Thursday, October 14, 2010

What did the Iban headhunters on Borneo do with their trophies?

No surprise; they did what the winners of any competition do: took their trophies home and showed them to their wife or mother. And the women on Borneo did just as proud wives and mothers of Olympic gold medalists do—or those of a member of the team that won the FIFA World Cup. As an eyewitness report in The Pagan Tribes of Borneo (1912) explains in the chapter titled “War”:

“In the course of the feasting the women usually take temporary possession of the heads, and perform with them a wild, uncouth dance, waving the heads to and fro, and chanting in imitation of the men’s war-song.”

The “wild, uncouth dancing” and “chanting in imitation of the men’s war-song” may have milder, modern interpretations, but sports champions these days have not been in a life-or-death competition. Also, modern champions and their women do not have a cultural tradition for celebrating victory, as the Iban did.

The Iban women wove a ceremonial, multicolored textile called “pua kumba” that was used for lifecycle events, also for “receipt of an important item to a longhouse”, as one website discreetly explains. The Iban warriors did not fly home and straight into their loved one’s arms with their trophies. For a few days, they camped within earshot and the trophies would be smoked and dried, the hair combed. When they then did return home, it was important that the pua kumba was properly place on the tray held by the woman to receive the trophy (or trophies) so that it/they touched the most potent motif of the pattern.

Iban women are still weaving pua kumba, a warp ikat textile, but it is assumed that they are no longer used to receive captured heads.


Antônio Araújo said...

Amazing! God bless you!

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