CHAPTER XXIV

HEAD-HUNTING, ITS PRACTICE AND PURPOSE

The Penihings still live in dread of the head-hunting raids of the Ibans of Sarawak, and the probability of such attacks no doubt caused the recent establishment of a garrison at Long Kai. The Long-Glats on the Merasi, a northern tributary to the Mahakam, are also constantly on guard against the Ibans. Until lately these inveterate head-hunters would cross the mountains, make prahus, then travel down the Upper Mahakam, and commit serious depredations among the kampongs, killing whomsoever they could, the others fleeing to the mountains. As one Penihing chief expressed it to me: "The river was full of their prahus from the Kasao River to Long Blu." Their last visit was in 1912, when the Bukats reported that a number of Ibans had arrived at the headwaters of the river, but the raid did not materialise, and they retired without making prahus. These raids have naturally brought about much intermingling of the tribes on the Mahakam River, and sometimes three or more may be found living in one kampong.

About twenty years ago there was much fighting in these remote parts of Borneo among Penihings, Saputans, Penjabongs, and Bukats, each tribe making head-hunting raids into the dominions of another, and all being constantly exposed to the fury of the Ibans from the north. Head-hunting raids may include assaults on kampongs, but very often they are cowardly attacks on small groups of unsuspecting people, men, women, and children. The heads thus secured appear to be as highly valued as those acquired under more heroic conditions. The fact is also noteworthy that the heads of Malays are appreciated, but, with few exceptions, not those of white people. Several times I heard of Malay rattan or rubber gatherers who had been disposed of in that way. The head is severed by one stroke.

As a typical case of head-hunting I give the following description of a raid which, twelve years previous to my visit, was made by ten Bukats upon a small party of Saputans who were on a babi hunt. Among the Penyahbongs, Saputans, Punans, and Penihings a woman may accompany her husband or another man on the chase, carry a spear, and assist in killing pig or deer. Bear she does not tackle, but, as my informant said, "even all men do not like to do that." She also carries her own parang, with which she may kill small pigs and cut down obstacles in her path. The hunting-party, one man and three women, had been successful. The babi had been killed with spears and, in accordance with custom, the head had been cut off with a parang. The carcass had been cut up and the three women carried the meat in the coarse-meshed rattan bags on their backs, while the man bore the head on his shoulder, all homeward bound, when the Bukats attacked them. Only one woman escaped.

The slayers hurried off with the three heads, being afraid of the people of the kampong which was not far away. As usual the heads were tied by the hair to the handle of the shield, and were thus carried to the place where the rattan bags had been left, inside of which they were then placed.

After taking heads the men are on the run for two or three days, travelling at night with torches, and in the evening they make a big fire to dry the heads. The brains, because of the weight, may have been taken out the first evening; this is done through the foramen, and a hole is made with a spear point in the top of the skull. The hair has first been cut off and taken care of, to be tied as ornaments to shields or plaited round the handle of the sword. The Katingans, however, throw away the hair with the flesh. Apprehensive of pursuit, they may dry the head but a little while each night, grass being tied round it when carried. Sometimes damar is used to dry the flesh and the eyes.

The last night out the head-hunters always sleep near their kampong, and early next morning, while it is still dark, they come singing. The people of the kampong waken, array themselves in their best finery, and go to meet them, the women wearing their newest skirts and bringing pieces of nice cloth to present to the conquerors. The man who cut the head carries it suspended from his neck until it is taken from him by a woman who gives him the cloth to wear instead, possibly as a badge of heroism. It makes no difference whether this service is performed by his wife, an unmarried woman, or another man's wife. The singing ceases and all proceed to the kampong, to the house of the kapala, where the heads are hung from the beam at the head of the ladder, and the cloths which were bestowed upon the victors are returned to the women. The heads are left hanging, while for the festivities connected with their arrival a hut, called mangosang, is constructed, consisting of an airy shelter made of two rows of bamboo stalks supported against each other, and profusely adorned with the inevitable wood shavings.

The head-hunters, who must take their food apart from their associates and in the presence of the heads, now bring water from the river to boil rice, in bamboo, outside on the gallery. When the cooking is finished the heads are brought to take part in the meal, being hung near the place where the men are to eat and about half a metre above the floor, to be out of reach of dogs. A pinch of rice is put into the hole at the top of the skull and the head is addressed in the following words: "Eat this rice first. Don't be angry. Take care of me. Make this body of mine well." During the period of restrictions imposed on the hunters the heads remain at the same place, sharing the meals as described.