A brief look at the Headhunters of Borneo
By Amanda King
“There is only one sort of rule in jungle warfare, do not be smelt before you are heard, do not be heard before you are seen and below all, do not be seen”
Major Tom Harrison
I have read and heard stories about Head Hunters and have always had a rather macabre fascination with them, but it was not until I travelled to Borneo this year that I actually got to speak to someone from an old Head Hunting Tribe and consequently this rekindled my interest.
The man I met was called Mebo from the Dusun Tribe and he explained to me a little about the old traditions and how they used to hunt heads for many reasons but mainly, according to him, in order to win respect, show their strength and be deemed suitable for marriage.
The Tribe kept the last skull and to this day regularly sacrifice a chicken in a special ceremony to summon up the spirit, which they believe lives on inside the skull. By offering up the blood of the chicken, Mebo explained that this will keep the spirit happy and the skull ‘healthy’ in preventing it from going white and cracking, much like a fragile egg would.
The Tribe name ‘Dusun’ was made more popular by the British Colonials who latched on to the term from the Brunei Malaysian people, the word was used to describe farmers who had a piece of land with fruit and orchards. The Dusuns were split into many sub-tribes who lived in groups around many scattered areas, with names including the Tagahas and Bundu-liwan Tribes, both of which played a key role in the head hunting practice.
The Dusun people are sometimes also referred to as Ma’anyan or Dayak, in fact they have so many different names and sub-tribes that it can become quite confusing, for the most part of this piece I shall refer to them as Dayak.
The Tribes are said to follow Animism, which is a belief that spirits exist in certain animals and plants and even in objects such as rocks, in weather for example thunder and lightning and also geographical places, such as a mountain. In other words there is no distinction between the physical and the spiritual world.
It is an interesting outlook and one that I have come across before, while travelling in the Masai Mara in Kenya, there was a huge thunder storm and the Masai Tribe told me that they believed the Gods were angry with them, so they sacrificed some cattle to try and appease the Gods.
The Masai beliefs are very strong, as are the Dusuns, it is surely one of the things that helps to bond these Tribes together, in having a unity of beliefs and ancient traditions.
This is a preview of
The Headhunters of Borneo; a look at their traditions, religions and struggle for power
. Read the full post (2518 words, 2 images, estimated 10:04 mins reading time)