Dayak is an umbrella name for all of Borneo’s indigenous peoples. In Dayak religions, evil is kept at bay by attracting the presence of helpful spirits, or scared away by protective tattoos, carved spirit posts (patong), and lavish funerals. Shamans also intercede with spirits on behalf of the living. Although now you’ll often find ostensibly Christian communities with inhabitants clutching mobile phones and watching satellite TV, the Dayak are still well respected for their jungle skills and deep-rooted traditions.

Traditionally head-hunting was an important method of exerting power and settling disputes. It was believed that when cutting off someone’s head the victim’s soul is forced into the service of its captor. It is not practised now, but in 1997, West Kalimantan’s Dayak exacted fearsome revenge against Madurese transmigrants. An estimated 1400 people were killed in a horrific purge of ethnic cleansing which involved head-hunting and cannibalism. Similar violence reoccurred between the Malays and the Madurese in the Sampit region of South Kalimantan in 2001. The situation is relatively peaceful now, and head-hunting has once again been relegated to the past.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Indonesia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A postcard from Indonesia: life and death in Tanah Toraja

A postcard from Indonesia: life and death in Tanah Toraja

In Tanah Toraja, Indonesia, long-held animist beliefs mean the dead are laid to rest with elaborate ceremonies that last for days. Daniel Stables attends a f…

02 Nov 2017 • Daniel Stables insert_drive_file Article
Indonesia beyond Bali: 7 places off the tourist trail

Indonesia beyond Bali: 7 places off the tourist trail

Bali’s beautiful beaches and shimmering rice paddies have made it a justifiably famous tourist destination – but there’s so much more of Indonesia waiting…

16 May 2017 • Daniel Stables insert_drive_file Article
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook