Traditional Iban Tattoo

Iban community also known as Sea Dayak is very fond of body decoration. In the past, tattooing is the most common form of body decoration among them. In fact, the tattoo is also associates with their culture particularly head hunting as well as their beliefs of spiritual and life after death.

For the Iban men, tattoo also depicts and records one's successful experiences, expeditions or stories. It is the symbol of manhood, braveness, success in war and status.

Iban men with their body tattoo

As for the Iban women, tattoo is important decoration for their arms, fingers, feet and legs. Tatoo is also a sign of their social rank as well as their accomplishments in weaving, dancing and singing. Ranging from plants to animals, the tattoo motif is believed to protect the tribe against evil spirits, unwanted predators, harms and diseases.

In traditional tattooing, the designs are first drawn with soot from burnt resin onto the parts of the body. It is then to be tattooed using ancient dye-recipes and a special tool with one or more sharp points embedded in native rubber on the one end. A skilled tattoo artist hammered against the tool with a wooden stick to pierce the body, resulting in excruciating pain. Upon the completion, a rice-flour paste was applied to cool the tattooed areas.

Today, this traditional tattooing method of hand-tapping has been replaced with electric piercing machines. The authentic Iban patterns are less preferred than the western and modern design.

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Last update: February 11, 2007