possible to carry it by assault. On the last occasion on which Bukit Batu was used in this way, two Iban chiefs established themselves on the hill and defied the government of Sarawak for a period of four years, during which the hill became a place of refuge for all evil-doers and outlaws among the Ibans of the Rejang and neighbouring districts, who built their houses on ledges of the mountain some four hundred feet above the level of the river.

The punitive expedition that we briefly describe in Chapter XXII. was but a small affair compared with some, in which as many as 10,000 or 12,000 men have mustered under the government flag. So large a number is seldom necessary or desired by the government; but when contingents from all the loyal communities of a large district eagerly offer their services, it is difficult to deny any of them permission to take part. Kenyahs and Kayans will co-operate harmoniously, and also Klemantans; but the former distrust the Sea Dayaks and will not join forces with any large number of them.

The modes of warfare of the other tribes are similar in most respects to that of the Kayans described above; but some peculiarities are worthy of note.

Kenyah warfare is very similar to Kayan, save in so far as their more impetuous temper renders their tactics more dashing. While the Kayans endeavour to make as many captives as possible, the Kenyahs attach little value to them. While Kayans never attack communities of their own tribe, such "civil war" is not unknown among the Kenyahs, whose tribal cohesion is less intimate in many respects. From these two differences it results that the Kenyah war-parties are generally smaller than those of the Kayans, more quick-moving, and more prone to attack groups of the enemy encountered on farms or on the river. Like the Ibans, the Kenyahs make peace more readily than the Kayans, who nurse their grievances and seek redress after long intervals of time.

The Ibans conduct their warfare less systematically, and with far less discipline than the Kayans and Kenyahs. An attack upon a house or village by Bans is usually made in very large force; the party is more of the nature of a rabble than of an army; each man acts independently. They seek above all things to take heads, to which they attach an extravagant value, unlike the Kayans and Kenyahs who seek heads primarily for the service of their funeral rites; and they not infrequently attack a house and kill a large number of its inmates in a perfectly wanton manner, and for no other motive that the desire to obtain heads. This passion for heads leads them sometimes into acts of gross treachery and brutality. The Ibans being great wanderers, small parties of them, engaged perhaps in working jungle produce, will settle for some weeks in a household of Klemantans, and, after being received hospitably, and sometimes even after contracting marriages with members of the household, will seize an opportunity, when most of the men of the house are from home, to take the heads of all the men, women, and children who remain, and to flee with them to their own distant homes.

So strong is this morbid desire of the Ibans to obtain human heads, that a war-party will sometimes rob the tombs of the villages of other tribes and, after smoking the stolen heads of the corpses, will bring them home in triumph with glowing accounts of the stout resistance offered by the victims. Their attitude in this matter is well expressed by a saying current among them, namely, "Why should we eat the hard caked rice from the edge of the pot when there's plenty of soft rice in the centre?" The Iban women urge on the men to the taking of heads; they make much of those who bring them home, and sometimes a girl will taunt her suitor by saying that he has not been brave enough to take a head; and in some cases of murder by Sea Dayaks, the murderer has no doubt been egged on in this way.

Nevertheless, we repeat that there is no ground for the oft-reprinted assertion that the taking of a head is a necessary prelude to marriage.[62] Like other tribesmen Ibans do not bring home the heads of their companions who have fallen in battle; but while men of other tribes are content to drag the corpses of their fallen friends into some obscure spot and to cover them with branches, Ibans frequently cut off the heads and bury them at a distance from the scene of battle, in order to prevent their being taken by the enemy.

The Ibans use a rather greater variety of weapons than the Kayans, in that they have spears whose blades bear barbs which prevent the withdrawal of the blade from the body of the enemy without great violence.

The Klemantan tribes are on the whole far less warlike than Kayans, Kenyahs, and Ibans. Their offensive warfare is usually on a small scale, and is undertaken primarily for revenge. Their warlike ambition is easily satisfied by the taking of a single head, or even by a mere hostile demonstration against the enemy's house. Nevertheless, like all the other tribes, except the Punans, the Klemantans need a human head to terminate a period of mourning.

We venture to append to this chapter a few speculations on the origin and history of head-hunting. From what we have said above it is clear that the Ibans are the only tribe to which one can apply the epithet head-hunters with the usual connotation of the word, namely, that head-hunting is pursued as a form of sport. But although the Ibans are the most inveterate head-hunters, it is probable that they adopted the practice some few generations ago only (perhaps a century and a half or even less) in imitation of Kayans or other tribes among whom it had been established for a longer period. The rapid growth of the practice among the Ibans was no doubt largely due to the influence of the Malays, who had been taught by Arabs and others the arts of piracy, and with whom the Ibans were associated in the piratical enterprises that gave the waters around Borneo a sinister notoriety during the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the settlements of Ibans were practically confined to the rivers of the southern part of Sarawak; and there the Malays of Bruni and of other coast settlements enlisted them as crews for their pirate ships. In these piratical expeditions the Malays assigned the heads of their victims as the booty of their Iban allies, while they kept for themselves the forms of property of greater cash value. The Malays were thus interested in encouraging in the Ibans the passion for head-hunting which, since the suppression of piracy, has found vent in the irregular warfare and treacherous acts described above. It was through their association with the Malays in these piratical expeditions that the Ibans became known to Europeans as the Sea Dayaks.

It seems not impossible that the practice of taking the heads of fallen enemies arose by extension of the custom of taking the hair for the ornamentation of the shield and sword-hilt. It seems possible that human hair was first applied to shields in order to complete the representation of a terrible human face, which, as we have seen, is commonly painted on the shield, and which is said to be valued as an aid to confusing and terrifying the foe. It is perhaps a difficulty in the way of this view that the use of human hair to ornament the shield is peculiar to the Kenyahs and some of the Klemantans (the latter probably having imitated the former in this), and does not occur among the Kayans. The Kenyahs themselves preserve the tradition of the origin of the taking of heads; and the suggestion is further borne out by the legend of TOKONG, which is widely known, but is probably of Kenyah origin (see Chapter XVII.), according to which the frog admonished a great Kenyah chief that he should cease to take only the hair of the fallen foe, but should take their heads also.

A second plausible view of the origin of head-taking is that it arose out of the custom of slaying slaves on the death of a chief, in order that they might accompany and serve him on his journey to the other world. We have pointed out several reasons for believing that this practice was formerly general, and that it has fallen into desuetude, but is hardly yet quite extinct. It is obvious that since the soul of the dead man is regarded as hovering in the neighbourhood of the body for some little time after its death, it would be felt that the despatch of a companion soul was not a matter of immediate urgency; and considerations of economy might well lead the mourners to prefer capturing and killing members of some hostile community to slaying one or more of their slaves, highly valued and sometimes affectionately regarded as they are. It would then be felt that the relatives of the deceased should continue to display signs of mourning until they should have discharged this last duty to their departed friend. The next step would be to supplant the practice of capturing a member of a hostile community, and bringing him home to be slain, by the simpler, less troublesome, and more merciful one of slaying the enemy on the field of combat and bringing home only his head. In this way we may, with some plausibility, seek to account for the origin of the practice of taking heads, and of the tradition that the taking of a head is necessary for the termination of a period of mourning. This second suggestion is strongly supported by the fact that Kayans, Kenyahs, and Klemantans occasionally, on returning home from a successful raid, will carry one of the newly taken heads to the tomb of the chief for whom they are mourning, and will hang it upon, or deposit it within, the tomb beside the coffin. The head used for this purpose is thickly covered with leaves (DAUN ISANG) tied tightly about it. It is possible that this thick covering was first applied in order to disguise the fact that the head is that of an enemy, and that the sacrifice of the life of a domestic slave, originally demanded by custom and piety, has been avoided by this process of substitution.

We have suggested above two different origins of the custom of taking the heads of enemies. These two possibilities are by no means mutually exclusive, and we are inclined to think that both substitutive processes may have co-operated in bringing about this custom.

It seems probable that the taking of heads was introduced to Borneo by Kayans when they entered the island, probably some few centuries ago, and that the Klemantans and other tribes, like the Ibans, have adopted the custom from their example.

We will conclude this chapter by questioning yet another of the stories, the frequent repetition of which has given the tribes of the interior the reputation of being savages of the worst type, namely, the story that it is the practice of Kayans to torture the captives taken in battle. This evil repute is, we have no doubt, largely due to the fact that very few Europeans have acquired any intimate first-hand acquaintance with the Kayans or Kenyahs; and that too often the stories told by Sea Dayaks have been uncritically accepted; for the Sea Dayaks have been bitterly hostile to the Kayans ever since the tribes have been in contact; and the Iban is a great romancer. It will be found that many of the alleged instances of torture by Kayans have been described by Sea Dayaks; and we think there is good reason for hesitating to accept any of these. But we would point out that, if some of these accounts have been founded on fact, the Sea Dayak victims, or their companions, have in all probability provoked the Kayans to severe, reprisals by their atrocious behaviour, and may be fairly said to have deserved their fate.

It is true that Kayans have been guilty of leaving a slave or captive bound upon a tomb until he has died from exposure to the sun. We know also of one instance in which a Murut slave, having treacherously murdered the only son of a great Kayan chief in the Baram, at the instigation of Bruni Malays, was killed by a multitude of small stabs by the infuriated Kayan women, on being brought captive to the house.

But such occurrences as these by no means justify the statement that it is the practice of Kayans to torture their captives; and we have heard of no well-attested instances that give any colour to it. As we have said above, Kayans commonly treat their captives so kindly that they soon become content to remain in the households of their captors. The Kayan feeling about torture is well illustrated by the fact that the Kayan village responsible for the exposure of the slave mentioned above was looked at askance by other Kayans. The spot was regarded with horror by them, and they regard as a consequence of this act the failure of the line of the chief of that village to perpetuate itself.

We have to admit that some of the Klemantans cannot be so whole-heartedly defended against the charge of torturing their captives. But we believe that it is not regularly practised by any Klemantan tribe, but rather only on occasions which in some way evoke an exceptional degree of emotional excitement. Thus, in one instance known to us, the Orang Bukit of the Bruni territory, having lost the most highly respected of their chiefs, purchased a slave in Bruni to serve as the funereal victim, and, having shut him in a wicker cage, killed him with a multitude of stabs, some eight hundred persons taking part in the act. But even this act was, it must be observed, of the nature of a pious and religious rite rather than an act of wanton cruelty.

We cannot leave this subject without this last word. If we are quite frank, we shall have to admit that, even though the worst accounts of Kayan cruelty were substantially true, such behaviour would not in the least justify the belief that the Kayans are innately more cruel than ourselves. If we are tempted to take this view, let us remember that, after our own race had professed Christianity for many generations, the authority of Church and State publicly decreed and systematically inflicted in cold blood tortures far more hideous and atrocious than any the Kayan imagination has ever conceived.



In any account of the arts and crafts of the Kayans, the working of iron claims the first place by reason of its high importance to them and of the skill and knowledge displayed by them in the difficult operations by which they produce their fine swords. The origin of their knowledge of iron and of the processes of smelting and forging remains hidden in mystery; but there can be little doubt that the Kayans were familiar with these processes before they entered Borneo, and it is probable that the Kayans were the first ironworkers in Borneo, and that from them the other tribes have learnt the craft with various measures of success.[63] However this may be, the Kayans remain the most skilful ironworkers of the country, rivalled only in the production of serviceable sword-blades by the Kenyahs.

At the present day the Kayans, like all the other peoples, obtain their iron in the form of bars of iron and steel imported from Europe and distributed by the Chinese and Malay traders. But thirty years ago nearly all the iron worked by the tribes of the interior was from ore found in the river-beds, and possibly from masses of meteoric iron; and even at the present day the native ore is still smelted in the far interior, and swords made from it by the Kenyahs are still valued above all others.

Smelting and forging demand a specialised skill which is attained by relatively few. But in each Kayan village are to be found two or three or more skilled smiths, who work up for a small fee the metal brought them by their friends, the finishing touches being generally given by the owner of the implement according to his own fancy.

The smelting is performed by mixing the ore with charcoal in a clay crucible, which is embedded in a pile of charcoal. The charcoal being ignited is blown to a white heat by the aid of four piston-bellows. Each of the bellows consists of a wooden cylinder (generally made from the stem of a wild sago palm) about four feet in length and six inches in diameter, fixed vertically in a framework carrying a platform, on which two men sit to work the pistons (see Pl. 107). The lower end of each cylinder is embedded in clay, and into it near its lower end is inserted a tube of bamboo, which, lying horizontally on the ground, converges upon and joins with a similar tube of a second cylinder. The common tube formed by this junction in turn converges with the tube common to the other pair of cylinders, and with it opens by a clay junction into a final common tube of clay, which leads to the base of the fire. The piston consists of a stout stick bearing at its lower end a bunch of feathers large enough to fill the bore of the cylinder. When the piston is thrust downwards, it drives the air before it to the furnace; as it is drawn upwards, the feathers collapsing allow the entrance of air from above. The upper extremity of each of the piston-rods is attached by a cord to one end of a stout pliable stick, which is firmly fixed at its other end in a horizontal position, the cord being of such a length that the piston-head is supported by it near the upper end of the cylinder. Two men squat upon the platform and each works one pair of the cylinders, grasping a piston-rod in each hand, thrusting them down alternately, and allowing the elastic reaction of the supporting rods above to draw them up again. The crucible, having been brought to white heat in the furnace, is allowed to cool, when a mass of metallic iron or steel is found within it.

The forging of implements from the metal obtained is effected by the aid of a charcoal furnace to which a blast is supplied by the bellows described above, or sometimes by one consisting of two cylinders only. Stone anvils and hammers were formerly used, and may still be seen in use in the far interior (Fig. 31); but the Kayans make iron hammers and an anvil consisting of a short thick bar of iron, the lower end of which is fixed vertically in a large block of wood.

The peculiarly shaped and finely tempered sword-blade, MALAT, is the highest product of the Kayan blacksmith. The smith begins his operations on a bar of steel some eight inches in length. One end is either grasped with pincers, or thrust firmly into a block of wood that serves for a handle. The other end is heated in the furnace and gradually beaten out until the peculiar shape of the blade is achieved, with the characteristic hollow on the one side and convexity on the other. If the blade is to be a simple and unadorned weapon, there follow only the tempering, grinding, and polishing. But many blades are ornamented with curled ridges projecting from the back edge. These are cut and turned up with an iron chisel while the metal is hot and before tempering.

Two methods of tempering are in use. One is to heat the blade in the fire and to plunge it at a dull heat into water. The other is to lay the cold blade upon a flat bar of red-hot iron. This has the advantage that the degree of the effect upon the blade can be judged from the change of its colour as it absorbs the heat. The Kayan smiths are expert in judging by the colours of the surface the degree and kind of temper produced. They aim at producing a very tough steel, for the MALAT has to serve not only in battle, but also for hacking a path through the jungle, and for many other purposes.

Many sword-blades are elaborately decorated with scroll designs along the posterior border and inlaid with brass. The inlaid brass commonly takes the form of a number of small discs let into the metal near the thick edge; small holes are punched through the hot metal, and brass wire is passed through each hole, cut off flush with the surface and hammered flat. The designs are chased on the cold metal with a chisel and hammer supplemented by a file. The polishing and sharpening are done in several stages: the first stage usually by rubbing the blade upon a block of sandstone; the second stage by the use of a hone of finer grain; and the highest polish is attained by rubbing with a leaf whose surface is hard and probably contains silicious particles. At the present time imported files are much used.

Other implements fashioned by the smiths are the small knives, spear-heads, hoes, small adzes, rods for boring the sumpitan, the anvil, and the various hammers, and chisels, and rough files used by the smiths.


Although brass-ware is so highly valued by all the peoples of the interior, the only brazen articles made by them (with one exception presently to be noticed) are the heavy ear-rings of the women. The common form is a simple ring of solid metal interrupted at one point by a gap about an eighth of an inch wide, through which is pulled the thin band of skin formed by stretching the lobule of the ear. Other rings form about one and a half turns of a corkscrew spiral. These rings are cast in moulds of clay, or in some cases in moulds hollowed in two blocks of stone which are nicely opposed.

The Malohs, a Klemantan sub-tribe in the upper basin of the Kapuas river, are well known as brass-workers; their wares are bartered throughout the country, and a few Maloh brass-workers may be found temporarily settled in many of the larger villages of all tribes. They make the brass corsets of the Iban women, tweezers for pulling out the hair of the face, brass ear-rings, and a variety of small articles, and they make use of the larger brass-ware of Malay and Chinese origin as the source of their material.

Fire Piston

This very ingenious instrument for the making of fire is cast in metal by the Ibans. (See Fig. 36 and Pl. 108.) It consists of a hollow brass or leaden cylinder about five inches in length and one inch in diameter, the bore being about one-quarter of an inch in diameter and closed at one end. A wooden piston, which closely fits the bore, bears a rounded knob; it is driven down the cylinder by a sharp blow of the palm upon the knob and is quickly withdrawn. The heat generated by the compression of the air ignites a bit of tinder (made by scraping the fibrous surface of the leaf stem of the Arenga palm) at the bottom of the cylinder. The cylinder is cast by pouring the molten metal into a section of bamboo, while a polished iron rod is held vertically in the centre to form the bore. When the cylinder is cold the iron rod is extracted, and the outer surface is trimmed and shaped with knife or file.


The Kayans make much use of boats, as described in Chapter VIII., and are skilful boat-makers. The forest offers them an abundant variety of timbers suitable for the different types of boat used by them.

The most ambitious efforts of this kind are devoted to the construction of the great war-boats, fine specimens of which are as much as 100 feet in length, or even, in exceptional instances, nearly 150 feet. The foundation of every boat is a single piece of timber shaped and hollowed by fire and adze. Several kinds of timber are used, the best being the kinds known as AROH (SHOREA) and NGELAI (AFZELIA PALAMBANICA). Sometimes a suitable stem is found floating down river and brought to the bank before the house. But such good fortune is exceptional, and commonly a tree is selected in the forest as near as possible to the river bank. The tree is felled in the way described in Chapter VI. (Pl. 55), its branches are hewed away, and the stem is cut to the required length and roughly hewn into shape. About one-fourth of the circumference of the stem is cut away along the whole length, and from this side the stem is hollowed. When, by chopping out the centre, the thickness of this shell has been reduced to a thickness of some five inches, it is brought down to the river. This is effected by laying through the jungle a track consisting of smooth poles laid across the direction of progress; the hollowed stem is pulled endwise over this track with the aid of rattans, perhaps a hundred or more men combining their strength. If the stem proves too heavy to be moved at any part of the journey by their direct pull and push, a rough windlass is constructed by fixing the stem of a small tree across two standing trees and winding the rattans upon this, the trimmed branches of the tree serving as the arms of the windlass. The Kayans are skilled in this kind of transport of heavy timber; for the building of their houses and of the larger tombs involves similar difficulties, though the timbers required for these purposes are not so huge as those used for the war-boats. Arrived at the river bank, the hollowed stem is launched upon the water and towed down stream to the village at a time when the water is high. It is made fast to the bank before the village at as high a point as the water will allow, so that when the river subsides it is left high and dry. A leaf shelter is then built over it to protect it and the workers from the sun. The shell is then further hollowed, partly by firing it with shavings inside and out, and by scraping away the charred surfaces. The inside is fired first; then the hollow is filled with water, and the outside is fired.

When in this way the shell has been reduced to a thickness of a few inches, it is opened out, while hot from firing and still filled with water, by wedging stout sticks some six to seven feet in length between the lateral walls, so that the hollow stem (which hitherto has had the form of a hollow cylinder some three to four feet in diameter, lacking along its whole length a strip about the fourth of its circumference) becomes a shallow trough some six to seven feet wide in the middle of its length. During the hollowing, small buttresses are left along each side at intervals of about two feet to form supports for benches. After the opening, the shell is left lying covered with branches for some days, while the wood sets in its new form. The outer surface is then shaved approximately to the required degree, all irregularities are removed, and holes about half-an-inch in diameter are bored through all parts of the shell at intervals of some twenty inches. Wooden pegs are then hammered into these holes, each peg bearing two marks or grooves at an interval equal to the thickness of the shell desired at each part; the peg is driven in from the outside until the outer groove is flush with the outer surface of the shell, and the projecting part is cut away; the inner surface is then further chipped and scraped in each area until it becomes level with the inner groove on the peg. In this way the workers are enabled to give to each part its appropriate thickness. The outer surface is then finally smoothed to form about one-third of a cylinder, and the foundation is complete. It only remains to lash the cross-benches to their supports, to raise the sides by lashing on a gunwale, and to fit in wedge-shaped blocks at bow and stern. The gunwale consists of a tough plank some ten inches wide overlapping the outer edge of the shell, and lashed firmly to it by rattan strips piercing both shell and planks at intervals of about six inches. In some cases the gunwale is further raised in its middle part by lashing on a second smaller plank to the upper edge of the first. The block fitted in at the prow presents to the water a flat surface inclined at a low angle; and a similar block completes the shell at the stern. The prow is often ornamented with the head of a crocodile or the conventional dog's head carved in hard wood and painted in red and black.

The whole operation, like every other important undertaking, is preceded by the finding of omens, and it is liable to be postponed by the observation of ill omens, by bad dreams, or by any misfortune such as a death in the house. In each house are certain men who are specially skilled in boat-making, and by them the work is directed and all the finer part of the work executed. In the case of a war-boat which is to be the property of the household, these special workers are paid a fee out of the store of valuables accumulated under the care of the chief by way of fines and confiscations.

The smaller boats, ranging from a small canoe suitable for one or two paddlers only, to one capable of carrying a score or more, are generally private property. These, like the war-boats, are made from a single stem. The larger ones are made in just the same way as the war-boats. In the smaller ones the bow is shaped from the solid block and is not opened out, as is the rest of the boat. The craftsman who makes a boat for another is helped by his customer, and is paid by him a fee in brass-ware or dollars, the usual fee being a TAWAK varying in size according to the size of the boat.

If Kayans find themselves for any reason in immediate need of a boat when none is at hand, they sometimes fashion one very rapidly by stripping the bark from a big tree. The two ends of the sheet of bark are folded and lashed with rattan to form bow and stern; the middle part is wedged open with cross-pieces which serve as benches, and the shell is strengthened with transverse ribs and longitudinal strips. A serviceable boat capable of carrying several men and their baggage may be completed in the course of two hours. Such a makeshift boat is more commonly made by Sea Dayaks.

Of all the interior tribes the Kayans are probably the best boat-makers; but most of them make their own boats in the same way as the Kayans. There are, however, a few of the Klemantan sub-tribes who never attempt to make anything more than a very rough small canoe of soft wood, and who buy from others what boats they need. This is a curious instance of the persistent lack of the tradition of a specialised craft among communities that might have been expected to acquire it easily from their neighbours.

For ordinary work a rough paddle made from iron-wood is generally used; the blade and shaft are of one piece; the flat blade, nearly two feet in length, is widest about six inches below its junction with the shaft, and from this point tapers slightly to its square extremity; the shaft is about three feet in length and carries, morticed to its upper end, a cross-piece for the grip of the upper hand.

A few paddles, especially those made for women, are very finely shaped and finished, and have their shafts ornamented with carving of a variety of designs, generally one band of carving immediately above the blade and a second below the cross-piece. Some of the Klemantans excel the Kayans in this work, producing very beautiful women's paddles, sometimes with designs of inlaid lead (Pl. 92).


A Kayan community seldom continues to inhabit the same spot for more than about a dozen years; though in exceptional instances houses are continuously inhabited for thirty or even forty years. House-building is thus a craft of great importance, and the Kayans are seldom content to build their houses in the comparatively flimsy style adopted by the Ibans and some of the Klemantans, and even occasionally by Kenyahs. The main features of the structure of a Kayan long-house have been described in Chapter IV. Here it remains only to describe some of the more peculiar and important processes of construction.

The great piles that support the house may be floated down river from the old house to be used in the construction of the new; [64] they are not dug from the ground, but are felled by cutting close to the surface of the ground. The great planks of the floor, the main cross-beams, and the wooden shingles of the roof, are also commonly carried from the old house to the new. If a house has been partially destroyed by fire, no part of the materials of the old house is used in the construction of the new; for it is felt that in some indefinable way the use of the old material would render the new house very liable to the same fate, as though the new house would be infected by the materials with the ill-luck attaching to the old house.[65] In such cases, or upon migration to a different river, the whole of the timbers for the house have to be procured from the jungle, and shaped, and erected; and the process of construction is extremely laborious. But once the timber has been brought together upon the chosen site, the building goes on rapidly, and the whole of a house some hundreds of yards in length may be substantially completed within a fortnight. The main supports of the structure are four rows of massive columns of iron-wood. Holes about four feet in depth are dug for the reception of the butt ends of these. They are disposed in the manner indicated in the diagrams (Figs. 37, 38, 39), so that a single row supports the front of the house, another the back, and a double row the middle.[66] The intervals between the columns of each row are about twenty feet, or rather more. Each pile is erected by raising the one end until the other slips into the hole. Rattans are tied round it a little above its middle and passed over a tall tripod of stout poles. A number of men haul on these while others shove up the top end with their shoulders. The pile is thus suspended with its butt end resting so lightly on the ground that it can easily be guided into the hole prepared for its reception. Smaller accessory piles, to serve as additional supports, are put under the main cross beams of the floor when these have been laid. The columns of the double row in the middle line are about six feet taller than those of the front and back rows. For the support of the floor a massive squared transverse tie is morticed through each set of four columns at a height of some fifteen to twenty feet from the ground, and secured by a pin through each extremity. A squared roof-plate, still more massive than the floor ties, is then laid upon the crowns of the columns of the front row, along its whole length, and a second one upon the back row. This is dowelled upon the columns (I.E. the top of the column is cut to form a pin which is let into the longitudinal beam); and the beams which make up the roof-plate are spliced, generally in such a way that the top of a column serves as the pin of the splice. Each of these heavy beams is generally lifted into its place by tiers of men standing on poles lashed at different heights across the columns, their efforts being seconded by others pulling on rattans which run from the beam over the topmost cross-pole. The framework of the roof is then completed by laying stout roof-ties across the crowns of the double row of columns of the middle line, and lashing their extremities to stout purlins (longitudinal beams for the support of the rafters in the middle of their length), and by laying the ridge-timber upon a line of perpendicular struts. The ridge-timber and purlins, though less heavy than the roof-plates, consist also of stout squared timbers, spliced to form beams continuous throughout the whole length of the house. The rafters are laid at an angle of about forty degrees and at intervals of eighteen inches; they are lashed to the ridge-timber and to the purlins, and lipped on to the roof-plates, beyond which they project about four feet to form an cave. Strong flat strips or laths are laid along the rafters parallel to the length of the house at intervals of about sixteen inches. On these are laid the shingles or slats of iron-wood in regular rows, in just the way in which roof tiles are laid in this country. Each slat is a slab about 1 x 30 x 12 inches, and is lashed by a strip of rattan, which pierces its upper end, to one of the laths. The floor is completed by laying longitudinal joists of stout poles across the main floor-ties; the poles are notched to grip the ties. Upon these joists, transversely to them, are laid a number of flat strips which immediately support the floor planks; these are kept in place by their own weight.

In a well-built house these planks are between thirty and forty feet in length, or even more, two to three feet in breadth, and three to four inches thick. They are made from tough strong timber, but usually not from the iron-wood trees. They are moved from house to house, and some of those in use are probably hundreds of years old. A single tree is generally made to yield two such planks. After being felled it is split into halves longitudinally in the following way. A deep groove is cut along one side, and wedges of hard tough wood are driven in with rough heavy mallets. Deep transverse grooves are then cut in the rounded surface of each half at intervals of three or four feet; and the intervening masses of wood are split off. In this way it is whittled down until it is only some six inche's thick. The plank is then trimmed down to the desired thickness by blows of the adze struck across the direction of the grain. The two ends are generally left untrimmed until the plank has been transported to the site of the house and has lain there for some time. This prevents its splitting during the journey to the house and the period of seasoning.

When the floor has been laid, it only remains to make the main partition wall which separates the gallery from the rooms along the whole length of the house, and the walls between the several rooms. These walls are made only some eight or nine feet in height. The wall of the gallery is made of vertical planks lashed to horizontal rails whose extremities are let into the columns of the anterior set of the double median row. The wall thus divides the house into a narrower front part, the gallery, and a broader back part; the latter is subdivided by the transverse walls into the series of rooms each of which accommodates one family.

The work of construction is carried on by all the men of the house; the women and children lend what aid they can in the way of fetching and carrying, and in preparing rattans. The ownership of each section is arranged beforehand; the section of the chief being generally in the middle, and those of his near relatives on either side of it. Each man pays special attention to the construction of his own section, and carries out the lighter work of that part, such as laying the shingles, with the help of his own household. If any widow is the head of a household, her section is constructed by her male neighbours or relatives without payment.

Before beginning the building of a new house favourable omens must be obtained; and the Kayans would be much troubled if bad omens were observed during the building, especially during the first few days. At this time, therefore, children are told off to beat upon gongs hung about the new site, and so, by scaring away the birds and obscuring the sound of their cries, to prevent the appearance of bad omens from their side. Bad omens combined with ill-luck, such as death, bad dreams, or an attack by enemies during building (even if this were successfully repelled), would lead to the desertion of a partially built house and the choice of another site.

All the interior peoples construct their houses on principles similar to those described above, but with considerable diversity in detail. The greatest diversity of plan is exhibited by the houses of Ibans. An Iban community seldom remains in the same house more than three or four years; it is, no doubt, partly on this account that their houses are built in a less solid style than those of most other tribes. The timbers used are lighter; the house is not raised so high above the ground, and the floor is usually made of split bamboo in place of the heavy planks used by Kayans and others. The plan of construction is less regular. The numerous slight supporting piles pass through the floor of the gallery in all sorts of odd positions; the only part that is kept clear of them being a narrow gangway that runs from end to end of the house; it adjoins the private chambers, and is about four feet in width; it is called TEMPUAN.

Some of the Klemantans make houses very inferior to those of the Kayans in respect to size, solidity, and regularity of construction; lashed bamboos largely replace the strongly morticed timber-work of the better houses; but the worst houses of all are made by those Punans who have recently adopted the agriculture and settled habits of the other peoples.

Other Kinds of Wood-working

The building of houses and the shaping of boats are by far the most important kinds of wood-working; but there are many small articles of wood in the making of which much skill and ingenuity are displayed. Among these the shields and parang-sheaths deserve special mention. The former have been described in Chapter X.

The sword-sheath is made from two slips of hard wood, cut to fit together exactly, leaving a space accurately shaped for the lodgment of the sword-blade. The two slips are neatly lashed together with rattan, and in many cases are elaborately carved with varieties of a peculiar conventional design in relief (see vol. i., p. 240).

Dishes of iron-wood, now almost superseded by European earthenware, were formerly in general use (Figs. 6 and 7). Their shapes are very good; the dish is generally provided with one or two "ears" or flanges for the grip of the hands, and these are cunningly decorated with carved designs or inlaid pieces of shell or pottery. Some have a spout opposite the single handle. The hollowing and general shaping of such dishes is done with a small adze, and they are finished with the knife.

Basket-work, etc.

The weaving of baskets, mats, and caps is one of the most important handicrafts of the Kayans. It is chiefly practised by the women, though the men help in collecting and preparing the materials. The material chiefly used is strips of rattan. A rattan about one-third of an inch in diameter is split into five strips, and the inner surface of each strip is smoothed with a knife; but the stems of several other jungle-plants are also used.

The most important of the baskets (Pl. 43), are the following: The large one used for carrying PADI from the farms to the house; the small basket hung on the back by a pair of shoulderstraps, and always carried by the men on going far from home; the fish-baskets; large baskets provided with lids and kept in the rooms for storing clothing and other personal valuables; the winnowing trays, and the large rough basket used for carrying on the back water-vessels or any other heavy objects (Fig. 41).

Of the mats (see Pl. 43), the principal are the mat worn round the waist for sitting upon; the large mats spread for seating several persons in the gallery or private chambers; those spread on the floor for catching the winnowed rice, or on the platforms outside the gallery for exposing and drying the PADI before pounding it; the mat which every person spreads to sleep upon.

Most of these baskets and mats are made from narrow strips of rattan varying from 1/16 to 1/4 of an inch according to the size and use of the article; the strips are closely woven with great regularity. The commonest arrangement is for two sets of strips to cross one another at right angles, each strip passing over and under two of the opposed set. The basket-work so made is very pliable, tough, and durable. The standard shapes are worked out with great precision. The Kayans are generally content to make strong serviceable basket-ware without ornamentation; but in a large proportion of basket-ware of this kind made by the other peoples, strips of rattan dyed black are combined with those of the natural pale yellow colour, and very effective patterns are thus worked in. The dyeing of the strips is effected by soaking them in a dye obtained by beating out in water the soft stem and leaves of a plant known as TARUM. The dark stain is rendered still blacker by subsequently burying the strips in the mud of the river for some ten days, or by washing them in lime. The dyed strips are then jet black with a fine polished surface, and the dye is quite permanent.

A form of mat-work deserving special notice is the LAMPIT, the mat used largely for sleeping and sitting upon. It is made of stout strips of rattan lying parallel to one another, and held together by strings threaded through the strips at right angles to their length at intervals of four or five inches. This mat has an extremely neat appearance and allows itself to be neatly rolled up. The piercing of the rattan strips at suitable intervals is facilitated by the use of a block of wood grooved for the reception of the strip and pierced with holes opening into the groove at the required intervals.

The most elaborately decorated and finely plaited basket-ware is made by some of the Klemantan sub-tribes, especially the Kanowits and the Tanjongs, and the Kalabits, who use, as well as the black dye, a red dye (Pl. 110). The last is made by boiling the seeds of the rattan in water and evaporating the product until it has the consistency of a thick paste. The Punans also excel in this craft. These adepts barter much of their handiwork in this kind with the people of communities less skilled in it. This affords yet another illustration of the fact that the various specialised handicrafts are traditional in certain tribes and sub-tribes, and are practised hardly at all or in an inferior manner only by the other tribes, who seem to find it impossible to achieve an equal degree of mastery of these crafts.


The large flat circular hat worn by the Kayans for protection against sun and rain is made by the women from the large leaves of a palm. It is the only important handicraft practised by the women only. The hard tough fluted leaves are pressed flat and dried, when the flutes form ribs diverging from the stem. Triangular pieces of the length of the radius of the hat (I.E. from twelve to eighteen inches) are cut and then sewn together in a double layer; those of the upper layer radiate from the centre; those of the under layer are disposed in the reverse direction, so that their ribs diverge from the periphery, crossing those of the upper layer at an acute angle. This arrangement gives great rigidity to the whole structure. The two layers are stitched together by threads carried round the hat in concentric circles at intervals of about one inch. The peripheral edges are sewn to a slender strip of rattan bent to form a circle, the two ends overlapping. The centre is generally finished with a disc of metal or strong cloth on the outer surface (Pl. 45). The hats hung upon the tombs are decorated on the upper surface with bold designs painted in black and red.

Most of the other tribes make similar hats, and the Malanaus and Land Dayaks are especially skilled in this craft. The former make very large hats of similar shape, the upper surface being of strips of rattan dyed red and black, and woven to form elaborate patterns.

Besides these sun-hats, the Kayans and Kenyahs and some of the Klemantans weave with fine strips of rattan close-fitting skull-caps and head-bands. The ends of the strips, some three or four inches in length, are sometimes left projecting from the centre or forming a fringe round the lower edge.

The close-fitting hemispherical war-cap is made of rattans about half an inch thick split in halves.

The Making of the Blow-pipe

The blow-pipe or SUMPITAN is perhaps the finest product of native Bornean craftmanship. It is made by Kayans, Kenyahs, and Punans, and rarely by Ibans and Klemantans.

The best sumpitans are made from the hard straight-grained wood of the JAGANG tree. Having chosen and felled the tree, often one of large size, the craftsman splits from it long pieces about eight feet in length. Such a piece is shaved with the adze until it is roughly cylindrical and three to four inches in diameter (Pl. 112). The piece may be carried home to be worked at leisure, or the boring may be done upon the spot. A platform is erected about seven feet above the ground; and the prepared rod is fixed vertically with the upper end projecting through the platform, its lower end resting on the ground (Pl. 113). Its upper end is lashed to the platform, its lower end to a pair of stout poles lashed horizontally to trees, and its middle to another pair of poles similarly fixed.

The next operation, the boring of the wood, is accomplished by the aid of a straight rod of iron about nine feet long, of slightly smaller diameter than the bore desired for the pipe, and having one end chisel-shaped and sharpened. One man standing on the platform holds the iron rod vertically above the end of the wood, and brings its sharp chisel edge down upon the centre of the flat surface. Lifting the rod with both hands he repeats his blow again and again, slightly turning the rod at each blow. He is aided in keeping the rod truly vertical by two or three forked sticks fixed horizontally at different levels above the platform in such a way that the vertical rod slides up and down in the forks, which thus serve as guides. The rod soon bites its way into the wood. An assistant, squatting on the platform with a bark-bucket of water beside him, ladles water into the hole after every two or three strokes, and thus causes the chips to float out. This operation steadily pursued for about six hours completes the boring. In boring the lower part, the craftsman aims at producing a slight curvature of the tube by very slightly bending the pole and lashing it in the bent position; the pole on being released then straightens itself, and at the same time produces the desired slight curvature of the bore. This curvature is necessary in order to allow for the bending of the blow-pipe, when in use, by the weight of the spearblade which is lashed on bayonet-fashion. If the desired degree of curvature is not produced in this way, the wooden pipe, still in the rough state as regards its outer surface, is suspended horizontally on loops, and weights are hung upon the muzzle end until, on sighting through the bore, only a half circle of daylight is visible — this being the degree of curvature of the bore desired. The wood is then heated with torches, and on cooling retains the curvature thus impressed on it.

It only remains to whittle down the rough surface to a smooth cylinder slightly tapering towards the muzzle (Pl. 114), to polish the pipe inside and out, to lash on the spear-blade to the muzzle end with strips of rattan, and to attach a small wooden sight to the muzzle end opposite the spear-blade. The polishing of the bore is effected by working to and fro within it a long piece of closely fitting rattan; that of the outer surface, by rubbing it first with the skin of a stingray (which, although a marine fish, sometimes ascends to the upper reaches of the rivers), and afterwards with the leaf (EMPLAS) which is the local substitute for emery paper.

The shaft of the poisoned dart is made from the wood of the NIBONG and wild sago palms. It is about nine inches in length and one-sixteenth to one-eighth of an inch in diameter (Pl. 115). On to one end of this is fitted a small tapering cylinder of tough pith, about one inch in length, its greatest diameter at its butt end being exactly equal to the bore of the pipe. The pith is shaved to the required diameter by the aid of a small wooden cylinder of the standard size (Fig. 42); this is prolonged in a pin of the same diameter as the shaft of the dart. A piece of pith transfixed by the pin is shaved with a sharp knife until its surface is flush with that of the wooden gauge.

The poison is prepared from the sap of the IPOH tree, ANTIARIS TOXICARIA. The milky sap runs out when the bark is incised, and is collected in a bamboo cup (Pl. 88). It is then heated slowly over a fire in a trough made from the leaf stem of a palm, until it becomes a thick paste of dark purple brown colour (Pl. 116). When the poison is to be applied to the darts, it is worked into a thinner paste on a palette with a spatula. A circular groove is cut round the shaft of the dart about two inches from its tip, and the part so marked off is rolled in the paste and then dried before a fire. For use against large game, pig, deer, or human beings, a larger dose of poison is required than can be carried on the tip of the shaft. A small triangular piece of metal is affixed by splitting the tip of the shaft, thrusting in the base of the triangular plate, and securing it with a fine thread of rattan or fern-stem. The poison is then applied to the surface of this metal. The metal is obtained nowadays from imported tin or brass ware, but formerly a slip of hard wood was used, and, possibly, in some cases stone.

The quiver for carrying the darts is a section of bamboo about four inches in diameter and ten inches in length, fitted with a cap of the same which fits over the shaved lip of the main piece (Fig. 44). A wooden hook lashed to the quiver enables it to be hung from the belt. The darts, mostly without piths, are wrapped in a squirrel skin and thrust tip downwards into the quiver. A small gourd tied to the quiver carries a supply of piths all ready to be placed on the darts.


The importation of earthenware and of cooking pots of brass and iron has now almost put an end to the native manufacture of pottery; but in former times simple earthenware vessels for boiling rice were made by Kayans, Kenyahs, Ibans, and some of the Klemantans. Those who made no pots boiled their rice and sago in bamboos. The earthenware cooking pot is a simple egg-shaped vessel, one end of which is open and surrounded by a low everted lip or collar (Fig. 8, p. 60).

The clay is kneaded with water on a board until it has the desired consistency. The vessel is then built up on a hollowed base by squeezing the clay between a smooth rounded stone held by one hand within the vessel and a flat piece of wood, with which the clay is beaten from without. The roughly shaped vessel is allowed to dry in the sun and baked in the fire. In some cases the surface is smoothed and glazed by rubbing resin over its surface while hot.

Pots of this one shape only are made, but of several sizes. The commonest size holds about a quart; the largest about two gallons. A pot of this sort is carried in a basket made of fine unsplit rattans loosely woven in the form of interlacing rings.

The Manufacture of Bark-cloth

The native cloth, which was in universal use among the tribes of the interior until largely supplanted in recent years by imported cloth, is made from the bark of trees of several species (principally the KUMUT, the IPOH, and the wild fig). The material used is the fibrous layer beneath the outer bark. A large sheet of it is laid on a wooden block and beaten with a heavy wooden club in order to render it soft and pliable. A piece of the required size and shape is cut from the sheet, and sewn across the direction of the fibres with needle and thread at intervals of about an inch. This prevents the material splitting along the direction of the fibres. Before European needles were introduced, the stitching was done by piercing holes with a small awl and pushing the thread through the hole after withdrawing the awl (>Pl. 117).

Spinning and Weaving and Dyeing of Cloth

The Kayans, Kenyahs, and most of the Klemantans weave no cloth; but the Kayans claim, probably with truth, that they formerly wove a coarse cloth. In recent years the Ibans, Muruts, and a few of the Klemantan tribes have been the only weavers. It may be said, we think, without fear of contradiction, that this is the only craft in which the Ibans excel all the other peoples. Their methods are similar to those of the Malays, and have probably been learnt from them. The weaving is done only by the women, though the men make the machinery employed by them.

The fibre used by the Ibans is cotton, which is obtained from shrubs planted and cultivated for the purpose. The seed is extracted from the mass of fibre by squeezing the mass between a pair of rollers arranged like a rude mangle, while the fibre is pulled away by hand (Pl. 118). Next the thread is spun from the mass of fibre by the aid of a simple wheel, turned by the right hand while the left hand twists the fibres (Pl. 119). The dyeing precedes the weaving if a pattern is to be produced. The web is stretched on a wooden frame about six feet long and twenty inches in width, by winding a long thread round it from end to end. The parts of the web corresponding to the parts of the cloth that are to remain undyed and of the natural pale brown colour of the thread are tied round with dried strips of a fibrous leaf (LEMBA), the upper and lower set of threads being wrapped up together in the same bundles (Pl. 120). If only one colour is to be applied, the web is then slipped off the frame. The threads are held in their relative positions by the wrappings, but are further secured by tying a string tightly about the whole bundle at each end. The web thus prepared is soaked in the dye for some two or three days, and then dried in a shady spot. The wrappings upon the threads are waterproof and protect the wrapped parts from the dye. When, after the dyeing, the web is stretched upon the loom, it presents the desired pattern in colour upon the undyed ground. The undyed weft is then woven across the web in the usual way. And since the threads of the weft do not appear on the surface, the dyed parts of the web present a uniformly coloured surface (Pl. 121).

In most cloths two colours, as well as the natural colour of the thread, appear on the surface — the commonest colour being a warm brick red (obtained from the bark of the SAMAK tree) and a dark purple (obtained from the leaves of the TARUM plant). Lime and gypsum are sometimes mixed with the watery extracts as mordaunts, but these are probably modern refinements. When two colours are to appear, those parts of the web which are to be of one colour (say purple) are wrapped up during the immersion in the red dye together with the parts that are to appear uncoloured. When this first dyeing is completed the web is prepared for the purple dye, by uncovering the undyed parts which are to be purple, and wrapping up in bundles the threads which have already been dyed red. After being soaked in the purple dye and dried, all the wrappings are removed from the web, and the desired pattern in three colours appears upon it when it is stretched. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the operation of dyeing is that the woman generally wraps up the threads in the way required to produce the pattern without any guidance, judging the length and number of the threads to be included in each bundle purely by memory of the design aimed at.

The only striking peculiarity of the loom is its extreme simplicity. The upper ends of the web are looped over a stout bar which is fixed to a pair of uprights about a yard above the floor. The lower ends of the web are looped over a stout rod, to the ends of which a loop of cord is tied. The woman sits on the ground, (see Pl. 121) with this loop around her waist, and thus stretches the web and maintains the necessary tension of it. The manipulation of the shuttle and of the threads of the web is accomplished without other mechanical aids than the rods to which the one set of webthreads is tied by short threads.


Decorative Art

All the tribes of Borneo practise a number of decorative arts. Some of the Klemantans, notably the Malanaus, excel all other tribes, in that they attain a high level of achievement in a great variety of such arts; but each tribe and sub-tribe preserves the tradition of some one or two decorative arts in which they are especially skilled. Thus some of the Klemantan tribes specially excel in the finer kinds of wood-carving (E.G. the decoration of paddles); the Kayans in tatuing and in chasing designs on steel; the Kenyahs in the painting of shields and in the production of large designs carved in low relief on wood and used for adorning houses and tombs; both Kayans and Kenyahs excel in the carving of sword-handles in deer's horn; the Barawans and Sebops in beadwork; the Kalabits and Ibans in tracing designs on the surface of bamboo; Punans in the decorative mat-work; Kanowits and Tanjongs in basket-work.

Wood-carving is the most generally practised and on the whole the most important of the decorative arts. Much of it is done on very hard wood; and the principal tools are the sword, the small knife carried in the sword-sheath, and adzes and axes of various sizes. The blade of the knife is some three inches in length, resembling in general shape the blade of the sword; it is wider in proportion, but has the same peculiar convexity of the one side and concavity of the other in transverse section. The shaft is sunk into the end of a rod of hard wood and secured with gutta and fine rattan lashing. The handle of hard wood is about a foot in length, half an inch in diameter, and slightly bowed in the plane of the blade, the convexity being in the direction of the cutting edge of the blade. The butt end of the handle is cunningly carved in the shape of a crocodile's head, or prolonged in a piece of carved deer's horn. The blade of the knife is held between the thumb and finger of the right hand, the cutting edge directed forwards, and the long handle is gripped between the forearm and the lower ribs; the weight of the body can thus be brought to the assistance of the arm in cutting hard material. With this knife most of the finer carving is done, the adze and sword being used chiefly for rough shaping.

The adze consists of a flat blade of steel in the shape of a highly acute-angled triangle (Pl. 111). The slightly convex base is the cutting edge. The upper half of the triangle (which may or may not be marked by a shoulder) is buried in the lashings by which it is attached to the wooden haft. The haft is a small bough of tough, springy wood, cut from a tree, together with a small block of the wood of the stem; the latter is shaved down until it forms an oblong block continuous with the haft and at an angle to it of 70[degree] — 80[degree]. The upper half of the metal blade is laid upon the distal surface of this block and lashed firmly to it with fine strips of rattan. A piece of skin is often placed between the metal and the lashings; this facilitates the removal of the blade, and enables the craftsman to alter the angle between the cutting edge and the haft. Commonly the blade is laid in the plane of the haft, and the implement is then what we should call a small axe; on turning the blade through go', it is converted to a small adze; and not infrequently the blade is turned through a smaller angle, so that its plane forms an acute angle with that of the haft.

Carved woodwork is commonly painted with black and red paint, prepared respectively from soot and iron oxide mixed with sugar-cane juice or with lime; the moist pigment is applied with the finger on larger surfaces, and the finer lines and edges are marked out with the aid of a chisel-edged stick of wood.


Old beads are much valued and sought after by all the tribes except Ibans, especially by the Kayans. There are few families of the upper class that do not possess a certain number of them.

Many varieties are well known, and some of the Kayan women are very expert in recognising the genuine old specimens, and in distinguishing these varieties from one another and from modern imitations.

Formerly these old beads were one of the principal forms of currency, and they still constitute an important part of the wealth of many families.

Most of these valuable old beads are of foreign manufacture, though a few made from shell and agate are of the country. The old foreign-made beads were probably imported by Arab and Chinese traders at various dates. Some of them are probably of Chinese manufacture, others probably came from the near East and even from Venice. Some are of glass curiously marked and coloured, others of stone inlaid with bits of different colours, others of some hard substance whose composition defies description. Certain rare kinds are especially valued and can hardly be bought at any price; they are reckoned to be worth at least 100 dollars apiece. The most valuable of all is known as the LUKUT SEKALA; the ownership of each such bead is as accurately known throughout a large district as the ownership of the masterpieces of ancient art in our own country. The wife of a rich chief may possess old beads to the value of thousands of pounds, and will wear a large part of them on any occasion of display (Pl. 130). These old beads are worn threaded together to form necklaces and girdles, being arranged with some reference to harmony of size and colour and to value, the most valuable being placed in the middle where they will be shown to best advantage. A single rare bead is sometimes worn on the wrist.

A woman who possesses a good stock of such beads will seldom be seen without some of them on her person. She will occasionally exchange a few for other varieties, and is generally eager to add to her collection; she may occasionally make a present of one or two to some highly esteemed friend or relative, and will generally assign them, but without handing them over, to various female relatives before her death.

Besides these valuable old beads there are in use among all the tribes many small glass beads of modern European manufacture. These are threaded to form a variety of designs, generally in two colours, the combination of black and yellow being the most commonly preferred. These strips of beadwork are put to many decorative uses: they are applied to the women's head-bands, to the centre of the sun-hat, to sword sheaths, to cigarette boxes, to the war-coat at the nape of the neck, and, by some Klemantans, to the jackets of the women.

The designs worked in this way are but few, and most of them are common to all the tribes. The thread used is prepared by rolling on the thigh fibres drawn from the leaf of the pine-apple; it is very strong and durable. The design to be reproduced is drawn or carved in low relief on a board. A thread is fixed across the end of the board and others are tied to it at short intervals; on these the beads are threaded, neighbouring threads being tied together at short intervals; and the colours of the beads are selected according to the demands of the pattern over which they are worked.

Besides these designs on the flat, tassels, girdles, necklaces, ear-rings, and cigarette rings are also made of these beads. The modern imported beads used for these purposes are sometimes improved by being ground flat on the two surfaces that adjoin their neighbours; this is done by fixing a number of them into the cut end of a piece of sugar-cane and rubbing this against a smooth stone. This treatment of the beads gives to the articles made of them a very neat and highly finished appearance.

Bamboo Decorations

The working of designs on the surface of pieces of bamboo is done very simply, but none the less effectively. Among the bamboo articles generally decorated in the way to be described are the native drinking-cup, the tobacco-box, and tubes for carrying flint and steel and all sorts of odds and ends.

The pattern to be produced is outlined with the point of the knife upon the surface of the bamboo, the artist working from memory of the desired pattern and adapting it to the proportions of the surface to be covered. The Iban works more freely than others, working out the pattern and modifying it to meet the exigencies of his material, section by section, as he goes along. Others plan out the design for the whole surface before working out any part in detail. It is probable that in no case does a man sit down and produce a new pattern; but the freer mode of working of the Iban leads him on to greater modifications of the traditional designs; and it is probably partly for this reason that a much larger variety of designs is applied in this way by them than by the other tribes, among whom they are very limited in number. But the greater variety of designs worked by the Ibans is due also to the readiness with which he copies and adopts as his own the patterns used by other tribes. The Kayans and Kenyahs use almost exclusively varieties of the dog pattern and of the hook and circle (see Fig. 47).

The design outlined by the point of the knife is made to stand out boldly from the ground by darkening the latter. This is achieved in two ways: (1) the ground is covered with parallel close-set scratches, not running continuously throughout the larger areas of the ground, but grouped in sets of parallel lines some few millimetres in length, the various sets meeting at angles of all degrees; (2) the hard surface of the bamboo is wholly scraped away from the ground areas to a depth of about half a millimetre. In either case the black or red paint is then smeared over the whole surface with the finger, and when it has become dried the surface is rubbed with a piece of cloth (Kayan), or scraped lightly with a knife (Iban). The pigment is thus removed from the intact parts and remains adherent to the lines and areas from which the hard surface layer has been removed. The design is thus left in very low relief, and is of the natural colour of the bamboo upon a black or dark-red ground, or on a ground merely darkened by the parallel scratches (Pls. 126, 127).


Lashing with strips of rattan and with coarse fibres from the leaf-stem of some of the palms and ferns is applied to a great variety of purposes, and largely takes the place of our nailing and screwing and riveting. It is carried out extremely neatly and commonly has a decorative effect. This effect is in some cases enhanced by combining blackened threads with those of the natural pale yellow colour; and the finer varieties of this work deserve to be classed with the decorative arts. The finest lashing-work is done by the Kalabits, who cover small bamboo boxes with a layer of close-set lashing, producing pleasing geometrical designs by the combination of yellow and black threads. The surface of the bamboo to which the lashing is applied is generally scraped away to a depth of about one-sixteenth of an inch; it is thus rendered less slippery than the natural surface, and is therefore gripped more firmly by the lashing, and the surface of the lashing is brought flush with the unlashed natural surface. The effect is not only a highly ornamental appearance, but also a greatly increased durability of the box, the natural tendency of the bamboo to split longitudinally being very effectively counteracted.

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