FIERCE FRIDAY

FIERCE FRIDAY: DAYAK

My grandmother certainly doesn't look like this, but I'm glad somebody's does. This most excellent older lady is of the Dayak Kenyah tribe from Kalimantan — the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo. 'Dayak' is really a loose umbrella term imposed by Europeans to describe over 200 groups indigenous to Borneo and sharing certain distinguishing cultural traits.

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This woman's drastically elongated earlobes mark her out as a highly respected elder, though the practice of weighting earlobes to achieve this effect is waning among younger Dayak. It has been said that the practice, begun when a child is very young, originated to better distinguish humans from monkeys, thus it was often confined to Dayak nobility, and was considered an important element of beauty in women; the style of jewellery worn could also indicate its wearer's rank. 

The Dayak are known to file their teeth to points and traditional tattooing is extensive, the three most common types covering the feet, hands and thighs. These indicate both nobility and maturity and are also thought to 'light' the way to immortality, thus the greater the number worn, the better the way will be lit for their wearer; the Dayak Kenyah, of East Kalimantan, used to follow animist beliefs before a mass conversion to Christianity in the 19th century.

Other Dayak female attire includes a short woven cloth attached with coins and bells at the bottom end, a rattan or brass ring corset, long scarf or beaded top cover, high silver comb, bracelets on the upper and lower arms, and buah pauh 'fruits on hand'.

Over 170 languages are spoken by the Dayak, but as these die out, so much of the knowledge specific to this culture dies with them.

Image by Tuwing Tahkang on Flickr.