Today, Orang Ulu tattoo is a dying, if not already dead, traditional practice. Disruptions to indigenous culture as a result of missionization and modernity continue to pave the way for a relinquishing of ancient customs. One Lahanan man said, “This generation of Orang Ulu are not interested in old ways. They have no desire to get the older traditional tattoos” and are drawn to urban centers, logging camps, or frontier towns where they can find work and become more open to other cultural influences, including fast, accessible and less painful Western tattoos like eagles, dragons and hula girls. Missionaries continue to convert and compel people to discard their traditional customs, and the Malaysian government is in the process of building the largest hydroelectric damn in all of Southeast Asia on the Upper Rejang River. The Bakun Dam project has already has displaced 10,000 Kayan and other Orang Ulu living in a dozen or more longhouses; longhouses that have stood on ancestral lands for centuries, if not millennia. Eventually the Bakun Dam will flood a tract of virgin rainforest that supports over 40 species of endangered mammals and birds. Understandably, and poised on a fragile prelude of change, the Orang Ulu have not yet folded to modernity, but as the jungle slowly disappears underneath the ensuing canopy of water, so too will that which gave life – and tattoos - to all of its peoples.
Article Lars Krutak
Wednesday, April 18, 2007