Indonesian Borneo



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On the island of Borneo there are one state, two federal states and four provinces:






1. Sabah

2. Sarawak



1. Kalimantan Barat

2. Kalimantan Selatan

3. Kalimantan Tengah

4. Kalimantan Timur




The Indonesian part of Borneo is controlled by TNI Kodam VI/Tanjungpura.


Originally Borneo was populated by Dayak peoples.




The Dayak or Dyak is the people indigenous to Borneo. It is a loose term for over 200 riverine and hill-dwelling ethnic subgroups, located principally in the interior of Borneo, each with its own dialect, customs, laws, territory and culture, although common distinguishing traits are readily identifiable.

The main ethnic groups of Dayaks are


the Bakumpai and Dayak Bukit of South Kalimantan,

the Ngajus, Baritos, Benuaqs and Kutais.of East Kalimantan, 

the Ibans, Embaloh (Maloh), Kayan, Kenyah, Penan, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Taman populations in the Kapuas and Sarawak regions.

the Dohoi Ot Danum and the Bakumpai. live in today’s Central Kalimantan

Other populations include the Ahe, Jagoi, Selakau, Bidayuh.


The Dayak people of Borneo possess an indigenous account of their history, partly in writing and partly in common cultural customary practices. In addition, colonial accounts and reports of Dayak activity in Borneo detail carefully-cultivated economic and political relationships with other communities as well as an ample body of research and study considering historical Dayak migrations. In particular, the Iban or the Sea Dayak exploits in the South China Seas are documented, owing to their ferocity and aggressive culture of war against sea dwelling groups and emerging Western trade interests in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Indonesian Borneo


In the middle ages many Malay rulers settled in Borneo and became tributary to the Majapahit Empire. After the decline and fall of that empire the west coast of  Borneo was visited by the Portuguese sailor Simao d’Abreu in 1523. In 1609 the Dutch, attracted by tales of rich diamond deposits, made a contract with the Sultan of Sambas. By lack of revenues however a trading station founded there was abandoned in 1623. In the next centuries the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch Indies Government made several contracts with the local rulers. After a brief British interim’s period the Dutch made the south-western part of the island into the Residence Westerafdeeling van Borneo comprising the divisions of Pontianak, Sinkawang, Ketapang and Sintang and the territories of the rulers of Landak, Mempawa, Pontianak, Negri Sambas and Sintang. In 1898 the Zuider- en Oosterafdeeling of Borneao was established which comprised amongst others the abolished Banjermasin Sultanate. In 1938 both Residencies became the Borneo Government. This was occpupied by the Japanese in 1942 mainly because of the valuable oil deposits of the province. During the Japanese occupation Borneo Government, then called Borneo Kaigun Minseibu was administered by the Japanese Navy.

After WWII several states were established under Dutch protection:


Dayak Besar

Federasi Kalimantan Tenggara

Daerah  Istimewa Kalimantan Barat


Siak besar / Federasi Kalimantan Timur

Daerah Banjar

7.12.1946 - 04.04.1950

08.01.1947 - 04.04.1950

12.05.1947 - 17.08.1950

- 04.04.1950

27.08.1947/04.02.1948 - 24.04.1950

14.01.1948 - 04.04.1950


The Federasi Kalimantan Tenggara consisted of Pasir and Tanah Boemboe and was incorporated into Dayak Besar and Banjar on 18 April 1950.

Later these states became the provinces of Kalimantan Barat, Kalimantan Selatan, Kalimantan Tengah and Kalimantan Timur.




Kelebit Bok (shield)

From Kenya and Kayan (1875-1925)

Coll KIT Tropenmuseum Amsterdam inv. no. 1552 8[1]



From the point of view of heraldry the shields of the Dayak are particularly interesting. When at the end of the 19t century and the beginning of the 20th century internal warfaring was over, many Dayak shields came into the posession of ethnic musea, and private collections all over the world. Of course, the most beautifully decorated shields were the favourites of the buyers and we do not know how many plain shields have just vanished. For this reason most of the Dayak shields cannot be studied within their original setting Dayak shields have attracted the attention of some anthropologists of the turn of the century, for example Charles Hose, who gives a kind of typology of these shields:


“The Kayan shield is an oblong plate cut from a single piece of soft wood. Its ends are pointed more or less acutely; the length between the points is about four feet. The inner surface forms a flat hollow, the outer is formed by two flat surfaces meeting in a flat obtuse angle or ridge extendeing from point to point. The grain of the wood runs longitudinally, and a downward falling patang is liable to split the wood and become wedged fast in it. In order ro prevent the shield becoming divided in this way, and to hold fast the blade of the sword, it is bound across with several staout strips of rattan which are laced closely to the wood with finer strips. The handle, carved out of the same solid block of wood as the body of the shield, is in the middle of the concave surface; it is a simple vertical bar for the grasp of the left hand. The Kayan shield is commonly stained red with iron oxide, and touched up with black pigment, but not otherwise decorated.

Wooden shields of this kind are used by almost all the tribes but some of them decorate their shield

elaborately. The two surfaces of almost all Kenyah shields are covered with elaborate designs picked out in clours, chiefly red and black. The designs are sketched out on the wood with the point of aknife, and the pigment is applied withthe finger and a chisel-edged stick. The principal feature of the designs on the outer surface is in all cases a large conventionalised outline of a face with large eyes, indicated by concentric circles in red and black, and a double row of teeth with two pairs of canines projecting like huge tusks. This face seems to be human, for, although in some shields therer is nothing to indicate this interpretation, in other the large face surmounts the highly conventionalised outline of  a diminuitive human body, the limm,s of which are distorted and woven into a more or less intricate design.

Each extremity of the outer surface is covered by a similarly conventionalised face-pattern on a smaller scale. On the inner side each longitunal half is covered with an elaborated scroll pattern, generally symmetrical in the two halves; the centre of this pattern is generally a human figure more or less easily recognizable; the two halves sometimes bear make and female figures respectively.

The shields most prized by the Kenyahgs are further decorarted with tufts of human hair taken from the heads of salin enemies. It is put on in many rows which roughly frane the large facee with locks three of four  inches in length on scalp, cheeks, chin and upper lip; and the smalle faces at the ends are similarly surrounded with shorter hair. The hair is attached by forcing the ends of the tufts into narrow slits in the soft wood and securing it with fresh resin.

The Klemantan shields are, in the main, variations on the Kenyah patterns. The Murut shields closely resemble those of the Kayans, though the Dusuns, who have the domesticated buffalo, usae a shield of Buffalo-hide attached to the forearm by a strap - a feature unknown in all the other types, which are borne by the handle only. The Sea Dayaks nowadays make a greater variety of  shields, copying those of the other tribes with variations of their own. The shield originally used by them before coming into contact with many other tribes, but now discarded, was made of strips of bamboo plaited together and stiffened with a longitudinal strip of wood. It was of two shapes, both oblong, one with rounded, the other with pointed ends.

The Land Dayaks still use a shield of tough bark, and it is not improbable that these were used by other tribes at no distant date.” [2]


The Dayak shield is often six-sided. Some of them are blank but others are decorated with different figures. The most important figure is a picture of a monstruous head. Such shields may be the insignia of rank of the commanders of the Dayak warriors. The Dayak monstruous heads  are a part of the widespread tradition in time and place in which supreme army commanders attach such heads on their shields or armoury. In Europe such monstruous heads are called Gorgoneion and it is thought that it depicts the head of Medusa, the personification of the army, which was cut off by an Athenian hero. [3]

Other Dayak shields are decorated with other figures like fishes or quadrupeds. These shields may have belonged to lesser commanders.

In this way there are at least three categories of Dayak shields which may be the insignia of rank of Dayak warriors: the categories of the supreme commander, the commanders and the common warriors.

We are informed that the shields were highly valued by the Dayak warriors and that they were carefully preserved. This would make them a kind of quasi coats of arms as every shield had an individual character and style. This reminds us, not only of the early european family coats of arms but also of the Fijian War Clubs, each having their peculier form, which were the attributes of the heads of the Fijian families.

For the time being this must remain an unproven hypothesis.


Dayak Warrior with monstruous head-shield

First half 20th century.

(Photo Tropenmuseum Amsterdam)

Dayak Warrior with decorated shield.

Coloured litho by W.T. Gordon, 1857 [4]



Dayak Warriors with blank shields


It must be added that there seem to be many other Dayak shields which may be specific for particular tribes or common in certain parts of the island. Also there may be some other subcategories of shields symbolizing military rank. The study of these shields would make a fine antropologic research.


The Dayak shield was adopted by the British North Borneo Company, by Kalimantan Barat Province, Kalimantan Tengah Province and by Kalimantan Timur Province as the shield of their achievements.



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© Hubert de Vries 2011.02.03

[1] ) Duuren, D. van, De kunst van de verdediging: Schilden uit het Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, 2001, p. 66,67.

[2] ) Hose and McDougall's The Pagan Tribes of Borneo The book aimed to present 'a clear picture of the pagan tribes of Borneo as they existed at the close of the nineteenth century' (Hose, 1912:v). (internet)

[3] ) See also:  Shields. Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania, from the collection of the Barbier-Mueller Museum. Munich, 2000. P. 150

[4] ) Müller, Salomon: Reizen en Onderzoekingen in de Indische Archipel gedaan op last der Nederlandsche Indische Regeering tusschen de jaren 1828 en 1836. Amsterdam, 1857.