In ancient times, the Iban, it is believed, did not tattoo their body, throats, thighs, arms or the palms of their hands. They started to tattoo only after an ancestor named Gendup accidentally landed at a spiritual world of Antu Selang Pantang where he saw that most of the men had their bodies beautifully tattooed. As he envied them, he begged that his own body be tattooed by three of the experts, who did it for him using needles and oily soot (arok), working continuously for three days.

After the experts, the Antu Selang Pantang, had completed their work, Gendup asked them to make a tegulun tattoo on the back sides of both his hands. They refused, saying that Gendup must first kill a foe in war.

“If we tattoo the back of your hand before you have killed an enemy in war,” they said, “you shall become layu (withered), gradually became ill, and may eventually die before your time”.

The Iban are afraid, up to this day, to make a tegulun tattoo on the backs of their hands, if they have not yet killed a foe in war.

When Gendup returned to his human world, he related to his friends what he had seen and done while visiting the spiritual world. On hearing his story, a number of Iban were eager to have their bodies tattooed by Gendup copying the patterns made over his body. After this, Ibans of every generation have tattooed their bodies as originally done by Gendup twelve generations ago.


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