With Instagram tattoo artists, tatted up celebrities, and popular reality shows like Ink Master it’s easy to mistake tattooing for a modern practice.
Every few years there seems to be an article about “the rise of tattooing in mainstream culture,” but tattoos have always been a part of our culture.
All around the world and for centuries people have been finding ways to mark their bodies.
Bodily decoration has been, historically, motivated by very much the same things as it is today.
Some people would get tattoos for purely aesthetic reasons, while other people chose to show their devotion to a spiritual practice or tribe.
In some corners of the world, you weren’t considered an adult until you went through the painful process of a tattoo- both the application and sometimes lengthy healing process.
Dayak Tattoos – An Ancient Tradition
As far back as the 1800’s and possibly earlier, tattoos have been a significant part of some Dayak cultures.
The Dayak people are a tribe native to Borneo, the third largest island in the world and the largest overall in Asia.
Dayak is an umbrella term for the people on the Island who were not Malay or Muslim.
Within the Dayak tribes, there are different practices and even languages.
While many Dayak people converted to Christianity or Islam over the years, some of the Dayak traditions have survived – mostly through oral history.
Dayak Tattoos Meanings
Dayak tattoos are known as “Tutang” and can be applied on the body for several reasons.
Most notably, Dayak people believe that the black ink will turn gold after death.
This alchemy is said to take place because of the memorial ceremony for the dead, and helps light the deceased person’s path to the after life.
There could be any number of reasons a Dayak person may choose to get a tattoo in life, including:
- To show what tribe you are from.
2. To show your rank within that tribe.
3. To show your spiritual devotion.
4. To show your skills.
5. To mark a special occasion in your life.
6. To mark a trans-formative occasion in your life, like reaching sexual maturity or having a baby.
Tools for Dayak Tattoos
It should be obvious that electronic tattoo machines were not always readily available for tattooing.
Some die hard tattoo fanatics have turned their attention to “stick and poke” tattoos, which are done in a more traditional way.
The images produced from stick and poke can be a little crude or rough around the edges, but they have a handmade touch to them that makes them special to behold.
Stick and poke may imply any number of tools depending on the region. Dayak tattoos are applied in a very specific, very painful way.
The original needle for Dayak tattoos was fashioned from a thorn from an orange tree.
Though now Dayak tattoos are applied with a needle, the slow “stick and poke” techniques are still used, and the ink is the same.
The base of the ink for a Dayak tattoo is a charcoal resin.
Common Themes for Dayak Tattoos
Tattoos on the Hands
The more tattoos a Dayak person has, the more helpful to the community.
Getting a Dayak tattoo is considered a huge honor to a Dayak person, even if it is a painful process.
Often, the eggplant flower will be the first tattoo a young man in a Dayak tribe gets.
This tattoo typically appears on the front of each shoulder, but may also be applied on the back or even the hand.
Any images surrounding the eggplant flower act like a diary for that man’s life.
Women also marked their entry into adulthood with tattoos, but they would typically be on their feet.
Horn Billed Birds
Represent our world, that is the tangible human world.
These represent the underworld, the intangible spirit world.
Should You Get a Dayak Tattoo?
The striking images in Dayak tattoos certainly are beautiful, and it would be really tempting to skip all that sticking and poking just to get things done quicker and less painfully.
The issue with that is, Dayak tattoos aren’t just a fun design.
They are part of a culture and spiritual practice.
A Dayak person would never get a tattoo flippantly, and the length of the process is part of the journey.
If you’re really enthusiastic about getting a Dayak tattoo, and you’ve done the research, no one can tell you it’s wrong.
That said, the ideal way to get one would be to make that trip to Borneo, get permission from a Dayak tattoo artist, and endure the pain as it was intended.
Not feeling so hot on that idea?
Your family probably has a fascinating cultural background with all kinds of great designs in their wheelhouse.
Dayak Tattoos Ideas
Think you’re ready to take on the pain and brave the stick and poke?
Not sure if that’s something you’d ever consider but are curious anyway?
Already have a bunch of Dayak tattoos?
Our gallery of Dayak tattoos will have you thinking up a design idea in no time!