Meaning of Bungai Terung

Significance of the Bunga Terung

18 Monday Jun 2012

Posted by Sonny in Bunga Terung

The Bunga Terung, which translates to eggplant flower, is the first tattoo a Borneo male would receive. The Bunga Terung is a coming of age tattoo which marks the passage of a boy into manhood. The Bunga Terung has a spiral at the center of the eggplant flower, known as Tali Nyawa, which means the rope of life and is identical to the underside of a which symbolizes the beginning of a new life.

All the tattoos, following the eggplant flower, are like a diary. A young male would go out on his own to find knowledge and from each place he went to he would get one tattoo to mark not only where he is from but also where he has been. From each place the tattoos have different styles so the regional differences in his tattoos would tell the story of his journeys in life.

Am I wearing this right?

04 Friday Jan 2013

Posted by Sonny in Bunga Terung

misapplication, misunderstood, out of context, taboo, tattoo

There is a saying of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The classic Bunga Terung design being just that: classic, might not warrant a makeover. However, the traditional Bunga Terung tattoo has such a deep meaning behind it; 1) One on each shoulder for the ‘Bejalai’ journey to make you stronger to carry your travelling pack, 2) Protection, and 3) the centre coil to symbolise the transformation from a tadpole (young man) to maturity.

It is this profound relationship with a dying practise that it is better to preserve its status as an Iban tribal ritual antiquity than to have its importance diluted and misunderstood by being misused by today’s wearers. Tattoos are freely received and given out today in a contemporary society where self-expression in the form of body modification is part of a thriving industry.

A very large majority of wearers will get a design based purely on aesthetics, and this unfortunately results in many instances of misapplication of tattoos; misinterpretation, wrong connotations, inappropriate location on the body, demeaning of tribal ritual tattoos and so forth (Christensen W., 2012). Most obvious of all, today’s wearers do not go on ‘Beralai’ journeys, and many seekers are not of Borneo origins, let alone Iban.

A picture of a young man who wanted to get a tattoo but was afraid of needles. Picture by Alfred Charlie. The wearer is Iban.

This wearer thinks that the middle coil means “Circle of Life”. Below that is her surname in Nepalese. She is also an Iban.

Remember, the Bunga Terung must be done in pairs, for balancing and protecting both sides of your body. That being said, you are free to do as you please… after all tattooing is about personal expression. This post is just a gentle reminder as to the original function and intention of the Bunga Terung.
Deconstruction of the Bunga Terung

02 Wednesday Jan 2013

Posted by Sonny in Borneo, Bunga Terung, Iban

As mentioned earlier in the blog, the Bunga Terung is a deviation of the Mata Aso. Here we will look at the components individually.

‘Bunga’ is a Malay word for flower, and ‘Terung’ is Malay for brinjal, or eggplant. Do note that the Iban language contains many words adopted from the Malay language.

The eggplant flower. Photo by Juan Buitrago © 2010

The frog life cycle is significant to the Iban because of the connotation it has with the coming of age of a young man. This is represented by the coil, or ‘Tali Nyawa’.

Courtesy of, © Neeha

According to the diagram, on the 70th day from the frog’s existence as an egg, the tadpole would have begun sprout the beginnings of hind legs. This is drawn in comparison to the Iban custom of a young men going into the jungle alone for the first time to fulfill a certain task, most often, the hunt for the first kill. The phrase for this in Iban is ‘Bejalai’, which means to walk.

As the tadpole shows readiness to begin life on land, so is young man who is ready to walk into the world as a grown man. Before the young man embarks on his journey, he will receive two Bunga Terung, one on each shoulder.

The Bunga Terung should never be worn as a single design. It must be in a pair to balance and to protect both sides of the body. It should also be noted that it is around this stage of a tadpole’s life cycle that the fully developed and pronounced intestinal coils can be seen through a transparent belly. ‘Tali Nyawa’ directly refers to the coil, and translates as ‘Rope of Life’.

Cindy @

Photograph by Lydia Fucsko © Australian Amphibian Research Centre.

Side, top and bottom view of a preserved tadpole specimen. Picture from the Municipality of Caldas, Novas, Goias, Brazil.

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