Artifacts of Borneo
Artifacts of Borneo
Borneo is one of the largest and most mysterious islands in the world. It has dense, often impenetrable forests and jungles, abounding with wildlife, many species of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Kalimantan refers to the Indonesian part of Borneo, the southern two-thirds of the island.
Borneo is now populated with relatively new arrivals, such as Islamic Malays and ethnic Chinese. The island's indigenous inhabitants are the "Dayak". Dayaks encompass hundreds of separate inland tribal groups in Borneo. They are the cultural source for all the Borneo artifacts in our exhibit.
The Dayak often live deep in the jungle, traveling through a complicated network of rivers by canoe. Some have a way of life not far removed from that of the Stone Age. Until quite recently, head-hunting was an important activity among many Dayak tribes. Heads were thought to be needed to keep a village strong, for ceremonial functions, and for warding off evil spirits and plagues. There was a continual threat of head-hunting raids from neighboring villages, necessitating weapons and shields.
Dayak Mythology is reflected in the artifacts presented here and includes an interesting mix of real and mythical creatures. A key example is the Dragon Goddess. She rules the Underworld, and being close to mankind provides protection in daily life. She is the source of both agricultural and human fertility. The dragon is definitely female. She guards over the dead and ensures their passage from this world to the next. The Dragon Goddess is associated with earth, water, storm, and lightening. She is represented on virtually all artifacts, from baby carriers to funeral monuments.
The celestial male counterpart of the Underworld Dragon Goddess is the Rhinoceros Hornbill, an endangered species. The male Hornbill rules the Upperworld, and joins with the female Underworld Dragon to create the tree of life.
The Dayak artifacts presented in our collection include a number of tools, weapons, shields, and "household" goods, many of which are carved from ironwood.
Dayak culture, like many of the world's native cultures, is now threatened. Increasing industry, particularly timber and natural gas, has caused an influx of foreign workers, as well as deforestation in once remote and isolated areas.