Saturday, April 22, 2006

Dayak Tattoo

In Dayak culture, tattoo is not only for esthetics reason, but it’s a part of their tradition, religion, and social status and or as an appreciation for someone’s special ability. For dayak people tattoo has a meaning of a torch in their journey to the eternal live after death. More tattoos, means more torches and also means more easier to them to reach the next world. But they can not have tattoos as much as they like since there are tribal laws to obey in making tattoo.


Most of dayak sub tribe have tattoo tradition, but there are sub tribe that do not have it. Every dayak sub tribe have their own rules and laws according this tradition.




The reason behind that tattoos.

There are dayak sub tribe who live in Indonesia – Sarawak (Malaysia) border who have a special tattoo in their finger, as symbol for their ability in medication. Someone with lots of tattoos means lots of medication experience and ability and that’s means these persons are expert and has helped many life.

For dayak Kenyah and Kayan in East Borneo, more tattoos means more wandering to visit other village – in Borneo, they could visit other village thousands kilometers far from their home, including travel by boating along the rivers more than on month!



Tattoo also given to the royal family. Usually they have ‘enggang’ bird tattoo motive, some kind of endemic bird. For sub tribe Dayak Iban, the chief and his clan have tattoo in ‘ski living creature’ motive, like birds etc. The motive for royal family has good quality details and finishing than common people.

For other sub tribes, tattoo is related to their tradition of ‘ngayau’ or slaughtering and cuts enemy’s head on battlefield, more head slaughtered means more tattoo motives they have. This tradition of course can not be done at this time. Tattoo for the brave warriors who slaughtered many enemies’ heads usually placed on the right shoulder. In other sub tribe, the tattoo will be placed on the left arm for middle level bravery, and on the right arm for warrior who have an incredible bravery.

Not only men, women also have tattooed. For women, they only have tattoo on arm and leg, and there is religious motivation to have it, in order to get God blessing and protection from evils. In certain sub tribes, women who does not have tattoo considered as lower class society.


In Dayak Kayan sub tribe, there are 3 kinds of tattoo for women; tattoo on all over of legs and feet and applied for adult women only, on arms and hands, and all over the thighs.




In Dayak Kenyah, tattoo for women created when a girl have her first menstruation or about 16 years old. There is special custom ceremony in the making of tattoo for women. The ceremony is hold in a special house, and no men allowed go outside their houses during the ceremony.

Women have limited motives of tattoo, like black nail on finger or tiger face on arm. Dayak women who have tattoo on their thigh usually have high social status, and also wearing a bangle on the lower legs.

How do they make these traditional tattoos?

In the beginning, tattoos created with natural tools like thorn taken from lemon tree, but in this time they are using needle, but they are still using soot for the ink to get black color tattoo.

So, if you see ‘multicolor’ tattoo on a young Dayak, it must be modern tattoo for ‘modern reason’ instead of traditional tattoo that have a lot of philosophy.

44 comments:

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