History of Dayak tattoos
Tattoos are one of the world’s longest standing art forms and has been extensively performed for thousand of years. They have been used for various purposes ever since the dawn of time.They have acted as symbols of rights, rank and seniority, spirituality, devotion, religion, rewards for bravery and acted as amulets, talismans for security.The evidence of the existence of tattoos dates back to as early as 6,000 years ago in Egypt, before Egypt was even an systematized society. Tattoo archeologist discovered these markings on women’s legs of which it was believed that it was meant to protect them from the dangers of childbirth. Later,tattooing was spread to parts of Africa, Asia, and Pacific islands through trade lines and travelers.
One of the countries that have been practicing this art of tattoos and is steeped in this rich ongoing tradition is Borneo. One culture that has caught my attention are the Dayaks. Who are the Dayaks,you might ask? The Dayaks or Dyaks refers to indigenous native tribes of the island of Borneo. There are approximately three million Dayaks,of which can be further classified into a diversity of ethnic subgroups. These subgroups are the listed as follows; Bakumpai and Dayak Bukit of South Kalimantan ,The Ngajus, Baritos, Benuaqs of East Kalimantan, the Kayan and Kenyah groups and their subtribes in Central Borneo and the Ibans, Embaloh (Maloh), Kayan, Kenyah, Penan, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Taman in the Kapuas and Sarawak regions. As well as the Ahe, Jagoi, Selakau, Bidayuh, and Kutai tribes. All these tribes adopt their own language and cultural traditions.
The tattoos or the “ Betik” as the Dayaks call it are not merely for decoration but to the dayak ethnic community, it embodies a deep meaning to it. The tattoos are considered part of their tradition.It symbolizes religion,social status and is seen as a form of recognition to the capabilities of the tribe member. The are several rules to consider before acquiring the tattoo such as the placement of the tattoo on the wearer’s body, the social structure from the tribe of the tattoo design that the person is getting and a good choice of images. Hence the tattoo cannot be created carelessly,because the meaning behind the motif would be completely distorted if done haphazardly.
It is important to note that most of the tattoo designs are inspired from Kayan tribe style.The Kayan style of tattoos is inspired from the wood-block stamp technique of which patterns are carved into blocks of wood and then transferred onto the skin. The tattoo motifs are then spread to other tribes like the Iban and Kenyah and are adapted to the preferences of their tribe.
The tattoos of the dayaks comprised of different motifs, each with its own meaning and designated area on the body. Most of the tattoos depict features of nature of some sort because of the co-relation between nature and humans. and The Dayaks are also animist in belief.They believed that spirits embody everything: animals, plants, and humans. Many groups have drawn on this power by using images from nature in their tattoos, creating a combination of floral motifs using plants with curative or protective powers and powerful animal images.
Figure 1:Bunga terung motif tattoo
One such tattoo motif adorned by the Dayaks is known as the bunga terung.It is a depiction of the flower of a local aubergine. Usually this specific design is the first tattoo that young men of age 16 or so adorn.The two dark, swirling flowers sit symmetrically beneath the outer edge of the collar bone. The swirl in the centre of the motif is called the ‘Tali Nyawa’ meaning ‘rope of life’ and is intended to resemble the underside of a tadpole, which signifies new life.
The “burung enggang” or hornbill tattoo motif is one that is adorned only by noblemen.Only certain people are allowed to get the hornbill tattooed on them because hornbills are seen as the messenger of...
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