Angela – Module 1

This article is written by anthropologist and tattoo specialist Lars Krutak. Tattooing and headhunting are a meaningful part of the Kayan or indigenous people of Borneo. Tribal lifestyle is threatened not by the social structure in Borneo, where countless ethnicities and tribes live peacefully on one land; they are threatened by the destruction of the rainforest. This article gives a great overview of some Dayak traditions, but does unfortunately not accredit individual tribes for their symbols, beliefs and practices.

Here is the website of one of the last tattoo artists to use the tapping technique instead of an electric device. I was lucky meet Ernesto, and we had a great conversation about educational technology which is the premise of my blogroll; he was adamant that the culture of a traditional craft cannot be related over the internet, only the technique. This turned the focus of my research to include community building amongst tribes. Ernesto collected “genuine” artefacts (ones that were actually used in ceremony for rituals such as headhunting) from his own Iban tribe, and will only use the tapping method for traditional designs from Borneo.

This video from about 30 years ago shows an American travelling couple as the first Americans to visit a particular Iban longhouse. Tribe members honestly share the details of headhunting with the inquisitive couple. I appreciate this documentation, as it was created openly as Don and Betty stayed as guests in the longhouse. Even though much of the final cut focuses on the sensational headhunting, footage of the people as relaxed, hospitable and with humour helps the spell the notion of savage that might arise with the label “headhunter”.

Even further back in time, I like this video because as it shows some tender human moments, but also because it shows the songket weaving, Pua Kumbu, by one of the young girls.  The video does not list the tribe, it boasts itself as a vessel for time travel. One thing I appreciated about Sarawak (In Borneo) is that local people were very interested in this kind of slice of life from the history of the land’s people. Many places that I visited would frame old photos or other artistic renderings for the walls instead of more contemporary art.

This is a 50 minute documentary that follows two Canadian guys looking for traditional (tapping) tattoo artists in the jungles of Borneo. They learn how the practice cannot be separated from spirituality, community and the afterlife. They are joined by Lars Krutak, and become physically and mentally involved in the lifestyle of the Iban with a surprising ending. Actually, incredible.




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