Beauty With Pain

The first semester of the year has not come to an end yet and I realized that studying my current unit is getting more challenging, interesting and exciting. This week, I get to expose to a broaden knowledge on the uniqueness of Borneo material culture.

I’m not going to disclose in details about my findings in this unit but one particular area that really interest me is about tattoos. 😉

My grandmother (from my mom side) is the last generation of my family to have tattoos. She got her tattoos when she was in her teen age; from her fingers to her elbows and also on her feet’s. Each design is unique and carries its own meaning. The motifs even showed your social stratification in the society.

In the old days among the Orang Ulu community, usually the ladies would get themselves tattooed and a complete body tattoo is from the feet to the thigh (for lower part of the body) and from the finger to the elbow (for the upper part of the body). It is a very painful process and time consuming too as in the old days, hand tapping method is used instead of the electrical tattoo gadget.

this is my niece but look at the tattoo on my grandma's hands. cool hahh ;)

Apart from getting themselves tattooed, the ladies must also have long ear lobes of which it is also a painful process. Back then it was made ‘compulsory’ for an Orang Ulu lady to have long ear lobes and body tattoo.

my beautiful grandma with her long ear lobe

No pain, no gain and I guess the saying still applies till today in order to look good and beautiful. Otherwise, new innovation such as plastic surgery will not exist today, right? ;p

Another interesting tattoo which I found in one of my reading is the hook tattoo (fishing hook). A man who had a hook tattoo on his leg indicates that he is a man with ‘palang’ and the purpose of the ‘palang’ is more for the woman pleasures.

Nowadays, the traditional tattoos culture are slowly dying and I feel that it is our responsibility as Borneon to preserve the culture. Don’t you think so? If yes, in your humble opinion, what, how, where and when should we start?

I would love to hear from you soon. 😉


  1. Nayi

    19 May, 2010 at 9:49 am

    I want that tatoo…

    1. ladybirdmollyz

      19 May, 2010 at 9:56 am

      you want which tattoo? the hook tattoo? jangan, haram tu. 🙂

      1. Nayi

        19 May, 2010 at 10:10 am

        Err… yout tatoo…

        1. ladybirdmollyz

          19 May, 2010 at 10:18 am

          i aint got any tattoo do you have any opinion/suggestion on this dying culture of ethnic tribal tattoo??

  2. Nayi

    19 May, 2010 at 10:24 am

    I think it’s cool… sooner or later this culture will be replace by new and modern technics. Only the technics but not the art…

    1. ladybirdmollyz

      19 May, 2010 at 10:55 am

      yes definitely the traditional technique of tattooing in Borneo will change overtime but what matter the most is the preservation of the ethnic motifs. at least there are something left behind for the new generation to see or refer to.

  3. Rodz

    19 May, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    I think the reason why this culture look likes it’s almost forgotten is due to the perception of the later generation (like our parents) where they view those who have tattoo is not good regardless those tattoo is traditional or modern motifs. Furthermore they think it is not necessary to have tattoo nowadays as we didn’t have the “qualification” or the meaningful reason to have it like our ancestors last time whom acquiring their tattoo because of their skills, talents, their bravery and even their social hierarchy.

    But one of the efforts, the Borneo international tattoo convention (the 1st in 2002 and 2nd held in sibu in 2007) have been organized in order to showcase this art to the world as well as preserving it but sadly (from what I see) not much people interested in helping/joining to organize thing like this.

    So if we want to preserve this culture we will need more events like this with wider coverage in the future and more people/organization to come forward to support it.

    Anyway, the fishing hook tattoo really sound like “a dangerous” tattoo hehehe but I think the most popular motif is the “bungai terong”, I can see a lot of people have it 🙂

    1. ladybirdmollyz

      19 May, 2010 at 2:09 pm

      yes i agreed with you on the current parent/public perseption toward tattooing. most of the time those who had tattoos are always associated with ‘bad people’. and to ‘educate’ people on appreciating the art of traditional tattoo is not possible/achieve if the appreciation doesn’t come from the indigenous people themselves. it is kind of sad to see mostly the foreigners took/appreciate the tribal tattoo more instead of indigenous people of Borneo.

      the effort done by Borneo International Tattoo Convention is good but i think the organiser need to work harder in terms of promoting the event. perhaps looking into collaboration with stb/scb for wider coverage and it has to be consistent. merely a suggestion anyway.

      in relation to the hook tattoo, based on my reading by the late augustine anggat, it seems that the hook tatto is associated to the Iban community. ;p however, the usage of ‘palang’ among the orang ulu community does exist too. 😉

      bungai terong motif has been made ‘commercialised’ and was made as their own design by the Ibans. it is said that the bungai terong motif has to be in pair should you decide to have it tattooed on your body otherwise bad luck will fall upon you. it should be also ‘placed properly’ on the body part (shoulder or chest) and only men can have this tattoo on their bodies.

      do you know that there are varieties of bungai terong motifs out there?

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