Category Archives: Iban Tattoo

Kayau Indu and the Iban’s women social status (Ranking)

We’d all known that the Headhunter bravery (head count) and the numbers of tattoos (design) place them in a higher rank of their society. 

          But, do you know how to determine the social status of Iban’s women? – A Head Hunter for man, and a Weaver for woman. Great combination isn’t it? Indeed!

          Iban weaver’s competence and skills place her in her community. I will explain and elaborate the meaning behind the title of Iban’s women according to their rank in the community.

1. Indu Takar Indu Nyar
A competent women, and a women who know how to mix and to use the vegetable dyes successfully – For Pua Kumbu.
          The whole dye-process is called ‘KAYAU INDU’ or Warpath Of The Women; thereby stressing the important that weaving and dyeing is for women in the Iban Society – Just as Headhunting is for men!
          Only those who ranked Indu Takar Indu Nyar will involve in the process of ‘Nyangkah Antu Pala’ ritual – Welcoming home the Headhunter’s

2. Indu Nengkebang Indu Muntang
A women who produce her own design (Many believes that the idea of the design came from the God/Spirit who spoke to them through dream – Kenyap/Mimpi)
          She has tattoos on her fingers and wear a porcupine quil with cotton strand. 
          For the omen design of pua kumbu which portray a design of ghost/spirit (Antu Gerasi) for example can only started by these group of lady, before the rest complete them. This is done as a precaution to overcome the bad luck (Alah Bulu).

3. Indu Sekat Indu Bebat
A skillful weaver, but they’re not producing their own design, and not allowed to weave certain omen design as I mention above.

4. Indu Temuai Indu Lawai
Some called them Indu Asi Indu Ai – a good hostess homemaker.

5. Indu Paku Indu Tubu
An ordinary housewife

          The women who falls into the top 3 categories and her status is accordance to her in the “Adat Mati” or obituary according to the “Adat Tusun Tunggu”. The “Adat Tebalu” given to the husband of a weaver is also higher than that given to the husbans of an ordinary Iban women. 


Eastern Times

The nib of the pencil moves with the command of his finger and what was just an outline sketch a moment ago transformed into an image that he had in his mind – a masterpiece in an art form.

For young man who has the mind and talent of an artist, producing a beautiful art work is just a routine task. It all comes from an inspiration from a talented person.

Allen Charlie is a unique young man who takes the art of tattooing as a hobby. “I love drawing, tattoing is another stage of revolution of drawings, something new to me, so I would like to try, and so far, I love it!” He said.

To make himself known and to market his talent, Allen created his own website at where he posted his works on the internet. That was how this writer got to be in touch with him.

Allen’s website enables him to go a step higher in his skills and abilities. His hobby has now become a source of generating an income stream.

“I was surprised to receive an order from a Malaysian Diplomat working in Paris and I began working on it the moment I got a few orders from her,” said the boyish looking young man who graduated from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Political Science recently.

Allen told this writer that his day began as early as 6am. It is routine for him to have a quick wash and make himself a cup of coffee. After that he gets into his makeshift studio in his house. “The good aroma from the coffee wakes him me up with a new inspiration,” he said.

Everyday Allen goes through his appointment list and looks at some of the notes he had scribbled earlier. Then he checks his schedule and decides where to start.
“I will then go on working with the precious stakes of paper on my drawing table and this is where most of my works are done which reflected my style of work and drawings.

His talent in drawing started while he was still in primary school when he often received praises from his friends for his drawing of comics and other forms of art.

“My friends all queue up for me to draw them the comic characters. They would ask me to come out with the characters and would even sponsor me pencils, colours and papers. We had a collection of comic characters which I made into series. Everyone wanted to see the comics that I drew,” said Allen.

He believes he inherits his skills from his father who loved to sketch and help him draw in his younger days. “My sisters and I often observed his drawings and sketching and we learn from there,” he said.

As he has just graduated on totally different field, his focus now is to look for a good job related to what he did and intends to take tattooing as a hobby only.
“I am not really looking for the money as what I want is to draw and paint – the things I have always liked to do. The same goes to my tattoo works. First, I must be happy with what I am doing and only then can I be happy with my works. I also want people who buy my works to truly appreciate them as I do. It gives me more satisfaction than the monetary rewards,” he said.

The customers are always satisfied with his finished product, especially the details that he had painstakingly done on it.

According to Allen, he started the tattooing art only this year after some encouragements from his mates at university.

This writer also had the opportunity to witness Allen tattooing his subject. When I arrived, he was already in action with the buzzing sound of the small tattoo machine piercing and spreading ink to his subject’s skin.

Inspired also by the works of Kat Von D of Maimi Ink, he said that his tattoo works focuses mainly on portraits, whether in modern or conventional form. “But of course, I need to do according to customers’ requests and what they think is good for them.
Many considered it as fashion and wanted to be part of peer group who love body arts.

Allen explained that for a tattoo artist and his subject, the permanent artistic scar is to be appreciated and admired for the rest of their lives.

Tattoo for some could be a trendy portrait mark while for others it could be a hip as it made a person to be part of the norm in a tattoo conscious society.
Allen said all his customers are always satisfied with his work and the prices he charges are very reasonable.

Surprisingly, Allen does not have single drop of ink on his body. “I like to draw and paint and to tattoo others. I am only an artist,” he smiled.

Like many young artists who are still looking for inspirational works, Allen told this writer that he has still a long way to go to improve and enhance his skills – be it on paper or someone’s skin.

Written By: Wilfred Syed Pilo

Photo by: Wilfred Syed Pilo
Lester Geres
Antonia Mei Ling Chiam

For: Eastern Times (

What I knew about Iban tattoo

Unique! That’s the simple word to describe all about Iban,from the unique culture to customs, from poem to prose, from head to toe, and so was the famous old art of body tattoo called kelingai or pantang.

Today I would like to share my little thought of understanding about some famous choices of Iban traditional tattoo. Each of this tribe or motif represent something, such as the journey and so forth.

Here comes the example:

– Calf muscle: usually “Kowit” hooks, a sign that indicated the reaching of puberty.
– Shoulders: a rosette (“bungai terong”, “tandan buah”, “buah andu” or “ringgit saliling”).
– Thighs and arms: a “kala” scorpion, symbolizing a journey.
– Back: rosettes, also symbolizing a journey.
– Throat: a “katak” frog (derived from the Bakatan “hooks“), an imitation of the “burong lang” (war god) signs on the throat.
– Backs of hands: large tattoos or linear decorations. Symbols of success as a head hunter.

The Iban “war god” is a symbolic bird called “Singalang Burong” but it’s masked by “Burong Lang” (Eagle), which can be a falcon or a kite with signs on the throat similar to the “katak” of the Iban.

Iban women were also tattooed though not very extensively. The most common tattoo was a “bracelet” around an arm, probably indicating having been cured of a illness. They rarely tattooed their throats like men. Tattoos on the backs of their hands indicated skill in weaving, which was considered a worthy enterprise, much as cutting enemies’ heads off was for men.

The Ibans’ lifestyle has undergone many changes in recent years. Certain customs, such as the “bejalai”, have survived anyway and some Ibans still tattoo themselves with the sign that represents it.

The throat tattoo has stayed the same, like many other Iban tattoo motifs. The same rosettes can be seen today on shoulders and backs and more or less recognizable scorpions on legs and arms.

A lot of new motifs have been introduced, including ships and aeroplanes, often accompanied by the names of places visited. Men also get themselves tattoos in the style of the places they visit, where possible. A tattoo on the back of a hand nowadays probably means that a man has been to Thailand on his bejalai and not that he’s cut someone’s head off.

Tattoo or Not?

Malaysian youths, mainly Dayak youths, especially Iban who are having tatoos anywhere visible in their bodies will definitely be refused employment in the Malaysian Civil Service especially in the Police or the Army. This “unwritten code” has been in practice for sometime and is a major hinderance for the youths wanting to join the Police or the Army in Malaysia.

Parents are frustrated that their children, just because they have tatoos somewhere in their bodies are being outrightly rejected by recruiting officers whilst undergoing job interviews.

This policy is too harsh. Has there been official directive by the Government regarding this policy? Herein lies a major irony. During the Emergencies and also the Communists threat, Dayaks who wanted to join the Forces or The police must show that they had tatoos all over their bodies supposedly to indicate courage, honour,brotherhood and sacrifices. Tatoo was then a pre-requisite! Those days, only the brave dared to venture and in addition ,were paid in pittance. Presently, it is the opposite!

There has been numerous complaints echoed by job seekers that they have been refused employment just because they have the signature tatoo embedded in the skin. Yes, it’s quite too much because tatoo is Iban culture, it would be fair to ban just for a modern tattoo and optional for traditional ones?

But, who are to blame? The government? The “samseng”? Or maybe our very own iban men who’ve tattoo whole body but do nothing other than loafing around the football court having “langkau” after sport?

Jerita asal iban nemu berkelingai

Tarubah Bansa Iban Nemu Bekalingai (Bepantang – Tattoo)

MENYA bisi kitai Iban siko ke benama Gendup. Kenyau ari agi biak iya endang penyumpit bendar. Iya suah bendar bemalam dalam kampong, ba lubang batu, di puchok kayu enggau sabelah endor bukai ke manah endor iya nat ka diri dalam babas leboh iya kelalu jaoh udah tapejoh nyumpit. Iya mega endang orang ke berani ngelaban malam, enda takut ka hari jai tau ka ular-embayar, jelu-antu ke tau nganu kitai dalam babas.

Nyadi sakali iya kelalu jaoh tapejoh nyumpit, nyau enda nemu pengelama diri ke udah bejalai. Kepuas bejalai dalam babas dia iya tak rembus ba pendai orang, lalu tepeda ka indu siko mandi. Apin Gendup sempat ngangau alai indu nya lalu nyapa.

“Lalu Gendup, lalu enggau aku mandi dulu,” ko indu nya.

“Nama kebuah enda lalu,” pia ko Gendup, ngengkah ka ma iya lalu sama mandi enggau indu nya. lya alit ati meda indu nya tak nemu nama iya. Udah tembu mandi indu nya lalu mai Gendup niki ka rumah.

“Niki meh Gendup nyereta aku, sida ke lelaki nadai mindah, bisi di rumah magang,” ko indu nya leboh ka mai iya niki.

“Manah endar enti sida bisi di rumah magang,” ko Gendup.

Nyau semak kaki tangga, dinga Gendup tak bakasetik-bakasetok munyi utai dalam rumah orang nya. Iya enda nemu belaba ka pengawa orang ke bengat bakasetik ngemalat nya.

“Nama pengawa orang di rumah dia?” Ko iya nanya indu ke disempulang iya ari pendai.

“Eh, orang ngaga kalingai, orang bepantang,” ko saut indu

Seduai pen lalu niki ka rumah. Nama agi meda temuai niki, orang lalu bakaraoh ngasoh dudok. Tang iya madah ka diri lalu enggau indu nya ka setak ka dulu. Datai ba tengah Rumah, indu nya lalu tama ka bilik. Gendup lalu ngait ka ma enggau duku iya ba tandok rusa ke ba tiang. Apai tuai orang ba ruai dia lalu nudok ka iya. Gendup pen lalu dudok nunga apai tuai orang nya. Peda iya nyau genarau tuboh apai-tuai orang nya penoh laban kalingai.

Udah badu makai lemai nya sampal bendar orang sarumah, enggau indu enggau anembiak, begulu ka Gendup. Udah nanya ka menoa, orang lalu nanya ka pejalai, laban iya bengat nadai kala udah rembus udah ngebus ba menoa nya. Gendup madah ka diri pejalai lantang. Ninga iya pejalai lantang, sida lalu bungah. Dia sida ke bujang madah ka diri deka ngaga kalingai ka Gendup, dikena ngingat ka iya ke baru rembus. Tang Gendup apin madah ka diri deka, nyangka tak pedis dipantang, ninga munyi orang ti bepantang nyau bakasetok leboh iya baru datai tadi. Malam nya sida ketuai lalu madah ka Gendup bagi kalingai ke diengkah ba tuboh, baka ba rekong, bau, lengan, pah, belakang enggau endor bukai. Orang mega lalu madah ka pasal tegulun ngagai iya “Tegulun enda tau digaga ngapa enti kitai nadai dengah,” pia ko orang madah ngagai iya.

Nyau rindu ninga sida berandau ka pasal kalingai, hari siti baru iya madah ka diri deka dipantang sida. Nya alai sida ke bujang lalu berengkah ngaga kalingai ka Gendup. Tiga hari berunggu sida mantang baru tembu. Nama agi, nadai utai ngemanah nya kalingai ba sebelah tuboh Gendup, orang ga endang landik, bengat tak penatai kalingai. Bentara ka hari udah nya, kalingai iya pan udah ga gerai magang, dia iya madah ka diri bisi ati deka pulai ka menoa, tang iya enda nemu jalai pulai. Apin Gendup pulai, apai-tuai orang nya lalu madah ka nama diri ngagai iya.

“Nama aku Selang Pantang,” ko iya. “Bala kami tu Antu Pantang magang. Nya alai laban nuan, Gendup, terubah mensia datai ba rumah kami nuan mega dulu digaga ka kami kalingai. Lalu nadai orang bukai nemu ngaga pantang enti enda ari ajar nuan enggau peturun nuan jemah ila,” Pia ko jako Antu nya bejako enggau iya. Udah nya iya lalu madah ka jalai pulai ngagai Gendup.

Datai di rumah orang bela ngenong magang medah utai tak begenarau chelum sabelah tuboh Gendup. Iya lalu becherita ka diri ke diau ba rumah sida Antu Selang Pantang, kenyau ari iya ke rembus ba pendai lalu betemu enggau indu mandi. Ari ajar Gendup nya meh pun Iban nemu begaga ka kalingai ba tuboh.

Original Source : Nendak
Researched and compiled by: Gregory N. Mawar