What you should know about the Dayak shields of Borneo

While Captain America has his vibranium shield, the Dayak people in Borneo also have their own.

Here are five things you should know about Dayak shields of Borneo:

1.Different tribes call their Dayak shields in different names.

The Kliau, also known as Keliau or Klau, is the more common term for the traditional shield of the Dayak community.

Meanwhile, the Kelabit, Kayan and Kenyah people called it Klebit Bok or Kelavit Bok.

Klebit means shield while bok means hair.

All Dayak shields are typically in a hexagon shape.

2.Some of the illustrations on the Dayak shields meant to protect the owner.

When Norwegian explorer Carl Lumholtz visited the Mahakam, Kalimantan sometimes between 1913 and 1917, he got himself a shield from the locals.

Although he did not mention from which Dayak group the shield belongs, Lumholtz was informed the meaning behind the feature of his shield.

In his book Through Central Borneo (1920), Lumholtz stated, “I acquired a shield which, besides the conventionalised representation of a dog, exhibited a wild-looking picture of an antoh (ghost), a very common feature on Dayak shields. The first idea it suggests to civilised man is that its purpose is to terrify the enemy, but my informant laughed at this suggestion. It represents a good antoh who keeps the owner of the shield in vigorous health.”

3.In the same time, some designs on the Dayak shields meant to frighten the enemy.

Researcher Augustine Anggat in his paper Basic Iban Designs (1989) explained that the preferable design for adorning Iban shields is giant head motifs of tendrils.

“The melancholic, fierce looking face on the shield give a courageous heart to the warrior who uses it during combat and at the same time it will frightened the enemy by the sight of a demonic looking face of such a shield design,” he stated.

4.One of the favourite ornaments of Dayak shields is human hair.

Norwegian explorer Carl Bock was commissioned by the Governor-General of the Netherlands East Indies to travel and report on the interior part of Kalimantan in 1879.

During his visit, he came across many Dayak groups and observed their culture.

On the kliau he wrote, “Among the Trings and one or two other tribes, it is the fashion to adorn the outer side of the shield with tufts of human hair.”

Bock added, “This shield forms a valuable weapon of defence against blows from the mandau, while it is perfectly proof against the poisoned puff-arrows.”

The Dayak Tring was not the only who put human hair on their shields.

According to British zoologist and ethnologist Charles Hose, the Kenyah did theirs as well.

Hose wrote in his book The Pagan Tribes of Borneo (1912), “The shields most prized by the Kenyahs are further decorated with tufts of human hair taken from the heads of slain enemies. It is put on in many rows which roughly frame the large face with locks three or four inches in length on scalp, cheeks, chin and upper lip; and the smaller faces at the ends are similarly surrounded with shorter hair. The hair is attached by forcing the ends of the tufts into narrow slits in the soft wood and securing it with fresh resin.”

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5.How to surpass the Dayak shields

Brooke Low explained in Catalogue of the Brooke Low Collection in Borneo that there is a way to attack even when the enemies are defending themselves using the Dayak shields.

“As everybody in the attacking party is anxious to be foremost in the race for heads, there are sure to be one or two boats so far in advance of the rest as to make it worth the defenders’ while to put them to their mettle. Some convenient spot is selected and a strong defending party placed in ambush among the trees. One or two men are thrown out to stroll upon the shingly bed to lure the enemy to their destruction.”

The moment the bait is sighted, the boats give chase, and as the enemies leap ashore, the men in ambush spring from their covert to their feet and hurl stones to shatter the shields, and engage with spears and swords in what should be a short but desperate conflicts.”

Since the shields are made of wood or bamboo, just throw some heavy stones to break them apart.

Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight.

She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science.

She is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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