Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1838 Iban penyamun  
Subject:penyamun pirate / headhunting warrior
Culture: Iban / Sea Dayak
Setting: piracy, tribal warfare, Sarawak early-mid-19thc

Context (Event Photos, Period Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Warren 2002 p210-211
"Tribal warriors regularly made up part of the vanguard of Iranun crews based at Tobungku, Tontoli, Tempasuk, and Reteh.  Heads taken from dead or wounded victims served as trophies and ritual 'soul stuff' for Iban and 'Alforean' marines.  More than half of some crews, particularly at the start of the nineteenth century when maritime warfare increased with the advent of European rivalry and trade to China, consisted of assimilated Visayans, Tobello and Iban volunteers who had been trained since their youth to equal in ferocity any native-born Iranun or Balangingi.  The Iranun and their mercenaries used decapitation and head-taking as instruments of geopolitics.  In the interethnic competition over control of maritime raiding and the slave trade, they promised the Iban and 'Alforean' crew members a certain number of heads in relation to the total number of captives they took in hot spots like the straits of Buton and the Malacca Strait.  Dark-skinned tribal warriors were among the most feared crewmembers of the vanguard designated to board enemy vessels in search of this gruesome bounty."

* Pringle 1970 p46, 48
"There were two rather different types of raiding activity.  One type, which Benedict Sandin has called 'intertribal warfare', consisted of retaliatory headhunting and marauding between predominantly Iban communities which had come to regard themselves as hereditary enemies.  In the second type, Iban fleets, often mixed with Malay forces, raided indiscriminately against petty coastal shipping and villages as far distant as the Pontianak area.  Most of the victims of these raids were Land Dayaks, Melanaus and other non-Ibans.
​    "[...] The retaliatory, 'intertribal' warfare often pitted the powerful, predominantly Iban communities of the Saribas and Skrang Rivers, who usually raided together, against weaker, mixed Iban and Malay communities located on outlying rivers on the fringes of the Iban territory. ...
    "[...] ...Saribas and Skrang war parties were the scourge of the coast by the period 1820-30.  To this day, bi Saribas means bloodthirsty headhunter in the vocabulary of the Land Dayaks of the First Division, who remember with gratitude the First White Rajah's campaigns to end the depredations." 

* Warren 2002 p211-212
"It would seem that many Iban took more heads at sea as 'Iranun' marines than from intertribal warfare after the period of their rapid recruitment, which began in earnest at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  The Iranun recognized that Iban warriors traditionally set out to travel, (merantau) make warfare and take heads.  Afters striking a ceremonial blow against an enemy, they ritually smoked and hung skulls in their longhouses to break the period of mourning for the sold of a dead person.  In this way, they faced their spirit world from the deck of a joanga off the distant coast of Sulawesi, Thailand or Vietnam.  One thing is certain though, with respect to Saribas and Skrang headhunting and Iranun maritime marauding in Southeast Asia, its spread was due as much to Europe's desire for Chinese commodities rather than simply the aggressive exuberance of the Iban.  Living at the upper reaches of the Bornean rivers in strongly fortified positions, the Iban of the Saribas and Skrang basins had developed an infamous reputation for head hunting on the high seas.  It is clear from some accounts that the well-armed warlike Iban were among the most trusted crew and they were given relative freedom aboard the Iranun vessels while cruising in various theatres of operation, particularly the South China Sea and the environs of Sulawesi."

* Pringle 1970 p50-51
"Certainly headhunting was a major motive for Iban 'piracy', although the Ibans also kept captives and plunder.  Coastal raiding naturally appealed to the Iban love of travel and warfare.  As St John observed, ambitious young headhunters even served as 'marines' on the big Illanun prahus which spread terror and destruction throughout maritime Southeast Asia.  In 1837 the Raja of Pahang appealed to the British authorities at Singapore for help against Illanuns working in tandem with headhunting 'Dayaks' off the east coast of Malaya.  A year later the famous Malayan author Munshi Abdullah again reported tattooed warriors and 'Dayak' pirates, who could only have been Ibans, among the Illanuns whose attentions he was grateful to escape on a voyage to Kelantan."

* Knight/Scollins 1990 p20
"Piracy was endemic in the Malay archipelago, with both Malayan and Iban pirate ships, long-oared boats known as prahus, preying on peaceful shipping, robbing, killing, and enslaving.  [James] Brooke began a concerted campaign to suppress piracy which lasted throughout the 1840s.  In this he was supported by Capt. Henry Keppel of the Royal Navy and his ship HMS Dido.  Naval landing parties, supported by Dyaks recruited by Brooke, sought out the pirates' stockades among Borneo's remote creeks and coves, and stormed them one by one, until by 1849 there were no pirates left on the island."

* Tagliocozzo 2005 p119-120
"[I]n British Borneo, ... conditions of chronic violence were commonplace in the 1860s and 1870s. James Warren and Ulla Wagner have shown how various Bornean peoples acted and reacted within a radically changing forest landscape, as economic trade routes, interethnic rivalry for resources, and the expanding reach of colonial states combined to form a heightened landscape of competition in Borneo. Culturally contested complexes around head-hunting and the protection of economically valuable resources such as birds' nests caves lay behind much of the shifting violence of the period, argue these two scholars. Low-level systemic violence could also be seen in other dimensions, however. Kidnapping and the 'robbing of men' from their environs was one of these forms, as the slaving practices of various indigenous groups came under sharp attack by colonial authorities in the region. Outright robbery and murder of traders laden down with commercial goods on the rivers of Borneo were other common occurrences, especially among Chinese merchants who were relatively powerless in the interior when faced with the threat of force. When the governor of Labuan was able to compel the sultan of Brunei to execute one of the worse perpetrators of this sort of crime against Chinese traders in 1871, it was the first time in over a century that one of the sultans there had agreed to such a punishment, for the 'mere crime' of killing a few innocent Chinese. The archives are littered with instances of violence of this sort against Chinese traders, three heads taken here, four there, in various parts of British Borneo."


* Power and gold 1985 p118-119
"Protection from spirit attack is a constant theme in many spheres of Dyak art and ritual (which were not distinguished in any significant way until the recent past).  Wooden statuary in the village center, war costumes, weaponry, and textiles all played on the idea of using amulet objects to cast back evil influences.  Jewelry was connected with all of these arts."


* Vale/Heppell 2002 p72
"Other [weaving] techniques used [by the Iban] include a tapestry weave that is applied to the warp while the material is still on the loom.  This is usually seen on the back and base of ceremonial jackets, or kelambi', but is also seen on skirts woven by Iban living on the Labuyan River in West Kalimantan. Kelambi' are worn by both men and women, but those incorporating spiritual designs are only worn by shamans, bards, chiefs, and warriors of standing.  Beads, shells, buttons, seeds, and other embellishments are used to produce patterns, but only on skirts and jackets."


* van Zonneveld 2001 p28
A kind of coat-of-mail [sic] made of thick bark and fish scales.  The larger scales are attached by means of split rattan, the smaller ones by means of a strong cord.  It has no sleeves or collar."

* Stone 1934 p66
"The Dyaks wore skins of goats or leopards hanging down before and behind which were probably adequate as protection from blowpipe darts. ...At Tampassook in Borneo Marryatt met a number of natives equipped for war and says: 'One costume was quite novel, being a suit of armor made of buffalo leather scaled with oyster shells.'"

* Maxwell 2014 p10?
"Warfare required fine regalia and special protective clothing.  Twining was frequently the medium for hunters' and warriors' jackets and these are still found in a few isolated places.  The tightly twined jackets of Flores, Sulawesi and Borneo were all intended to deflect enemies' blows.  In Borneo, institutionalized inter-tribal fighting and head-hunting led to an amazing range of war jackets made of woven fibre and thick cotton, quilting, embroidered bark, skin, rattan, beads, shell discs of various shapes and sizes, and even anteater scales.  On the most elaborate Iban warp Ikat cotton jackets and coats, twining and tapestry weave are employed for the bright medallions and border trim ...." 


* van Zonneveld 2001 p131-133
The sumpitan is a blow-pipe made of a single piece of hardwood, preferably of the niagang-tree which has a straight grain and hardly any knots. ...
​    "To the tip a spear-point is attached which is tied to the exterior using rattan.  This tip is almost always made of iron, but sometimes a tip made of ironwood (Eusideroylon zwageri, Fam. Lauraceae) occurs.  In the binding, opposite the spear tip, we often find a wooden, bone or metal 'foresight (klahulon) in order to aim better.  Using resin, a cowrie shell is sometimes attached to the shaft serving as a foresight.  The mouth-piece may have a horn ring or a ring of resin (damar).  The sumpitan is used to fire darts at birds and small game, but also in combat.
​    "The sumpitan comes with blow-darts (langa), a quiver (tolor or tavang) and a small gourd (hung) in which are stored the small cones of the pith of a tree or of a certain species of thorny creepers which are attached to the back of the darts.  These serve to close the bored holes so that the darts can be blown out forcefully.  Furthermore, instruments are used to prepare the poison (ipoh) and to apply it to the tips of the darts.  There we find a small instrument to mould the cones into the correct size making them fit exactly into the bored hole of the sumpitan.
​    "The darts have a range of c.35-54 m, but for a direct hit the range is c.20-25 m.  When leaving the blow-pipe, the darts allegedly have a speed of 180 km per hour.  The sumpitan is also known as sumpit (Iban), leput (Kayan), sipet (Ngaju) and put (Punan)."

* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Sumpitan (1884.18.4)
"The sumpitan is a blowpipe from Borneo. It can be up to 2 metres in length. It is made from a single piece of hard wood that is bored into a tube using an iron rod. The inside wall of the borehole is smoothed by drawing rattan back and forth through the tube. Finally, the exterior is rubbed down and a metal spearhead is bound onto the end so that it can also be used as a spear. ... [A] small copper or iron strip is often lashed to the muzzle, which is curled into a foresight in order to aim better.
      "The sumpitan is used with lightweight poisoned darts to hunt birds and small game but have been known to have been used in combat. The darts can achieve a direct hit at around 20-25 metres and the darts allegedly leave the blowpipe at a speed of 180km (over 110 miles) an hour."

* Knight/Scollins 1990 p47
"The Iban relied on poison darts and the blowpipe as their projectile weapons, but also carried a decorated short-sword, the mandau, for close combat and the taking of heads."

* Feest 1980 p70
"As an implement of war it [the blowgun] is limited to Kalimantan and some other areas of the Indonesian archipelago, and is always the same type: a plain hardwood pole, bored and regularly fitted with an iron bayonet and sometimes a sight.  The tiny darts, with only breath to propel them, would cause little harm to man were they not tipped with one of several poisons such as ipoh or siren.  Even so, their use in war declined during the centuries of European contact."

* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p464
"sumpitan  A blowpipe used in Borneo, consisting of a wooden tube about 1.5-2.4 m. (5-8 ft.) ong with a bore of about 1 cm. (2/5 in.). The hard, straight-grained wood of the jagang tree is mainly used, but there are also bamboo blowpipes. The darts, made from the wood of the wild sago palm, are usually about 25 cm. (10 in.) long and 5 mm. (1/5 in.) in diameter, with pith cone on the end that exactly fits the bore of the sumpitan. These darts are poisoned with a mixture of ipoh-tree juice and various other substances such as scorpions' stings, snake venom, pepper, or arsenic. Special cases made of bamboo bound with rattan are used to carry the darts."


* Stone 1934 p363
"KLIAU, KLAU.  The commonest and most typical Dyak shield.  It is carved, handle and all, from a single piece of wood three or four feet long and eighteen to twenty inches wide.  The ends are pointed and the shield curves in both directions with a ridge down the center.  It is usually laced across the ends to prevent its splitting.  The decoration is sometimes confined to staining the ends and borders, at others the whole surface is painted with grotesque or geometrical figures.  With some tribes it is almost covered with tufts of human hair."

* Feest 1980 p86 f98
"The outside of many Dayak shields is painted with one or more demons' heads, a design which possibly derives from Chinese dragon- or tiger-shields.  Human hair surrounds the fearsome faces.  The inside may be decorated with similar motifs or with a pair of smiling anthropomorphic figures."

Swords (Dukn, Jimpul, Mandau, Nyabor)

* Hersey 1991 p43
"Their long history of head-hunting and skull ceremonies has not prevented the Dayak from employing their genius to produce a subtle and refined art founded in large degree on a highly developed decorative sense which marks almost everything they make and use.
    ​"One has only to examine the famous Iban swords called mandau or parang to gain an appreciation of this sensibility.  The swords are often great works of art, with beautifully fashioned steel blades, superbly made handles of bone bearing intricately interwoven human, animal, and plant forms, and subtly carved wooden sheaths, often covered with fine beadwork or inlaid with delicately carved strips of wood or bone."

* Draeger/Smith 1969 p175
"The Sea Dayak of Borneo carries the mandau, a long, single-edged bladed weapon which is similar to the machete.  The mandau is a well-balanced weapon, with a blade heavy enough to ensure depth of penetration into the human target.  One carefully aimed and properly executed swing can decapitate a man.  The blade is functional and kept reasonably sharp.  The handle of the mandau is usually tufted with human hair.  Each scabbard is brightly colored with natural pigments and may also be adorned with human or animal hair and teeth laced in chain fashion on cords that drape from the external surfaces."


* Stone 1934 p567
"SLIGI.  The Sea Dyak wooden spear, the point is hardened by fire.  It is used as a missile, the more valuable spears with iron heads being used only for thrusting." [reference omitted]

* Stone 1934 p564
"SILIGIS.  Wooden javelins, Borneo.  They were thrown and the more valuable iron-headed spears were only used at close quarters where there was no danger of them being lost."