Common Borneo Tattoo Motifs

Common Borneo Tattoo Motifs – Lukut

05 Wednesday Dec 2012

Posted by Sonny in Borneo

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Fig 11.a – 11.c Lukut design, tattooed onto the wrists of men. Drawn based on tattoo blocks from Sarawak Museum © (EB Haddon, 1905)

This Kayan design is traditionally observed to be tattooed onto the wrists of Kayan men and women but adapted by other tribes to be tattooed onto shoulders and throats of men.
Common Borneo Tattoo Motifs – Kelingai Kala, Lipan Kayip, Kowit, and Urang

05 Wednesday Dec 2012

Posted by Sonny in Borneo

An extreme modification of the Kayan Aso tattoo.

Fig. 13a, b,c,d,e: Iban version of the Kayan Aso tattoo © (EB Haddon, 1905)
Fig. 13f: The Iban ‘ Kala’ – Scorpion © (EB Haddon, 1905)
Fig 13g, b: The Kenyah ‘Kowit’ – Hook © (EB Haddon, 1905)
Fig 13i: The Kenyah ‘Urang’ – Prawn © (EB Haddon, 1905)

Common Borneo Tattoo Motifs – Mata Aso, Jalaut, Ipa Olim, Usung Dian, and Bunga Terung

04 Tuesday Dec 2012

Posted by Sonny in Borneo

‘Mata Aso’, ‘Jalaut, ‘Ipa Olim’, ‘Usung Dian’, ‘Bunga Terung’ – Rosette Design

Tattooed on the shoulders of many Borneo warriors, two rosette motifs can be found, one on each shoulder. At the time this was written, reliable sources of Borneo tattoos and pagan practices could not pin point the true origins of this design. However, it is widely believed that it was a common Kayan design that spread out to other Borneo tribes, was adopted, with the meaning lost in translation. A remarkable account for this design comes from Charles Hose and R. Shelford (Materials For A Study of Tatu in Borneo, page 66). They explained that ‘Jalaut’ is most likely a new name for the ‘Mata Aso’, a stylized version of the Aso – minus the legs but with regular geometric or spiked edges. However, the Kayans in the 1900s have adopted Jalaut as the name of this design, but they have today returned to calling this design ‘Mata Aso’.

Fig 7.a Mata Aso, or ‘Dog’s Eye’.
Fig 7.b Jalaut or ‘Plukenetia Flower’.
Fig 7.c The plukenetia plant fruit, gathered and also cultivated as a vegetable. The plant which lent its name to a degraded rosette design of the original ‘Mata Aso’. Illustration by Anita Walsmit Sachs © 2004

The ‘Ipa Olim’, according to the Kenyah and Kayan people, is a stylised rendering of the opened fruit of a wild mango (Hose.C and Shelford R, 1901). Notice the similar rosette design of the ‘Mata Aso’ but with different edges. The double spiral swirl in the middle is probably a retained element of the eye of the Aso tattoo design. It is of interest to note that the mango tree species is not endemic to the Borneo jungle. This fruit is in fact brought over from India and has been cultivated successfully in the tropical regions over 6,000 years ago (Ensminger, 1994). It is logical to assume that this relatively new fruit has influenced the Borneo tribes somewhat and has evolved to the following example of design.

The open mango fruit. Peeled like a banana to access the fragrant flesh inside. Image courtesy of Panam Properties, © Richard Novey H.

The ‘Ipa Olim’ or mango flower, of the Kenyah people. © (EB Haddon, 1905)

A peculiar weakness of the Borneo tribes is their love for the durian fruit, almost to the point of veneration. ‘Dusuns’, or orchards, of tropical fruits are a wealthy heritage of a village or a family. Men and women will make annual pilgrimages to collect durians, and these fruits are judged by their fragrance, softness, sweetness, colour, and succulence. It has become such a significant part of life that the Kenyah have durian rosettes tattooed on their shoulders, possibly to give them strength to bear basket straps, carrying their prized contents down from the dusuns.

Kenyah ‘Usung Dian’ © (EB Haddon, 1905)

Lahanan man with variation of‘Usung Dian’ on his shoulders. Picture by Lars Krutak © 2003-2006

The King Of Fruits, the durian and the iconic prickly and thick outer shell. Picture from George Mihaly, by enzday01 © 2010.

The edible part of the fruit, the seeds.Picture from [] © 2012

Another deviation of the Kayan Mata Aso rosette is the Bunga Terung which translates to eggplant flower. It is one the first tattoo an Iban male would receive. The Bunga Terung is a coming of age tattoo which marks the passage of a boy into manhood, a journey called “Berjalai”. All other tattoos, following the eggplant flower, are like a diary (Krutak L. 2007). This Iban version of the Kayan rosette has a meaningful and interesting explanation, especially the significance of the double spiral in the middle.

Redrawn by author, based on classic Bunga Terung motif.

Photo by Juan Buitrago © 2010

Possible influences of the Kayan ‘Aso’ design on subsequent rosette designs of the Kenyah and Iban.
Common Borneo Tattoo Motifs – Aso

04 Tuesday Dec 2012

Posted by Sonny in Borneo

Aso – Dog / Dragon Dog

Dogs feature heavily in Kayan tattoos and other works of art. It was also very common to find mongrels and strays which have been adopted into Kenyah villages and allowed to roam about. The village dogs may enter houses as they wish and no person is allowed to kill one. However, the dog is not a sacred animal but still a dog is hardly kicked or beaten. The following figures show the diversity of the Aso tattoo, being quite up to the artist to depict it. Common elements are the ‘hooks’, the ‘eye (mata), and the claw-like legs (EB Haddon, 1905). Figs 5.a – 5.d Fig 5.d © (EB Haddon, 1905)

Fig 5.a A stylised dog’s head
Fig 5.c A derivative of motif in Fig 5.b
Fig 5.b Two dog heads sharing one eye
Fig 5.d A decorative version of the dog, derivative of Fig 5.a

Indeed, the Aso was such an integral part of Kayan and Kenyah life that this design has been carved as fretwok for many tombs of aristocratic women.

Tomb found at the district of Baram. Photo by Dr. C. G. Seligmann 0© 1901.


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