In the olden days, it was considered a great achievement for a man to take an enemy’s head.
Upon returning home, they would raise a pole (called ulung) on an earthen mound shaped like a crocodile.
In Krayan Highlands of North Kalimantan province today, these crocodile mounds can be found in places like Long Midang, Tang Payeh, Trang Baru and Long Layu.
Each mound is maintained by the communities who live near the area. However over the years, the shape of the crocodile on these mounds are difficult to distinguish. This is due to several factors such as soil erosion as well as trampling by animals such as buffalo.
Crocodile mounds as a symbol of bravery
According to Melud Baru, 73, from Pa Rupai village of Long Midang, the Lundayeh tribe picked the crocodile as a symbol of bravery.
“According to our ancestors long time ago when we still had lamin panjang (longhouse), they made this as a symbol of bravery. They picked a crocodile because it thrives both on land and in the river,” he said.
“My grandfather told us the crocodile was an unbeatable animal. Its scales are impenetrable, it has strong jaws and teeth to bite its opponent, its tail can be used to strike its enemies.”
No other animal could ever beat the crocodile before so their ancestors picked the crocodile as their symbol of bravery.
They are specific ways to build these crocodile mounds. Most of their heads face the river,to protect the community who built them from enemies coming for them from the river.
A headhunting after-party on the crocodile mounds
The crocodile mounds were where the celebrations took place after the headhunters came back from a successful headhunting trip.
Melud said, “Back then during our ancestors time, if there was a conflict among them, they wouldn’t talk it out like they do nowadays. The young people just gathered and went headhunting to ‘solve’ the conflicts – less talk that way.
“For headhunters who just came back from the trip, they would ‘slash’ the body of the crocodile mound using their parang just to say, ‘We are home!’ Then, they would drink and celebrate.”
The celebrations at these mounds lasted for weeks, sometimes even months.
On top of these mounds, they would erect the ulung for them to hang the heads that they claimed from their enemies.
Before the celebration, they would prepare jars of rice wine or burak. The amount of jars prepared ranged from 10 and above depending on the amount of heads they achieved. Thus, the more heads, the more rice wine they prepared.
“The weird thing is that there are no crocodiles here in Krayan, so our ancestors may have never even seen a crocodile. But they managed to build a crocodile mound. Maybe some of them had travelled far enough to have seen a crocodile,” Melud said.