Apai Janggut and Panglima Jilah : The Significance of Tattoos on Two Dayak Leaders from West Kalimantan

The Dayak people, an ethnic group with a population of up to 8 million worldwide, consist of 405 sub-ethnic groups and are nicknamed “homo symbolicus” due to their symbol-rich lives. One of the most striking examples of symbolism in Dayak culture is the practice of tattooing.

Tattooing is not a casual practice for the Dayak people; it is a symbolic expression that has existed worldwide since the Neolithic era. However, in Dayak culture, tattoos hold a profound and specific meaning. The tattoo motifs are diverse, each carrying specific messages and symbols.

Tattoos are a crucial part of Dayak people’s identity. Among the Iban, tattoos not only reflect personal identity but also signify one’s caste and social class. Moreover, tattoos also reflect a person’s level of courage or bravery.

One of the most well-known tattoo motifs with universal significance is the tattoo on the back of the hand. A tattoo on the left hand indicates that someone has successfully hunted and obtained 2 heads. On the other hand, a tattoo on the right hand signifies even greater achievement, having acquired 7 heads or more.

In the literature of the Dutch East India Company (Kompeni Hindia Belanda) era, these tattoos were referred to as the “ridderorder van koppensnellers,” which can be literally translated as the “order of the knights of headhunters.” This name reflects the significance of heads in Dayak culture as evidence of extraordinary achievements and bravery.

In Dayak culture, tattoos are one of the most potent forms of symbolic expression. They are not just body art but also a symbolic language that deeply conveys the history, achievements, and identity of this ethnic group.

On Apai Janggut’s right shoulder, there is a tattoo of an eggplant flower motif with profound significance. Despite its simple appearance, this motif carries rich symbolism. In the tale of Apai Janggut and Panglima Jilah (PJ), these tattoos not only adorn their skin but also signify their life journeys and identities.

The eggplant flower motif etched on Apai Janggut’s skin, and the traces of Panglima Jilah (PJ) covering his entire body are not mere decorations; they are reflections of their struggles and life journeys written in every stroke.

On Apai Janggut’s right shoulder, there is a tattoo of an eggplant flower motif with profound significance. Despite its simplicity in appearance, this motif holds rich symbolism.

For the Iban people, the eggplant flower represents journeying, and this tattoo conveys a deeper message about how far someone has come in their journey. These tattoos become indelible marks of experiences and adventures.

Panglima Jilah (PJ) carries tattoos that encompass his entire body. Each image and line tells the story of his life that words cannot express. His skin becomes a travelogue that vividly depicts his life story. As a leader, these tattoos are not just adornments but also silent witnesses to every struggle, victory, and defeat he has experienced. His skin becomes a living map that displays the historical footprint of the Iban tribe.

Through the tattoos of Apai Janggut and Panglima Jilah, we can learn that skin is not just a surface but also a medium for conveying deep stories and meanings.

Behind each tattoo lies captivating and meaningful symbolism. All of this invites us to reflect on life journeys, determination, and sacrifices. The eggplant flower engraved on Apai Janggut’s skin represents courage and the spirit of exploration, while PJ’s tattoos stretching across his body depict life as a battlefield full of meaning and valuable experiences.

The tattoos of Apai Janggut and Panglima Jilah are not just skin decorations but also windows into a world of stories and profound meanings.

The eggplant flower motif and the marks of Panglima Jilah are evidence of the cultural heritage and identity of the Iban tribe reflected in every line and image. These tattoos remind us that behind every mark, there is a story worth learning and respecting. *)

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