Dayak Baby Carrier

  • Tribe: Dayak
  • Origin: Borneo
  • Approx Age: circa mid 20th Century
  • Materials: Wood, rattan, bear claws and teeth and snake skin
  • Dimensions cm: 36 tall x 36 wide x 14 deep
  • Ref. Number: 0430

A Dayak baby carrier highly decorated for display of wealth and prestige of a family and to protect the baby when it left the safety of the communal long house and compound. They were only used when mother and baby were away from home. The design of most women’s art is defensive, designed to erect defensive barriers between their families and malignant spirits.

This particular Dayak baby carrier would have been designed for a male baby as the decoration of bear teeth and claws is indicative of a male baby, female babies universally show cowrie shells. This piece is mid 20th Century, made from wood, rattan, beads, bear teeth and claws, wooden guardians and snake skin.

An estimated 18 million people live on the island, with the majority based in the coastal lowlands and cities. The forests of the Heart of Borneo area are of high value for people’s livelihoods and the environment. There is a strong interdependence between Indigenous Peoples and the resources as well as the services the forest provides.

The indigenous peoples of the Heart of Borneo are commonly known as Dayak. The term was coined by Europeans referring to the non-Malay inhabitants of Borneo.

There are over 50 ethnic Dayak groups speaking different languages. This cultural and linguistic diversity parallels the high biodiversity and related traditional knowledge of the Heart of Borneo.

Many of Borneo’s languages are endemic. It is estimated that around 170 languages and dialects are spoken on the island of Borneo and some by just a few hundred people, thus posing a serious risk to the future of those languages and related heritage.
Cultural tradition and arts

Borneo culture and art are reflected and expressed through custom, dance and music, food and drink, and even tattoo.

Traditional tattooing has been customary among men and women in several groups of Dayak Peoples. They use motif designs of snakes, birds and plants, sometimes combined, to symbolise meanings such as bravery, patience and beauty. The motifs are symbolic of the social class, and of individuals of a certain social standing that are allowed to be tattooed with particular motifs.

The traditional Dayak hornbill dance is named after the bird with a big casque, long down-curved bill and black and white feathers. The hornbill is both an important species and cultural symbol for Dayak peoples.

The hornbill dance, the most well-known traditional Dayak dance, is performed in stylised movements of the arms to resemble a flying hornbill. Both men and women wear an adorned headdress, women dancers hold hornbill feathers tied to their hands which will open up when the hands move, while men dancers will hold a shield and a ritual knife. The dance is usually accompanied by sape music.

Originally, dances were performed as part of a post-warfare ritual, to greet returning warriors who fought the enemy or came back from successful head-hunting expeditions. Nowadays, dances are commonly featured during the rice harvest season, New Year and other celebrations, or to greet important visitors to the community.

The sape’, (also known as sampe or sapeh), is a traditional lute played by many of the Dayak communities in the Heart of Borneo during celebrations, like harvest festivals (gawai) and rituals. One string carries the melody and the accompanying two strings are struck rhythmically to produce a drone.

Some Dayak people once lived mostly in massive communal structures known as longhouses. These could be up to 12 metres high and house over 100 families under one roof, affording safety from attacks during times of warfare. Inside, families lived in separate apartments arranged along a central corridor, which served as a communal area.

While some groups still live in longhouses, many have moved into individual houses – either because of government pressure or because inter-tribal warfare has stopped.