Headhunters

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

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There are headhunting tribes documented in many countries around the world – Taiwan, New Zealand, India and also Malaysia. In Malaysia, the headhunting tribe is known as Iban or sea dayaks (sea people).  Most Ibans are from Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo.

349px-Dajakfrauen_mit_Menschenschädeln_den_Händen,_zu_einem_Tanze_versammelt
Dayak women dancing with human heads, 1912 (Wikipedia Commons)

There were many reasons for why the Ibans mounted headhunting expeditions – avenging theft or murder, being the dominant reason. Another equally important reason the Iban men headhunted was that the Iban women showed a preference for a man who’s able to give proof of his bravery by killing one of the enemy. In this instance, I suppose, the enemy’s head was more valuable to the woman being courted, than a bunch of roses!

When I was writing this post, I found out that there’s a legend related among the Ibans as a reason for this custom –

Once upon a time, a young man loved a maiden, but she refused to marry him until he had brought to her some proof of what he was able to do. He went out hunting and killed a deer, and brought it to her, but still she would have nothing to say to him. He went again into the jungle, and, to show his courage fought and killed an orangutan, and brought it home as proof of his courage; but still she turned away from him. Then, in anger and disappointment, he rushed out and killed the first man he saw, and, throwing the victim’s head at the maiden’s feet, he blamed her for the crime she had led him to commit. To his surprise, she smiled on him, and said to him that at least, he had brought her a worthy gift, and she was ready to marry him. 

Okay, so that also proved that us Iban women are bloodthirsty. Yes, us. I’m Iban 🙂

Of course, headhunting is no longer being practiced by the Ibans (As far as I’m aware) as it was banned by Sir James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, in the 1800s. So, the Iban women had to settle for receiving something else other than heads, I suppose.

A long time ago, my father told me that our family has kept the heads of our enemies, heads that were cut by my ancestors. I’ve never seen them as the heads are in my father’s longhouse which is deep in the interior of Sarawak. Undoubtedly, I’m curious about these “heirlooms”. I’m also curious as to how many of these heads were used to win the hand of Iban maidens in the family.